Japan’s Coveted Holiday Break; Golden Week

What is Golden Week in Japan All About?

Golden Week, sometimes abbreviated GW and called “Goruden Wiku” in Japanese is a national holidays celebrated yearly, and only in Japan. It constitutes of four different holidays, namely Showa Day, or “Showa no hi”, Constitution Day or “Kenpo kinenbi”, Greenery Day or “Midori no hi”, and Children’s Day, or “Kodomo no hi”. Each of these days celebrates a different event.

The Japanese workforce is known to be very diligent, rarely, or never missing a day of work. In fact, they work overtime, and even on weekends. However, Golden Week is an exception. A big chunk of the corporate world slows to a pause during these days, as their employees are given paid time off to enjoy themselves. Others combine their leaves surrounding this week to stretch their vacation time longer to make the most out of their planned trips.

A Busy Travel Week

During Golden Week, many Japanese take this time to travel internationally. They like visiting around Asia. Other popular spots which visited during Golden Week are Hawaii, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Parts of Australia and Europe are among top choices to travel to as well. Also, there are many people who prefer to stay in Japan and taking the time to bond with their families at home.

When Exactly is Golden Week this 2017?

Golden Week starts on the 29th of April, and ends on the 5th or 6th of May, depending on what day of the week the holiday string begins. The four holidays celebrated are namely the Emperor's’ Birthday (Tencho Setsu, 1927-1948, and Tenno Tanjobi, 1949-1988) and Showa Day on April 29. The 29th of April also used to be the date when “Greenery Day” was celebrated, until they moved this to the 4th of May last 2006. Next, on May 3rd is Constitution Day. May 4th is Greenery day, and May 5th is Children’s day.

The History of Golden Week

In July 1948, a series of laws were promulgated pertaining to Japan’s national holidays, wherein nine of them were officially declared. Coincidentally, many of those holidays seemed to cluster up between the months of April and May. Naturally, people would take advantage of this break and spend money on both service and leisure industries, which was immediately noticeable by the people who run these businesses.

Initially, Showa Day was the first holiday to be celebrated on April 29th, as it was the birthday of the Emperor at that time. In 1989, he passed away, the celebration of his birthday replaced with Greenery Day, a sign of respect, mourning his death. 18 years later, Showa Day was once again placed back on April 29th to commemorate the past Emperor, and Greenery day was pushed forwards to the 4th of May.

How Golden Week Got its Name

A film called “Jiyū Gakkō” that was shown at the end of April to early May received soaring ticket sales compared to all the other days that it was showing. This came as a pleasant surprise to the company who owned the movie house, Daiei Film Co., Ltd., which decided to turn this trend into a marketing strategy. Because radio was a popular media at that time, statisticians would monitor what period of the day most people tuned in to properly handle their station’s demographics.

The period that had the most ratings and people tuned in was dubbed “golden time”. Thus, the cinema company named their week with boosted sales “Golden Week”, and the term caught on, becoming a household phrase referring to this week-long vacation.

A Breakdown of the Different Golden Week Days

While everyone tends to forget the meaning behind having these holidays and jump right into vacation mode, it’s quite worthwhile to know at least a little bit behind what each holiday stands for. At the end of the day, you have them to thank for those extra days off.

Showa Day, Celebrated on April 29

From the 50’s until the late 80’s, Showa day existed for Japan to celebrate Emperor Hirohito’s day of birth, now it's known as the late Emperor Showa. Emperor Showa ruled Japan all throughout the tragedies of the second world war, with his reigning period being from 1926 to 1989. When he died on the 7th January in 1989, the following holiday that would celebrate his birthday was renamed Greenery Day. It is only by chance that this holiday falls on the same date that officials under the government during the second world war were sentenced to death; a key member of this group being the Prime Minster at that time, Hideki Tojo.

The Democratic Party of Japan is said to have created this holiday, despite arguments from its opposition not to, to reflect from and remember the tough years Japan had experienced under his reign, and how they came through stronger, booming economically. Many turbulent events had happened under the Showa period, even WWII aside. The many coups, invasion of Manchuria, and American Occupation had all occurred under his rule, including the phenomenon of the entire country literally rising from the ashes.

Constitution Memorial Day, Celebrated on May 3

On May 3, 1947, a post-war Japanese constitution was ratified. This holiday serves a memorial for that day, as well as marking Japan’s new beginnings after being war-torn. This day isn’t exactly “celebrated”, it is more like a symbol that honors such a momentous occasion.

