More on Japanese National Holidays and Main Festivals
This page carries additional info on holidays. It is updated infrequently and may contain old dates.
The Japanese follow the classical Chinese system of associating each year with an animal (2005 was a Chicken year, 2006 a Dog year). You will find a good explanation of the Chinese system here. If you wonder about the year in which you were born, check http://www.new-year.co.uk/chinese/calendar.htm. Though Japanese don't make much use of these old signs in daily life, New Year greeting cards usually include a picture of the animal of the coming year. This has nothing to do with the Japanese era names.
Era names (currently the Heisei era) change when the Emperor changes. 2006 is the eighteenth year of the reign of the current Emperor. It is thus numbered Heisei 18. The era name system is commonly used for official and many business documents. Most official documents in the year 2006 will be dated Heisei 18, not 2006.
Bunka No Hi was formerly known as Meiji Tenno Tanjobi (Birthday of the Meiji Emperor). The holiday changed from 1945 at the end of World War II.
Kinro Kansha no Hi (Labor Thanksgiving Day) became a national holiday in 1948 to express gratitude for the toils of the workers. This holiday has its ancient roots in the Niinamesai (Harvest Festival) that celebrated the annual rice harvest.