Ocean Day (Umi no Hi) is the first national holiday of summer in Japan, and a chance to celebrate the wonders of the ocean and its importance in Japanese culture. Although it usually falls on the third Monday in July, Ocean Day has been moved to Thursday 22nd July for 2021 – the day before the opening ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics.
Ocean Day marks the end of the rainy season (tsuyu) and is a great opportunity for families to spend quality time together by taking a trip to the beach, enjoying a seaside firework display, or indulging in some delicious seafood!
An Emperor’s Voyage
In 1941, Communications Minister Shozo Murata designated Ocean Day to commemorate the Meiji Emperor’s 1876 voyage around Tohoku in a huge ship called the Meiji Maru, which landed in Yokohama on 20 July. In 1996 Ocean Day officially became a public holiday and was moved to the third Monday of the month. During the 1980s the Meiji Maru was lovingly restored over eight years, and now serves as a museum ship at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology. Definitely worth a visit!
Giving Thanks to the Ocean
As an archipelago, Japan’s identity, economy and culture is strongly connected to the ocean, so Ocean Day is a chance for people to get involved in environmentally friendly activities and raise awareness of the effects of pollution and climate change. Some seaside towns organise beach clean-up days, while others encourage residents to throw purifying balls of dried mud containing Effective Microorganisms (EM) into the ocean, to help get rid of contaminants on the sea bed.
Beside the Seaside
As a relatively new public holiday, Ocean Day lacks the sort of ancient traditions that are connected to other celebratory days in Japan, instead this day is often enjoyed by taking a trip to the beach. Falling at the end of rainy season (tsuyu) and with temperatures and humidity rising, cooling off at the seaside is a great way for families to celebrate the start of summer season.
Japan has an abundance of beautiful beaches and vibrant seaside towns. If it’s white sand beaches and sparkling turquoise seas you’re after, then Okinawa and the Kerama Islands will be your destinations of choice – where warm waters and a laid back, tropical vibe awaits you. If the southern isles are a bit too far to travel, then take your pick from all the other lovely seaside resorts throughout Japan; from the golden sands and hot springs of Shirahama on the Izu Peninsula, to the bustling beach town of Momochihama Beach in Fukuoka.
Odaiba in Tokyo, with its man made beach and beautiful views of the Rainbow Bridge, is a fun option if you want a beside-the-seaside atmosphere but don’t fancy a long journey out of the city. When darkness falls, visitors can marvel at the 50,000 lanterns placed along the shoreline for the evening Lantern Festival celebrations.
As the last port of call on Emperor Meiji’s 1876 voyage, Yokohama celebrates Ocean Day in style with a two day Sparkling Twilight event. This spectacular event features ships decorated with lights, marine rescue demonstrations, colourful parades of ships and floats and firework displays over the ocean.
Under the Sea
If the weather isn’t in your favour, then a trip to one of Japan’s sea life centres is a great indoor alternative. The spectacular Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa is the largest sea life centre in the world, showcasing a huge range of species and also serving as a marine study centre.
The Kaiyukan Aquarium in Osaka may be a little more accessible if you’re staying in Tokyo or Kyoto, and its resident whale shark and huge central water tank running from floor to ceiling are two of its main draws.
Japan is world renowned for its delicious seafood, and each region has its own specialities. Hokkaido in the north is well known for its crab, sea urchins and squid, whilst Okinawa in the south has some of the largest tuna hauls in Japan. Whether you want to shop at a fresh fish market, sample sushi at a conveyor belt restaurant, or dine on exquisite seafood in Michelin starred restaurants, Japan has an option to suit all budgets.
Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market is the largest fish market in the world and a tourist attraction in its own right. Get there at the crack of dawn to experience the hustle and bustle of morning trade, and sample tasty, fresh, affordable seafood.
Celebrate at Home
Take the opportunity to celebrate Umi no Hi at home by preparing a fish or seafood feast, from unagi don grilled eel rice bowls and Kyoto style temari sushi to light summery options such as this tuna poke bowl or seafood noodle salad.
Enjoy all this and more by shopping in-store at Japan Centre Leicester Square, Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City. Alternatively you can get fresh produce delivered straight to your door by shopping online at the Japan Centre website.
Words by Emily Lovell
Hiroaki Kaneko – Okinawa
Meiji Maru ship – Tokiwa451, from Wikimedia Commons
Motoyama Kawaski – fish in Okinawa
Maurizio Mucciola – Zamami Kerama Islands South of Okinawa
Manish Prabhune – lanterns in Odaiba, Tokyo
EE Shawn – whale shark, Osaka aquarium
Shawn Harquail – Tsukiji fish market