Greenery Day, Celebrated on May 4

The origin of Greenery Day comes mainly from having to replace the holiday that celebrated the birthday of the Emperor but still indirectly celebrates him. Few people know this, but Emperor Showa loved plants. The holiday is currently explained as a day for everyone to be thankful for the blessings that come from nature and be aware of how one should care about the environment. Many organizations in Japan hold activities for public awareness concerning matters about preserving and respecting the environment.

Children’s Day, Celebrated on May 5

During Kodomo no hi, or Children’s Day in Japan, people celebrate children’s happiness (particularly male children; female children have their day on the 3rd of March) and find ways to thank mothers on this day. During this day, it is a tradition for people to display samurai dolls, and carp streamers or “koinobori” as a symbol of good luck and well-wishing. Why display carps? This custom has much to do with an old legend about a carp who worked so hard to swim against the current that it ended up growing to become a dragon, symbolizing strength and perseverance for young men to grow into their best adult selves.

They also consume a Japanese dumpling dessert called “Chimaki”, made of an assortment of sweet ingredients. It is elongated and wrapped in either bamboo, reed, or banana leaves. This quite a contrast compared to the paper dolls, plum blossoms displayed and Amazake consumed on the 3rd of March.

How People Celebrated Golden Week in Japan during 2017

Usually, Golden Week has separated into two breaks; a 3-day break, and a 4-day break. If any of those days falls on a weekend, it is made up for by declaring following day a holiday. This year, Golden Week began on April 29, which was a Saturday, and concluded on May 7. Thus, April 29, which was a Saturday, was compensated for by turning Monday into a holiday.

Golden Week usually ends by May 5, but because May 5 fell on a Friday, the weekend (May 6 and 7) ended up being part of Golden Week as well. This year, many people went traveling, with the newfound accessibility and affordability of going abroad and seeing new things. This year’s Golden week was especially long, so it was smart to take advantage of such a long break.

Golden Week This Coming 2018 and 2019

2018’s Golden Week technically begins on a Sunday, but Japan has declared April 30 a holiday as well to create those two breaks; a 3-day weekend from the 28th of April (Saturday) until the 30th of April (Monday), and a longer 4-day weekend, beginning on the 3rd of May (Thursday) until the 6th of May (Sunday). Though there are technically two long breaks, it is forecasted that travel activity will increase the most in the second week, with an influx of people leaving their homes on the 3rd of May, anticipated to return by the 6th of the same month.

The exact same thing is predicted to happen during the calendar of 2019, as April 29 falls perfectly on a Monday. May 3 falls on a Friday, and May 5 falls on a Sunday, so the holiday will then be compensated for by Monday, May 6th. The same patterns go in terms of traffic; the second week is always when the crowds get thicker.

Traffic During Golden Week: Tourists Beware

The Japanese nationals make the most out of their breaks as possible because they get so few of them. For most subscribers of the Japanese workforce, this break is the longest they’ll get in the entire year. In fact, those who don’t know the true reason it’s called “Golden Week” probably think it’s because the week is highly valued. If you’re a tourist coming from abroad, do you know what that means? It means you will be swept up in a frenzy of locals being tourists in their own country.

Being blunt, Golden Week is not the best time for you to travel to Japan if you want to avoid crowds in sightseeing spots, book comfortably-priced tickets, and have space in local accommodation spots. It’s the country’s most popular travel season, and things get quite expensive, too. If you must be in Japan for any reason that week, there are still some places that are less known to tourists. Try forums online that give helpful hints about these secret spots of Japan. Avoid looking at TripAdvisor for the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. Book instead during March or October (or weeks prior and post-Golden Week) for great weather and easier crowd control.

Fun Things You Can Do During Golden Week

Don’t know what to busy yourself with during Golden Week? There is so much you can do. For one, you can join events that happen only during Golden Week, such as Odaiba’s Hawaiian Festival in Venus Fort. Another week-long celebration is Rainbow Pride in Tokyo, which is held in Yoyogi Park Events. No matter what your sexual orientation, gender, or sex is - everyone is invited to that.

There are other more traditional events, such as Okunitama Shrine’s Kurayami Matsuri, where portable shrines called “mikoshi” go through a procession during both the night time and the early morning of the next day. These are only a few of the many events that happen on Golden Week.

Otherwise, if you’re not the type of person who purposely joins droves of people, you can use Golden Week to throw a party with your friends. The weather is great, so holding a BBQ isn’t such a bad idea. You can also take this chance to do some spring cleaning, and clean out file cabinets. Or, you can explore what geographic and cultural secret treasures lay around Japan that you were always too busy to notice, such as hiking up a beautiful mountain beside Mt. Fuji, or visiting that mysterious Shrine that you always pass by going to work.