Golden Week in Japan is comprised of four national holidays, which are as follows:
April 29th – Showa Day
May 3rd – Constitution Memorial Day
May 4th – Greenery Day
May 5th – Children’s Day
Now, I know what you’re thinking: the 29th of April this year was a Tuesday, and the 3rd and 4th of May fell on a Saturday and Sunday. However, it is a common practice for many Japanese workers to take paid leave on the days in between, resulting in a week-long vacation. Some companies will even close down during this time so as to allow their employees to take this time off without having to apply for leave.
In Japan this week of holidays is considered a long vacation, hence the term, “Golden Week”, although the name originally came about due to the increase in sales at cinemas, shopping centers and other places of leisure where people commonly spend their free time. The only other ‘long’ vacations occur in summer at the time of the Obon festival (a special Buddhist event honoring the spirits of deceased family members and relatives), and in winter during the O-Shogatsu period (New Year’s).
However, the holidays aren’t the only things that make this period ‘golden’ for me; what I like most about this time is the weather. The beginning of May is the middle of the spring season, at a time when it is no longer cold, and days are usually sunny and clear. It’s a gorgeous time of year. Of course having a day off when the weather is warm and fine is also a great bonus. Just a month later in June the annual rainy season begins, and even when it’s not pouring down, the heat and humidity can be stifling.
Another thing I love about Golden Week is Children’s Day. This holiday was originally known as Boy’s Day (and ‘Hina-matsuri’ or Doll’s Festival, held annually on March 3rd, was the corresponding Girl’s Day – both events are now ‘gender-free’ so to speak). It has been an official public holiday since 1948.
Towards the end of April, many families and local government councils will fly ‘koinobori’ banners (windsocks in the form of fish, with designated colors to represent the father, the mother, and the child or children), either in their yard or in public places as the case may be. Sometimes hundreds of these ‘koinobori’ or ‘carp streamers’ can be seen billowing from their flagpoles or on special cables tied between two high points in dry river beds next to a busy road or a public park and so on – a spectacular and colorful sight to behold, especially when the breeze is strong.
Usually by this time of year the cherry blossom trees have all fallen across Japan, except in the more northern parts of the country, but these koinobori bring much color back to a landscape that is quickly heading towards summer. One can’t help but feel buoyed upon seeing these bright and cheerful streamers flying against the backdrop of a clear blue spring sky.
Due to the wonderful weather conditions in May, there are many festivals held throughout Japan in this month, including the famous Sanja Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s most lively festivals. It features a large number of Mikoshi (portable shrines), and one can also see many real-life Geisha, as well as performers in traditional dress as they participate in various events and parades. As many as two million spectators visit this spectacle each year. There are also other famous festivals held in Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Shizuoka, Nagano, Mie, Fukuoka, and so on, all throughout the month of May – a ‘golden month’ to be sure for those interested in Japanese culture.
Wishing you a great month and hoping that you can enjoy this fine spring season (for those of you in the northern hemisphere – and a happy autumn to my family and friends in Australia and New Zealand!)
These carp sets are flown above the roofs of houses, with the biggest black koinobori for the father, next biggest red for the mother, and ranging down to the smallest carp for the youngest child.