Japan's Newest Holiday is All About Mountains

Workers got August 11 off for first-ever Mountain Day.

Mt. Fuji is Japan's most iconic mountain. (Photo by er Guiri/Flickr

Imagine strolling to work on a Thursday morning to find a closed office and an email from your boss telling you to go on a hike. For about a third of the Japanese population, that was a reality on August 11.

Mountain Day, Japan’s newest official public holiday launched yesterday. While the day is Japan's 16th official day off, a survey, conducted by the Japan Weather Association, revealed only 68 percent of the population knew of its existence.

According to the survey, almost 60 percent were planning on using the day to rest. Only 9.6 percent reported they would be heading to one of Japan’s hundreds of mountains, like 12,389-foot Mount Fuji.

Taking a break from work might have been the intention all along, though. The Japanese take, on average, just 6.8 days of personal vacation each year, despite the country’s ever-increasing list of work-free days. With 16 public holidays, Japan now has the most among the world’s leading industrial nations, ranging from days celebrating the ocean (Marine Day on July 18) to the elderly (Respect for the Aged Day on Sept. 19).

There may be an economic motive behind the unanimous decision from both Japanese political parties to declare the holiday. Retailers and tourism operators are expecting an estimated $8 billion spending spree due to the holiday, due in part to the Obon Festivals taking place throughout the country just days after Mountain Day.

While mountains cover three-fourths of Japan, relatively few recreators use them. Only 6 percent of the Japanese public are active campers, Toru Yamai, president of Snow Peak Inc, told Bloomberg.

The Japanese Alpine Club, which was a strong proponent of Mountain Day's creation, hopes the holiday will bring the public outdoors and help them understand the importance of protecting the country's natural wonders. The date itself was chosen because the kanji for 8 resembles mountains, and the number 11 looks like two trees.