Golden Week was last week. You may have heard of it, you may have not. Golden Week takes place in Japan at the very end of April and lasts through the first week of May. People take vacations, travel the country or abroad, and generally have a great time regardless of the ensuing crowds. But what's the reason for this week-long holiday of fun? How come Japan gets a full week off to do whatever they like and we don't? Let's find out what this Golden Week thing is all about.
Golden Week is a collection of four national holidays within a week. Instead of just giving people those four holidays off, many offices end up closing for about 7-10 days, giving their employees a full week of freedom. Even if they're not given the whole week, many employees will just take time off anyway. The holiday week starts on April 29th and goes through May 5th.
Since everyone is pretty much free to do what they want during this time, many will take the opportunity to travel. Since everyone is traveling at the same time, places get pretty crowded and travel conditions can be less than ideal. Airports and train stations become flooded with more people than ever and reservations fill up fast. You need to plan way in advance for Golden Week.
Unfortunately, Golden Week in Japan also brings a spike in suicides for whatever reason. Suicide hotlines are specially set up during this time in an attempt to prevent these sad and unnecessary deaths.
The four holidays that make up Golden week are exclusive to Japan, so they might not be all that familiar to you. Those holidays are Showa Day, Constitution Day, Greenery Day, and Children's Day.
April 29th: Showa Day (Showa no Hi)
April 29th was the birthday of the Showa Emperor Hirohito who died in 1989. Until 2006, Greenery Day (see below) used to be celebrated on this day. The purpose of this holiday is to remind Japan of Hirohito's 63 years of rule and the hardships they faced during those times. This means that the day is more for reflecting on Japan's past than honoring Hirohito himself.
During his reign Japan saw the end of Taisho Democracy, the May 15th Incident, the February 26th Incident, the rise of Fascism, World War II, the post-war occupation, and Japan's rise as a world power.
May 3rd: Constitution Day (Kenpo Kinenbi)
As you might have guessed, Constitution Day celebrates the Constitution of Japan. It has been a holiday since the Japanese constitution came into effect on May 3rd, 1947. On this day, Japan is called to reflect on democracy and government. Sounds like a party to me.
May 4th: Greenery Day (Midori no Hi)
This day is a celebration of nature. Japan is supposed to become more in tune with nature and thank mother earth for her many blessings on this day. This holiday indirectly acknowledges Emperor Akihito because he has a great love of plants. However, most people in Japan just see this as another day that keeps Golden Week going and are thankful for that.
May 5th: Children's Day (Kodomo no Hi)
Designated as a national holiday in 1948, Children's Day is a day to celebrate children's personalities and their general happiness. The festival is also celebrated in a handful of other Asian countries as well. It was originally just for boys, but has since been expanded to include girls too. The symbol of this day is the carp, and you'll see many carp shaped flags flying around during this time.
The carp is part of a Chinese legend stating that when carp swim upstream they eventually become a dragon. The carp are said to represent the children swimming to adulthood and growing as human beings. When the carp flags flap in the wind, they look as if they are swimming.
My Personal Experiences With Golden Week
When I was studying abroad in Japan, it was during the spring so we were all there during Golden Week. Fortunately my friends and I planned in advance, so traveling to Yokohama and Tokyo from Kobe wasn't too much of a headache. Again, I highly recommend planning and booking things as far in advance as you can for this time of year in Japan if you decide to travel during it. You'll be glad you did.
Now I've never been to Tokyo when it wasn't Golden Week, but I never felt like any place was too crowded or like I missed out on anything or became overwhelmed because of it. I'm sure it's a different story if you're flying in or out of the country or don't already have plans set up, but maybe we just got lucky.
I didn't really see anyone out and about actually "celebrating" any of the individual days comprising Golden Week, so I'm fairly confident that not too many Japanese people really take notice of the individual days and are just stoked to have an entire week off from work. Here's what some of my friends currently living in Japan have to say about Golden Week.
Golden Week is a blessing and a curse. Sure the extra days off from work are great, but try to actually go anywhere and you're going to have a bad time. I just use Golden Week to relax and recharge.
I went to the aquarium in Nagoya last Friday. Every restaurant in the city had lines out the door, even fast food places. The aquarium itself felt like it was going to be my final resting place as I was slowly consumed by the mass of Japanese people talking about how delicious the fish look.
And since Golden Week is such a hectic time for travel in Japan, I wouldn't recommend going there at the end of April or beginning of May. Instead, you should look into Tofugu's best times to visit Japan. Koichi knows best, after all.