What is “Golden Week” in Japan?

Traditional koi-streamers used to celebrate Children's Day during golden week in Japan

Golden Week (in Japanese: ゴールデンウイーク・Gōruden weeku) is a collection of four National holidays within seven days. These holidays are Shōwa Day or Shōwa no hi on the 29th of April, Consitution memorial day orKenpō kinenbi on the 3rd of May, Greenery Day or Midori no hi on the 4th of May and finally, Kodomo no hi on the 5th of May. This period is also called 大型連休 (Ōgata renkyū – おおがたれんきゅう), meaning “long holiday series”.

Which national holidays make up Golden Week?

The National holidays that make up Golden week are:

  • April 29th, the birthday of the Shōwa Emperor, also called 昭和の日 ・しょうわのひ・Shōwa no hi: this day became a national holiday because Shōwa era (from 1926 to 1989) is the longest era Japan had. The day the Hirohito emperor was born was picked to commemorate the days of that reign. 
  • May 3rd, Constitution Memorial Day; 憲法記念日・けんぽうきねんび・Kenpō kinenbi: the day the new postwar constitution was put into effect, back in 1947. 
  • May 4th, Greenery Day; みどりの日・Midori no hi: from 1989 to 2007 the Greenery day was on the 29th April, but in 2007 was postponed to the beginning of May. Today it is dedicated to nature and the environment, to commemorate the emperor’s love for plants. 
  • May 5th, Children’s Day; 子供の日・こどものひ・Kodomo no hi: it is dedicated to celebrating children’s happiness and characters. 

Japanese habits during Golden week

Being seven consecutive holidays, Golden Week is the longest vacation period of the year in Japan. Not even New Year vacations or the Obon week are this long. This is why some companies are closed and give their employees time off. Therefore, it is a popular time to travel for many Japanese workers. Considering that in May the weather of all Japanese islands becomes warmer, it is a perfect time for travel in Japan itself. However, lots of people do go overseas as well. Other activities the Japanese organize during this week are having a barbecue, going out camping, enjoying one or more days in nature, whale watching, or, if you have children, going to famous beaches to calm.  

Golden Week is not a “traditional” festivity, like New year or the Obon: while there are traditional foods and activities for New Year (お正月・Oshōgatsu), and Buddhist related ceremonies for Obon, there are no “traditional rules” for the Golden Week. Some of the days which became national holidays (like 29th April and 5th May) were already celebrated in ancient times in Japan and were related to religious festivities. That is why you can see 鯉のぼり・こいのぼり・ (koinobori – carp-shaped streamer) raised on the streets and in-store, but this decoration refers to kodomo no hi however, is often confused as being a symbol of Golden week itself.

The famous koinobori , a typical Japanese decoration in May

Why is it called “Golden” week?

The name “Golden Week” was chosen because, during this time in 1951, the film industry and the radio recorded the higher ticket sales and listeners ratings, so it was designed as a Golden Time. This also concerns the travels and the tourism industry: flights, trains and hotels are often fully booked this week. It is surely the perfect time to visit Japan, just remember to book it in advance!  

Author: Valeria (graduated at Ca’Foscari University Japanese Studies)

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