Golden Week

Although next Monday is the official start of Golden Week in Japan, because the first holiday falls on a Monday almost everyone’s time off will begin on Saturday. Every year four national holidays occur in the span of one week, and many if not most companies and schools throughout the country close down for the duration. Golden Week is the longest vacation break for most Japanese workers, and along with New Year’s and the Obon festival in August, it’s one of the top three times for vacationing in Japan, with lots of both local and international travel. The name “Golden Week” came about because so many resorts, hotels, inns and travel agencies earned so much income during the week.

Mt. Fuji looms over Hakone National Park. Lots of geothermal activity occurs within the park as well.

Our son said that this might be a good week for us to visit places in Tokyo as the city sort of empties out, so Brett and I are planning to visit the National Museum in Ueno Park, and the nearby Yanaka neighborhood, which was undamaged during the WWII bombings and provides a look at Tokyo pre-war architecture and neighborhood structure. We are also going for a two-day visit to the Hakone-Izu National Park with our son and family this coming Saturday and Sunday; they rented a cabin for us there and we’ll get to visit various sites in the park as well as get an up-close look at Mt. Fuji (If the weather isn’t too bad – sadly the forecast for Saturday is rain and freezing temperatures). On May 5 we will travel to Saitama Prefecture to have lunch with our daughter-in-law’s parents, a much-anticipated event as her mother is an amazing cook (last time we visited she made homemade udon noodles!).

The four official holidays that fall during the coming week are:

  1. April 29: Showa Day (昭和の日 Shōwa no Hi). Showa is probably better known to most of the world as Emperor Hirohito, with his birthday on the 29th a national holiday, beginning in 1927. Following his death in 1989 the holiday’s name was changed to Greenery Day, a day to think about nature and be grateful for one’s blessings. The day was officially changed to Showa Day in 2007.
  2. May 3: Constitution Memorial Day ((憲法記念日 Kenpō Kinenbi). This holiday celebrates the day the postwar constitution of 1947 took effect, and is a day to remember and reflect on Japan’s history. Public buildings such as the Diet (the national capital) are open to the public and public lectures are given about Japan’s role in World War II.
  3. May 4: Greenery Day (みどりの日 Midori no Hi)Previously the holiday was known as Citizen’s Holiday, but in with the April 29th holiday change to Showa Day, Greenery Day was moved to May 4.

    Koinobori fly over a house near our grandson’s school.
  4. May 5: Children’s Day (子供の日Kodomo no Hi). This is probably the most well-know holiday, and is also known as Boy’s Day (girls are celebrated on March 15 with Hina Matsuri). Large carp banners, koinoburi, are flown at residences where there is a son or in large groupings in other places to celebrate the holiday. If flown at a home there is typically a large black carp at the top to represent the father, then a smaller red carp to represent the mother, and finally smaller blue carp for each of the sons. Decorations inside the home may include a display of a samurai riding a carp and/or a samurai helmet, both which indicate strength and vitality.

    Our grandson’s samurai helmet is displayed for a few weeks before Children’s Day.

This year during Golden Week a very special event will occur: the current emperor, Akihito, will abdicate the throne on April 30, the first emperor to do so in over 200 years, and his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Emperor Akihito is 85 years old and in frail health, and had come to feel the job was too demanding for him at his advanced age. In Japan, a new era only begins the day after an emperor dies, but in this case the name for the new era, Reiwa (令和時代), was announced early so that calendars, computer software, etc. could be changed in a timely manner. The enthronement, or coronation, of Emperor Naruhito will take place on October 22.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko
Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Princess Masako

The upcoming change to a new emperor is special for us because we were living in Japan when Emperor Hirohito died, and the Heisei Era (平成時代) began, and now are here again when that era ends and another one begins. Emperor Naruhito will be the 126th emperor of the longest reigning dynasty in the world.

11 thoughts on “Golden Week

  1. I had a set of two Japanese dolls when I was a girl, and a storybook about Japan. I especially loved reading about Children’s Day and thought we should have that in the U.S. as well. As if every day weren’t children’s day!

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    1. When our son was four, he asked why we didn’t have Children’s Day in the U.S. and I actually answered, “because EVERY day is Children’s Day there.” He still remembers that I said that!

      When I was about 10, I saw a Japanese doll with six wigs in Chinatown in San Francisco, and begged my dad to get it for me. When he went on his next navy cruise and had a port call there he surprised me with the doll. It was beautiful and I loved it, but also quickly grew bored with it because you couldn’t do anything with the doll but change its wigs. But I still was fascinated with Japan.

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  2. I am familiar with the timeline of Golden Week (it falls right in the middle of a busy work situation, and having our Tokyo team out for a week is always tricky), but was less so with the holidays themselves. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. The only actual holiday I knew was Children’s Day and the original Greenery Day on 4/29. I was surprised to learn it had been changed to Showa Day. This year Golden Week is especially long because it contains the two weekends on either end. I can imagine the week causes quite a few challenges for international firms who work with Japan.

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  3. Another really interesting post. We need a Golden Week in the US! 🙂 I’m learning so much via your travels and blogging about your adventures. Thanks!

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    1. We definitely need a Golden Week in the U.S. -wouldn’t that be great? The downside is that prices to do anything are sky high.

      Writing about things as we go as been such a help for me. I’ve learned so much along the way, not just about the places we’ve been but about traveling, and about myself, both individually and as part of a couple.

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  4. I love learning new cultural information from your travels! We are going to Italy in the fall, and I’ve made note of some of your favorite gelato spots 🙂

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    1. We kept thinking about the new era beginning as we wandered around Ueno Park on Wednesday, but the Japanese didn’t seem all that excited by it – it was just another day.

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