This week, Japanese students and many Japanese businesspeople are sitting back, relaxing and enjoying their week off. The first week in May (actually April 29th to May 5th) is called “Golden Week” (ougon shuukan) in Japan because the close proximity of national and cultural holidays means that schools and many businesses close for 7 to 10 days. Of course, many shops remain open, public transportation continues to run, hospitals are still open, etc., so not every worker in Japan has the time off, but after the time around New Year’s, Golden Week is the second most important nation-wide vacation from school and work and the most popular time for travel.
What holidays make up this Golden Week? April 29th is Showa Day (Showa no hi). The day was the Showa Emperor (better known as Emperor Hirohito in the West)’s birthday and the birthday of the emperor is always a national holiday in Japan. (The current emperor’s birthday is in December.) This should no longer have been a holiday following the Showa Emperor’s death in 1988, but it was first changed to Greenery Day (midori no hi) immediately after his death to continue honoring him (read on for more information on Greenery Day). In 2007, Greenery Day was moved and replaced with Showa Day.
Showa Day, unlike Greenery Day, is not intended to honor the deceased emperor himself. Also, unlike Greenery Day, it publicly acknowledges that the Showa Emperor held his position during “turbulent times” in Japanese history. (The Showa Emperor was emperor during World War II in his youth and encouraged the country’s imperialistic war.) The day encourages Japanese citizens to reflect on that period in history and the way the country drastically changed before, during, and after the war. The Showa Emperor held his position until his death, meaning that during the Showa Era, he ruled during war time, depression, economic recovery and the transformation of Japan into a global industrial and economical leader.
Greenery Day, now May 4th, was originally intended to honor the Showa Emperor indirectly by honoring his love for nature and gardens. The day asks the Japanese citizens to honor nature and recognize all that nature provides, even in a technology-heavy world.
Come back Wednesday as Golden Week continues to learn more about the other holidays during this week.
Do you know any Japanese people who have off for Golden Week? Do you like the idea of Greenery Day or Showa Day better to recognize the late emperor’s birthday? Why?
Golden Week continues in Japan and we continue our coverage of the holidays. April 29th was the first day to feature a specific holiday. The next is May 3rd, which is Constitutional Amendment Day (kenpou kinenbi).
Constitutional Amendment Day was established in 1947 to honor the first day the country came under the laws of the Constitution of Japan, which was developed alongside the Allied Forces. The Constitution turned Japan into a liberal democracy. (It was previously a militaristic, imperialistic system.) It greatly lessened the role of the imperial family, making them more figureheads than policy makers, and also declared that the country would never again declare war. Instead, Japan would only defend itself if necessary, which is why the Japanese military is now called the “Japanese Self-Defense Forces.” The meaning behind the day is for Japanese citizens to reflect on democracy and government. It’s also the one day per year in which the National Diet Building (where the government—the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives—convenes) is open for public tours.
As discussed previously, the next holiday, Greenery Day, takes place on May 4th. Golden Week’s last national holiday is on May 5th —today! Children’s Day (kodomo no hi) is meant to celebrate children and their fun-loving, innocent personalities as well as to honor parents (particularly mothers) for raising them. It was originally known as Boys’ Day and was meant only to celebrate sons (as there is another holiday in March to celebrate daughters), but it was changed in 1948 to Children’s Day to celebrate all children.
An iconic symbol of Children’s Day is the koi (carp)-shaped koinobori flags. Households traditionally hang these flags from their rooftops, one for each of the parents and each of the children who live inside. Another tradition is to display a Kintarou (a fabled adventurous boy) doll and a kabuto (samurai helmet) inside the house, as these are symbols of healthy and strong boys. Today in Japan, many families are eating kashiwa–mochi (red bean rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves) and chimaki (sweetened rice paste in a bamboo or iris leaf) to celebrate.
Have you ever heard of Children’s Day or Constitutional Amendment Day? Do you think it’s fair that Boys’ Day was changed to Children’s Day when there’s still a Girls’ Day?