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Golden Week in Japan Starts Tomorrow But Many People Aren’t Happy

Widespread closures and sky-high prices mean that 45% aren't happy about this year’s extra-long holiday.

By 5 min read

Japan has something of a reputation for being a nation of workaholics. Despite this, it’s right up there when it comes to national holidays with 16 days off a year. This is on top of the customary holiday at New Year and over Obon in July or August.

The highest concentration of these holidays comes at the beginning of May. Greenery Day, Showa Day, Constitutional Memorial Day and Children’s Day join forces to create Golden Week, where people leave the cities in their droves and travel prices skyrocket in the spirit of idyllic relaxation.

This year, thanks to the coronation of Emperor Naruhito, the normally short holiday is being upgraded to a full-on 10 days of idleness. While some (myself emphatically included) celebrate one of the longest holiday periods in living memory, not everyone is quite so excited at the prospect of a week off work.

A survey by The Asahi Shimbun found that 45% of Japanese were unhappy about the long holiday, versus just 35% who said they “felt happy.”

For a workforce that traditionally doesn’t take much time off, the prospect of so much free time can be a bit bewildering: “To be honest, I don’t know how to spend the time when we are suddenly given 10 days of holidays,” financial worker Seishu Sato told AFP.

Japanese Twitter is not devoid of similar opinions.

“Ten whole days off is actually pretty inconvenient. I don’t need that much. The usual 3-day long weekend is fine,” tweeted @igarashikenta earlier this week.

Twitter user @natumey is even less positive.

“The TV’s showing nothing but travel and traffic jams. If you look at Twitter there are loads of people talking about how it’s not a holiday because they have jobs to do, and of course there are a lot of things to get done as part of daily life,” they tweeted. “I’d rather have information about hospitals and ATMs.”

This may well seem bizarre at first glance, but taking a look in more detail I can start to sympathize.

For one thing, when Japan’s on holiday, it’s on holiday. Even the ATMs can take time off, or else switch to a holiday fee structure. Schools will close, with nary a club activity to keep their kids occupied over that period. Most companies, too, will cease operating completely.

Only most companies, though. For those working in the service, tourism and medical sectors, issues start to appear. For one thing, childcare will be a lot more scarce. For families who simply can’t take time off, a 10-day closure of schools (which normally stay open during school holidays in Japan) and most childcare facilities is a major headache.

Although the Japanese government included the resolution to “take all possible measures to avoid any trouble in the life of the people” in the bill that created this year’s Golden Week, the question of how to actually achieve this seems to have been lost somewhere in between national and regional government, according to an article by The Japan Times.

The financial sector, on the other hand, is also bracing for its longest break from market trading since WWII. The prospect was described as “horrifying” by Yasuo Sakuma, chief investment officer at Libra Investments, quoted in an article by The Japan Times. While some banks are preparing to work through the holidays or let their employees work from home, the break will mean that more complex trading won’t be possible.

When the four days off over New Year in January caused a “flash crash,” you can see why long breaks are uncommon. It took 9/11 for the New York Stock Exchange to be closed for as long as Japan is planning to next week.

Workers who are paid by the hour or day look to take a big financial hit, and there’s been increased interest in side jobs doing everything from hotel work to computer installations, according to The Japan News.

Illustrator @toooo88 complains on Twitter:

“I don’t understand why we call ten days off a big holiday but don’t call ten days working a big load of work” they tweeted.

With these competing pressures, it’s not hard to see why some are not happy about the length of the holiday. The consecutive days off provide a rare opportunity for travel, but to those not jetting off it could likely prove an annoyance.

Seishu Sato, our disgruntled financial worker, said “If you want to go traveling, it’s going to be crowded everywhere and tour costs have surged… I might end up staying at my parents’ place.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, however.

Golden Week will see some big money being earned by businesses. Tourism companies are obvious winners, with Japan’s biggest travel agent JTB predicting almost 25 million people traveling and spending about 1 trillion yen over ten days. Over 60% of restaurants, too, are planning to stay open as usual.

For some, ten days off allows them to devote time to a project. Just think of all the leaves @imatsuru can paint!

“It’s scary how fast time goes. I’ll keep growing for the whole ten days,” they tweeted.

For those with a project or travel plan, ten days off is a dream come true. After the hard work of this week, catching up next week with some relaxation seems to be a common theme among my co-workers.

If nothing else, at least we’ll get the next chapter of One Piece a little earlier.

Whatever you’re doing this Golden Week 2019, we hope that you get to make the most of it somehow. Otsukare!

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