Buoys on a beach in Matsushima, Miyagi. ©Keith Ng
Despite being a relatively new custom, the summer holiday of ‘Umi no hi’ — also known as Marine Day, Ocean Day and Sea Day — holds great significance to Japan.
The day celebrates the ocean and seas surrounding the island nation by giving thanks for their bountiful harvests and showing an appreciation of their importance to the economic prosperity and cultural wealth of Japan.
Designated a national day off in 1995, it became the first holiday in the summer months, initiated to help encourage Japan’s famously hard-working employees pursue a better work-life balance. Later, as part of a “Happy Monday” initiative designed to reward workers with longer periods of rest, the holiday was moved from its original date of July 20th to the third Monday of the month to create a three-day weekend.
Marine Day may be one of Japan’s newer holidays, but its roots lie in the late 19th century. The celebration also commemorates Emperor Meiji’s 1876 voyage aboard the Meiji Maru, an iron ship that was made in Scotland for the Japanese government. The journey took the Emperor from Aomori in northern Japan across the Tsugaru Strait to Hakodate and then skirted the country to end in Yokohama in July.
The Meiji Maru ship in a photo taken in 1874 before its Imperial voyage around Japan. Public Domain
Today, Marine Day offers plenty of opportunities to celebrate. Most holidayers choose to take a day trip to the coast or head to a local beach for a swim to cool off in the hot and humid weather of mainland Japan’s midsummer. Popular Marine Day recreational activities include swimming, snorkeling, surfing and diving at popular tourist destinations, such as Isshiki Beach in Hayama.
Though its a holiday that doesn’t have traditional celebrations, plenty of sea-related family-friendly events and venues have become popular. National aquariums host water sports competitions and water shows, while Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force dress their ships with flags and banners to mark the occasion. In Odaiba, Tokyo, volunteers arrange hundred of paper lanterns in a pattern on the beach, attracting visitors to its sea-front cafes and beachside music events. Just to the south of Tokyo, the Port of Yokohama, where the Meiji Maru docked to end its Imperial voyage, an annual firework display takes place, and people gather to watch the parades and entertainers perform.
Inspired by the waters of Japan — our NiMi Projects Marine Day Hues collection includes glassware, ceramics, recycled marine plastic and paper goods.
In addition to these events are others that focus on the holiday’s underlying message of respecting and preserving Japan’s waterways. Across the country, many volunteers organize beach-cleaning days, but it's the curious activity of “EM mud ball throwing" that has recently become popular. Here, volunteers toss thousands of dried mud balls containing effective microorganisms (EMs) into lakes and rivers. The balls slowly dissolve to release the EMs, which inhibit algae growth and help break down sludge and grime — an apt little Marine Day gift from the people to the waters of Japan.
Celebrate with us and check out our collection of ocean blues, sea greens and water-inspired Marine Day Hues collection.
The Ito coastline of Shizuoka in summer. ©Mio Yamada