Golden Week holiday is coming, but what is it and where did it come from?
Golden Week is not one but four national holidays and a weekend that make up an extended holiday period. Nearly all Japanese take off the entire period to travel or go out. It is one of the major holidays of the year, alongside New Year’s and Obon.
April 29: Showa No Hi (Showa Day)
April 30: Regular weekday
May 1 and 2: Weekend
May 3: Kenpou Kinenbi (Constitution Memorial Day)
May 4: Midori No Hi (Greenery Day)
May 5: Kodomo No Hi (Children’s Day)
Golden Week was established in 1948, making it a fairly new holiday, but it was a great hit since the start. In 1951, only three years after its formation, it was christened “golden” thanks to outstanding profits made by cinemas, as well as thanks to the great number of listeners who tuned in to the radio all week long for an incredibly prolonged “golden hour.” Let’s take a look at the holidays one by one.
Did You Know? “Silver Week” occurs every five years in September when Respect for the Aged Day, Autumn Equinox Day, and the weekend coincide.
昭和の日–Showa No Hi
Interestingly, Showa No Hi on April 29 and Greenery Day on May 4 are two separate holidays born out of a single one: Emperor Hirohito (posthumously Showa)’s birthday. Until 1948, Japan celebrated his birthday as “Tennou Tanjoubi” (which is now a separate holiday on February 23). After his death, April 29 was no longer remembered as his birthday, but as Greenery Day, in memory of his love of nature. In 2007, Greenery Day was moved to May 3 to fill the gap between Constitution Memorial Day and Children’s Day, but since people had gotten used to April 29 being a holiday, it was retained and given the name “Showa No Hi.” On this day, people reflect on the tumultuous Showa Period and contemplate the future.
During this 60-year period, three major events occurred, including the beginning and end of World War II, the 1964 Summer Olympics, and the 1970 World Expo. Both the latter two events helped to put Japan back on the world stage after rapid post-war reconstruction. You can watch footage of the Expo on YouTube.
Did You Know? November 3, Culture Day, used to be Tennou Tanjoubi during the Meiji Era. His is the only other birthday to remain as a national holiday.
憲法記念日–Constitution Memorial Day
After Japan surrendered to the Allies on September 2, 1945, the Allied occupation government (aka SCAP or GHQ) helped to draft Japan’s new, post-war constitution, sometimes called the “Peace Constitution.” It was put into effect by will of the people on May 3, 1947, and Constitution Memorial Day was celebrated the following year. According to the Japanese government, Japan had already been a democracy since the Meiji Period, but this document clearly stated that the emperor was merely a symbol of state with no governmental powers, and so he remains to this day.
You can see a copy of the document online in The National Archives of Japan Digital Archives.
On the fourth of May, Star Wars fans and pun-lovers in the West might greet each other with, “May the 4th be with you,” but in Japan, it’s Greenery Day! The purpose of this holiday is to get out in nature and express thanks for natural blessings, allowing one’s heart to be enriched by the experience. Emperor Showa himself was an avid biologist, accumulating an impressive collection of plant and animal specimens including slime molds and hydrozoa (a classification which includes jellyfish).
Here are two of our favorite Instagram accounts that show how you can incorporate subtle florals and greenery into your space.
Cinco de Mayo in Japan is the last day of Golden Week, and possibly the most fun–it’s Children’s Day! Since it’s an odd-numbered day in an odd-numbered month, it also happens to be “Tango No Sekku,” or one of the five “sekku,” (seasonal festivals). If you grew up in Japan, Children’s Day likely brings to mind memories of colorful “koi nobori,” or carp streamers flying at your school. The custom of displaying koi nobori dates back to the Edo Period, when samurai families flew a “fukinagashi” or colorful streamer as a sign to the gods on a baby boy’s first birthday. This streamer turned into a carp thanks to the legend of the carp that swam up a waterfall and turned into a dragon, making it a symbol of determination and achievement.
What To Display on Children’s Day
Here are some ways to celebrate boys, boyhood, and kids in general:
What To Eat On Children’s Day
There seem to be an endless variety of mochi available for every different season, and if you grew up in Japan, you might remember the peculiar, grassy-smelling rice cake wrapped in an oak leaf. It’s called “kashiwa mochi,” and the leaf is usually peeled off before eating. Kashiwa mochi is perfect for Children’s Day, because oaks symbolize strength.
What To Do On Children’s Day
Take “shobu yu” 菖蒲湯 or a bath scented with the “shobu” 菖蒲 plant’s leaves. Shobu is known as sweet flag (acorus calamus) in the West, and it looks similar to the flowering iris. Because the name “shobu” 菖蒲 sounds like the word “shobu” 勝負, meaning “battle,” these leaves are believed to impart a warrior spirit, as well as to drive away evil and disease. If you can’t find sweet flag at your local plant nursery, any fragrant flowers will do.
Three More Ways To Celebrate Golden Week
In the West, obviously, we don’t have Golden Week off, but there are plenty of little ways to celebrate. Aside from reading up on the Showa Period, spending time out in nature, studying the Constitution, flying koi nobori, and taking shobu bath, here are three more ideas on how you can bring some “wa” into your week.