All About Golden Week

Golden week is coming up. For many of us, that means travel – whether it be to places in Japan we haven’t been before, or to a new destination abroad – there seems to be no better time to travel than in the long, warm spring holiday.

Despite the cost that is. As all of us who have been here a while can attest to, and perhaps some new people may already know, Golden Week is the most expensive week of the year here in Japan to do just what it tempts you to do. Train and hotel costs triple, and popular tourist areas are flooded with people. Even going overseas is costly, as flight prices go up exponentially, and most locations in East Asia are also flooded with vacationing Japanese tourists.

So while some of us brave the rush of the crowds and climb the mountain of high prices, others of us look forward to Golden Week as just some well needed time off at home. I know this will be my first time remaining in country for early May since I got here. So I find myself wondering now that I have the time – what is Golden Week all about? We all of us enjoy the fruits of holiday freedom, but do we know why the holidays are there in the first place?

Well, to begin with, Golden Week consists of four public holidays in the span of seven days. If one of these holidays happens to land on a Sunday (as one will this year and two next year) then the following Monday is taken off as a make up holiday. The intent is to create two separate holiday periods, one consisting of three days, the other of four. The creation of this set of holidays is relatively new – it only began in 1947.

Why in 1947? That has to do with the nature of the holidays themselves, starting with the April 29th holiday known as Showa Day.

Showa Day used to be known as Greenery Day. But there’s already a Greenery Day! So what happened? Why make a new Greenery Day? Well, Showa Day (somewhat confusingly) actually started of as the Emperor Hirohito’s birthday, just as December 23rd is that of Emperor Akihito. Emperor Hirohito was the somewhat controversial Emperor, whose 63-year reign saw the end of Taisho Democracy, World War II, the post-war occupation of Japan by the United States, and the rise of Japan as an industrial and economic power on the world stage, among other things. After his death, his son succeeded him and the new holiday for the Emperor’s birthday was moved to the current December 23rd date. The Japanese now consider this date as a day to reflect on the tempestuous years of Hirohito’s reign.

May 3rd is Constitutional Memorial Day. As one can guess, it is a day set aside to celebrate the Constitution of Japan. It is also the only day of the year that the Japanese National Diet Building is opening for viewing to the public.

May 4th is Greenery Day. For a long while, May 4th used to be just an empty national holiday, because it sat between two existing holidays. But as recently as 2007, it has become Greenery Day, which was removed from its old spot on April 29th and replaced with Showa Day. Greenery Day is also celebrated in honor of Emperor Hirohito, without mentioning him by name, as he was known to love nature. It is a day to be thankful and commune with the natural world.

Finally, we have May 5th – Children’s Day. Originally called Boy’s Day, it was a day for Japanese families to pray for the health and success of their sons. Carp streamers and samurai dolls are put on display to symbolize strength and success. Traditionally an answering holiday to the March 3rd Girl’s Festival, the name of Boy’s Day was changed however, to include both boys and girls. It is now a holiday to celebrate the happiness and personalities of children, and to appreciate mothers. Sorry boys! Although I think strong tradition still holds over from Boy’s Day, as the fifth day of the fifth month of the year is reserved for a boy’s holiday in many parts of Asia.

Golden Week is the most important holiday week in Japan, closely followed by Silver Week and Obon. Though a strange mix, it is a good opportunity for some rest and relaxation. What are you doing for Golden Week?

Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. I’m going to Osaka and Hiroshima this Golden week to check out the infamous Miyajima shrine. I have to work on May 1st and 2nd so its not really a Golden “week”, but more like a long weekend.

Comments are closed.