Golden Week is one of the major holiday weeks in Japan. It usually takes place in the last week of April in to the first week of May; the exact dates vary a little depending on when weekends fall. In this article, we’ll look at what happens during Golden Week, how the Japanese celebrate it and what to expect if you are in Japan during Golden Week.
What Is Golden Week?
Golden Week wasn’t designed as a festive period. By coincidence, several public holidays fell within a week of each other. A quirk of law that said a day between two public holidays was also a holiday created another day off. As a result, many employees took advantage of the run of public holidays to book extra days off work. Similarly, many companies decided it was easier to shut down totally over the week rather than close and reopen several times.
The holidays celebrated during Golden Week are:
29th April – Showa Day
3rd May – Constitution Day
4th May – Greenery Day
5th May – Children’s Day
Originally Greenery Day was celebrated on the 29th April, so 4th May was the legal holiday. However after Emperor Hirohito died and his legacy could be fully evaluated, it was decided to make his birthday a public holiday in its own right. Greenery Day was moved to 4th May in 2007 to differentiate between the two days.
The name “Golden Week” supposedly came from a film promoter, who noticed record takings over the public holidays. Golden Week is seen by the Japanese as an opportunity to get away from work rather than a specific celebration, so you won’t find many events or ceremonies to join in.
What is Celebrated on each Day of Golden Week?
Showa Day (Showa no Hi)
Showa Emperor Hirohito ruled Japan from 1926 to his death in 1989. During his reign, Japan changed drastically. Political upheaval and the growth of military power lead to Japan invading China and joining WWII. A long period of post-war austerity followed and Japan was occupied by American forces; Hirohito was forced to make the Emperor a ceremonial role rather than absolute ruler. However the reign also saw Japan return to the world stage as a major economic and technological power. On this day, Japanese citizens are encouraged to remember the Showa period and the impact it had on modern Japan.
Constitution Day (Kenpo Kenenbi)
The Japanese constitution came in to effect on this day in 1947. This marked the end of Japan as an imperial power, but also marked the start of their journey to become a modern democracy with a place in the global economy. On this day, the Japanese are supposed to reflect on democracy and politics; many newspapers will publish features and editorial discussing the subject.
Greenery Day (Midori no Hi)
Greenery Day was originally celebrated on Hirohito’s birthday due to the Emperor’s love of the outdoors and nature. The purpose of the day is to reconnect with nature and be thankful for the gifts and resources nature gives us. However like many of the holidays in Golden Week, the day is rarely celebrated exactly as it is meant. Most people just take the opportunity to enjoy some time off work but you might find special events celebrating Greenery Day at gardens and parks.
Children’s Day (Kodomo no Hi)
Originally just for boys, the day now includes girls. Celebrations can be spotted by the use of carp flags, which appear to swim in the breeze. In Chinese legend, carp swim upstream to become dragons, so the swimming carp represent children moving towards adulthood. The day celebrates children, their personalities and happiness. Special mochi rice cakes are often served on this day.
Golden Week For Tourists
Golden Week is not a great time to visit Japan. For many Japanese workers, this is one of few opportunities to take a full week away from work, so many choose to visit other parts of Japan. This means accommodation and travel become much more busy and expensive, but there’s few festivals or large events to enjoy either. You might also find that some of the things you want to do are shut.
If you have to visit Japan during Golden Week, make sure you book your hotel and reserve trains or flights as far in advance as possible. Tokyo is probably the best place to spend Golden Week as the crowds are not so noticeable here; many Tokyoites will take a trip to the countryside for Golden Week – making room for the additional visitors from other parts of Japan. An alternative solution would be to use Golden Week to fit in some hiking or visiting more remote parts of Japan.
Golden Week falls across two weeks in 2014 and 2015, so it is likely the most travel disruption will be in the second week with the run of three holidays, with minor disruption on April 29th.