The third Monday in July is “Marine Day” here in Japan, called ”Umi no Hi” (海の日) in Japanese. It was established in 1996, a few years into my life in Japan. It’s common knowledge that the day marks the return of the Emperor Meiji from a boat trip. More specifically, it’s the day of his return to Yokohama port in Meiji 9 (1876), from a royal light-house inspection tour to the northernmost prefectures, on a Scottish-built schooner called the ”Meiji Maru”.
That factoid leaves me wondering why that trip was so important, and why the Emperor Meiji’s return from the northern prefectures needed to be marked. Was that like visiting ganglands, or something? Or was it just an example of the vast modern bureaucracy needing a “real reason” to call it official and torment hordes of schoolkids with memorizing? In all seriousness, to the Japanese of the time, I imagine that having your image of a God be on a boat, sailing around the coast in rough northern waters would be enough to make people nervous wrecks!
Umi no Hi is a secular, national holiday, so there are no Shinto festivals associated with the day. The government party line is that Umi no Hi is to ”express gratitude for the bounty of the oceans and hope for the prosperity of Japan’s marine industry”. I guess that makes sense, given the importance of the marine industries to Japan’s economy.
That said, most people just use it to take advantage of a three-day weekend and have a short trip to the beach! We, on the other hand, are using it this year to go see Harry Potter since the weather’s looking pretty bad today!