Friday, April 28, 2017

GOLDEN WEEK - A Gallery of Japanese National Holidays

What is “Golden Week?” Spanning the last days of April through the first days of May is a succession of Japanese national holidays that Japanese, and Japanophiles alike, lovingly like to call "Golden Week."

What makes this time of the year so special is that it is the longest occurrence of renkyuu (連休, lit. holidays in a row) for schools and Japanese companies. It is an extremely popular time to travel abroad, and flights, trains and hotels are often booked solid, even though prices tend to go through the roof during this time. Sightseeing and amusement spots get crowded, and airports and train stations in Japan overflow with people. Popular destinations, such as Guam, Saipan and Hawaii, as well as major cities in Asia, Europe and the West Coast of North America, are all affected by large numbers of Japanese tourists during the season.

The succession of national holidays during Golden Week has been around since 1948, when the National Holiday Laws were promulgated. However, the term "Golden Week" wasn't coined until later. Leisure-based industries experienced spikes in their revenues during this time, and in 1951, the managing director of Daiei Films coined the term "Golden Week," based on the Japanese radio lingo "golden time," which denotes the period with the highest listener ratings. (In America, we call this "prime time.")

Emperor Showa AKA Hirohito, April 29, 1901 – January 7, 1989

April 29th, Showa Day
Golden Week begins on April 29th, formerly known as "Greenery Day." Initially, it was celebrated as the birthday of Emperor Hirohito, who ruled from 1926 until 1989 (Showa 1 to 63). Upon the death of a Japanese emperor, the name of the era in which he reigned becomes his posthumous name. However, upon his death, instead of "Showa Day", the holiday was named "Greenery Day" to avoid creating a controversy in using the war-time Emperor's name. "Greenery Day" was adopted, as it refers to nature, something the Emperor was very fond of. As of 2007, however, April 29th was re-named "Showa Day" (昭和の日: Showa no Hi) to refer to Emperor Hirohito, revered for his promulgation of the current Japanese Constitution on May 3rd, 1947.

On Japanese national holidays, Japanese flags can be seen everywhere

May 3rd, Constitution Memorial Day
Constitution Memorial Day (憲法記念日 Kenpo Kinen-bi), commemorates the promulgation of the present Japanese Constitution on May 3rd, 1947. Unlike the Meiji Constitution that it replaced, the Showa Constitution declares that sovereignty lies with the people; the Emperor is "the symbol of the state and the unity of the people" who has no "powers related to government." It states that people have fundamental human rights and renounces war.

Japanese National Diet Building

This Constitution is very democratic, modeled after the American and British constitutions. Every year on May 3rd, the anniversary of the Constitution's promulgation is marked with ceremonies around the country. It is the only day of the year that the public can visit the National Diet Building, which is normally closed to the public. Being a day that draws its significance from the Japanese constitution, Constitution Memorial Day is often chosen as a day to reflect upon the meaning of democracy and Japanese government. Many people attend lectures on the role the Constitution has played for over 50 years. For example, in 2003, a number of newspapers featured editorials regarding the constitution's embattled Article 9.

It is said that Emperor Showa was fond of plants and nature

May 4th, Greenery Day
Formerly celebrated on April the 29th, "Greenery Day" (みどりの日, midori no hi) was moved to May 4th in 2007. Originally a day to remember Emperor Hirohito, deliberately re-named to avoid controversy for his involvement in World War II, Greenery Day celebrates nature, of which the Emperor was particularly fond of. It was moved to create a holiday between Constitution Memorial Day and Children's Day. On this day, people plant trees and hold events that bring them closer to nature. It is a day to appreciate nature and enjoy its beauty.


May 5th, Children's Day
May 5th is Children's Day (こどもの日 Kodomo no Hi). On this day, the Japanese respect children's personalities and celebrate their health and happiness. It is also the day for children to express their gratitude for the tender love and care they receive from their parents. Traditionally called Tango no Sekku (端午の節句), the fifth day of the fifth month was originally "Boys Day," girls having their own festival called Hina Matsuri (ひな祭り) held on the third day of the 3rd month. However, in 1948, the government decided that May 5th should be a national holiday to celebrate the happiness of all children, and it was renamed Kodomo no Hi, Children’s Day.

Despite its renaming, Boys Day continues to be observed as a separate holiday that happens to coincide with Children's Day, and the appropriateness of having Children's Day fall on the same day as Boys Day is disputed by some, since Girls Day isn't a designated national holiday.

 Typical Boy's Day Display

For Boys Day, wind socks in the shape of carps, called "Koi Nobori" (鯉のぼり) are flown, and a display with traditional Japanese masculine ornaments are displayed in pretty much the same way as dolls are displayed on Girls Day.