November 23 is Labor Thanksgiving Day, a second national holiday in November. It became a holiday in 1948 as a day for citizens to express gratitude to one other for work done throughout the year and for the fruits of those labors.
Labor Thanksgiving Day (Kinro Kansha no Hi in Japanese) is actually a modern name for an ancient ritual called Niinamesai (Harvest Festival). In the ritual, the Emperor makes the season’s first offering of freshly harvested rice to the gods and then partakes of the rice himself.
The history of Niinamesai goes back hundreds and hundreds of years; the first written account is found in the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicle of Japan) – one of the oldest histories of Japan, dating from 720 – which says that a Niinamesai took place in November 673. The origin of the ritual is believed to be much older, going back to when rice cultivation was first transmitted to Japan more than 2,000 years ago. Niinamesai came to be held on November 23 during the Meiji era (1868-1912) and was a nationally celebrated event.
After the World War II, Labor Thanksgiving Day was established to mark the fact that fundamental human rights were guaranteed and rights of workers were greatly expanded in the postwar Constitution. Today, Labor Thanksgiving Day has become a national holiday while Niinamesai is celebrated as a private function of the Imperial Family.
A number of major events are held on this day. One such event is a labor festival held every year in the city of Nagano, which hosted the Olympic Winter Games in February 1998. Local labor organizations sponsor this event to encourage people to think about issues affecting peace, human rights, and the environment.
In the suburbs of Tokyo, nursery school pupils present drawings and handicrafts to local police officers, who look after their safety every day.