Today is the holiday Kinro Kansha no Hi, which means Labour Thanksgiving Day, and I cannot believe I have not written about it before! This national holiday was established in 1948 in order to mark a number of changes in the Japanese constitution, for example the expansion of worker’s rights.
On this day, people are to celebrate labour and production, and to think about the environment, peace, and human rights, which is admittedly a rather interesting combination. Mostly, work is celebrated though, and today many children in Tokyo show their appreciation of the local koban – tiny police boxes located in almost every neighborhood – by bringing drawings to the policemen stationed there.
Of course, the whole thing is just a modern disguise for a much older tradition, called the Niiname-sai. This is an ancient harvest festival, which can be traced back to the Emperor Temmu (around 650 CE), but allegedly has already been celebrated by the Emperor Jimmu (living around 600 BCE and more legend than real). Other scholars trace the festival back almost 2000 years, when rice cultivation was introduced to Japan from China.
Anyway, on this day, the emperor would dedicate and sacrifice some of the newly harvested rice and cereals to the gods, and also taste the new rice for the first time. And even though the name of the festival and its customs have changed, the emperor is still doing that – albeit in a private ceremony.