Public holidays are always much anticipated, especially by students and working adults. While public holidays usually only last a day or two in many countries, the Japanese are blessed with the iconic Golden Week. Celebrated in the last week of April to the beginning of May, Golden Week is a series of four national public holidays that are almost concurrent.
This year, the Japanese public will be celebrating Golden Week starting on 29 April, which is Showa Day (Showa no hi), the birthday of the late Emperor Showa, who ruled Japan during World War II. Showa Day celebrations and festivities often begin one to two days earlier, as many Japanese start to get into the much-anticipated holiday spirit. This year, Showa Day will fall on a Friday. On this day, the Japanese tend to take a more muted approach to their celebrations, as they visit the shrine where Emperor Showa is buried and sit outside with close family and friends in nature.
Following Showa Day, Japan celebrates its Constitution Day (Kenpo kinenbi), on 3 May, followed by Greenery Day (Midori no hi) on 4 May. Constitution Day allows Japanese people from all walks of life to honour the ratification of Japan's constitution post-World War II, while Greenery Day is dedicated to appreciating the environment.
Constitution Day is often overshadowed by the other public holidays, especially its festivities. However, the Japanese use this day to reflect on the country's journey to peace and the rights of its people. On this day, some government buildings, which most people are otherwise not permitted to enter, are open to the public to explore.
On the following day, Greenery Day, Japan sees its people indulging in nature, and some larger cities will hold parades and events. However, due to the prolonged period of Golden Week, many Japanese will take this opportunity to travel between cities for holidays or to spend time with family. The origins of Greenery Day are rooted in the birthday celebrations of Emperor Showa and were previously celebrated on 29 April, but in 1989 the holiday was renamed Greenery Day. In 2007 Greenery Day was officially celebrated on 4 May, in line with a government policy. The shift in dates was quite controversial, as the Japanese government aimed to celebrate Greenery Day without referencing Emperor Showa.
Wrapping up Golden Week is Children's Day (Kodomo no hi), rooted in an ancient celebration that can be traced back to the Nara period, from 710 to 794 AD. Children's Day became a national holiday in 1948 to honour boys and girls. Before that, the Japanese dynasty used this day to celebrate boys (girls had another celebration dedicated to them). On this day, it is common to see carp-shaped streamers lining streets and homes, which are a symbol of strength and success.
Today, the Japanese celebrate Children's Day by sharing traditional folk stories and displaying samurai dolls and helmets. Parents also bathe their children in water sprinkled with iris leaves (which is thought to promote good health and ward off evil spirits), and everyone enjoys sweet bean-paste rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves.
Golden Week brings a lot of buzz, as many Japanese make plans to take full advantage of this long holiday, with some even taking a few days off work before and after these designated days. However, tourists are often advised to avoid visiting Japan during this week as the country will see its busiest travel season, mainly domestically.
With Golden Week coming up pretty soon, what have you got planned if you are in Japan?
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