This Is How Japan Celebrates Unofficial Food Holidays
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When we think of the Japanese, we think of a serious, disciplined society that prizes efficiency. Well, yes, that’s (kind of) true, but they also have a quirky sense of humor you'll never see coming. And nothing demonstrates this more than the "pun holidays" that Japan keeps adding to its calendar. All of this is because the Japanese language lends itself very well to puns due to the abundance of similar-sounding words.

Like Strawberry Day. That’s right, Japan has an (un)official Strawberry Day when people pig out on strawberries. Every year, on January 5th, i.e., the fifth day of the first month, Japan has an occasion it calls "Ichigo No Hi." Ichigo is the Japanese word for strawberry. Ichigo can also be broken down into two different Japanese words: Ichi, meaning the number 1, and Go, which stands for the number 5. The people of Japan, who love a good pun, decided (unofficially, of course) to make the fifth day of the first month (Ichi-Go: first month, fifth day) a day to celebrate the fruit that also bears the name of said date. And so, we have Strawberry Day on January 5th, when you’ll see discounts on strawberries and strawberry cakes across Japanese cities.

It gets quirkier. July 4th is Nashi No Hi, or Pear Day. No, the Japanese do not call American independence, or the USA, a pear. You can guess it by now: Na is Japanese for seven, and shi is their word for four. Na-shi, month seven, day four. July 4th, or Nashi No Hi So, they do celebrate the day of American independence by enjoying a few cuts of nashi or a pear.

Natto Day, or Natto No Hi, is celebrated on July 10th. Natto is a traditional Japanese dish made of fermented soybeans. It has a slimy, sticky, and stringy texture and is notorious for its less-than-pleasant smell. We know Na is seven in Japanese, and "to" is ten. Nat-to is July 10th, and Natto is a traditional "delicacy," so we now have a day to celebrate stinky soybeans. Even the BBC went so far as to describe natto as Japan’s most polarizing superfood because of its "ammonia-like smell and mucus-like consistency." Did we mention that the Japanese have a quirky sense of humor?

August 3rd is Honey Day, which also goes by the name Hachimitsu. No hi.  

Hachimitsu is the Japanese name for honey. Break that down, and Hachi means the number eight, and mitsu is the number three, so August 3rd is Hiney Day.

August 4th is Hashi No Hi, or Bridge and Chopsticks Day. Hashi can be translated as both bridge and chopsticks. So, the Japanese thought, why pick just one? Ha can also mean the number eight in Japanese, and shi means four. (Refer to "Pear Day" or "July 4th" above.) Therefore, logically, August 4th must be the day for chopsticks and bridges.

August 7th is Banana No Hi or Banana Day. Ba is an alternative (wrong or outdated?) pronunciation of the number eight, and nana is the number seven. Therefore, August 7th is Banana Day. This is a more obscure pronunciation, so there’s a fair bit of latitude here for pun’s sake, one would think. Still, a day to celebrate bananas is great, so we’re here for it.

August 31st is Yasai No Hi, or Vegetables Day. Yes, ya is yet another pronunciation for eight, and sa is number three, and "i" is one. So, August 31. Hey, it’s a pun; lighten up! Also, August 31st was announced as Vegetables Day by food-related unions back in 1983. The right day for a mixed-veg stew or sandwich at home, I suppose.  

After the flurry of food pun days in August, September comes in with a late entry. The 25th of September is Juen Kare No Hi, or 10-Yen Curry Day. As we’ve mentioned in earlier articles, Kare Raisu is the modern Japanese national dish, and the people can’t get enough of it. So, it’s not a surprise that they have a day dedicated to it. But there’s a bit of a story behind this.

In 1971, a popular Tokyo restaurant was burned down in an accident. In a bid to raise awareness and funds for its reopening, the restaurant held a 10-yen "curry day," where customers would be given free curry if they made donations over 10 yen. The restaurant, Matsumotoro, reopened two years later, in 1973, and kept the 10-yen curry day going, making it a Tokyo tradition. It was turned into a UNICEF charity event in 1997.

October 2nd, when we in India celebrate Gandhi’s birth anniversary by abstaining from alcohol, is Tofu Day, or Tofu No Hi in Japan. "To" is Japanese for 10, and fu is the number two, so the 2nd of October is a day for enjoying tofu.

These are just food-related pun days. There are several such "pun holidays", going from cats and dogs to festivals; from garbage to castles; and from innerwear and double entendres to the kimono, bugs, and pufferfish!