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Golden Week: What Are These Japanese Holidays?

Ever wonder about the history of Golden Week's holidays?

By 4 min read

Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク) is Japan’s longest and much-needed string of national holidays starting from April 29 through early May. Although there are only four holidays, most people use their allotted paid vacation days to take the entire week or more off.

Hideo Matsuyama, the managing director of Daiei Motion Pictures, coined the name in 1951. Matsuyama noticed ticket sales would surge during this holiday week more than any time of the year. He dubbed it “Golden Week” after Japan’s radio and TV phrase “golden time,” which was the point of time with the highest listener and viewer ratings.

During Golden Week, the entire country takes off from work and school, making it (along with Japan’s New Year) the most popular time for travel—domestic and abroad. Transportation is more expensive, and hotels are fully booked months in advance.

To help you along with your Japanese cultural studies, here is a quick summary of Japan’s Golden Week holidays.

Showa Day

Emperor Showa at his personal laboratory in the Imperial Palace.

Showa Day (昭和の日) is held on April 29 and was initially a holiday celebrating Emperor Showa’s birthday (天皇誕生日). After the Emperor died in 1989, the holiday was renamed Greenery Day (see below), and renamed again, to Showa Day, in 2007.

It has since become a holiday celebrating Emperor Showa’s reign (also called Emperor Hirohito) and Japan’s Showa era. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the holiday has been controversial.

People in Japan traditionally celebrate Showa Day by visiting shrines, the National Showa Memorial Museum or visiting the Musashino Imperial Mausoleum in Tokyo, where Emperor Showa is buried. Others simply enjoy the day off.

Constitution Memorial Day

Who doesn’t love a good constitution?

Constitution Memorial Day (憲法記念日) is held on May 3 to honor Japan’s constitution established in 1947. It is a day meant to reflect on democracy and government. Many newspapers will run Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.

After Japan announced unconditional surrender to allied forces, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur helped draft the new constitution, and Japan’s diet ratified it on Aug. 24, 1946. It was announced by the Emperor on Nov. 3 and came into effect on May 3, 1947.

Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida fought to have the holiday observed on Nov. 3, which was also Emperor Meiji’s birthday. He didn’t like that May 3 was also the start of trials by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Nevertheless, he didn’t get his way.

Constitution Memorial Day is also the only day of the year Japan’s National Diet opens to the public for tours of the building.

Greenery Day

Celebrate Greenery day by camping at the foot of Mt.Fuji.

In theory, Greenery Day (みどりの日) is a holiday to celebrate nature. It may also just be a way around giving the controversial Emperor Showa another holiday.

Greenery Day, held on May 4, was formerly held on April 29 and was made to replace Emperor Showa’s birthday. From 1989 to 2006, May 4 was simply a “national day of rest.” The day was renamed “Greenery Day” for the Emperor’s love of plants (and without directly mentioning him). In 2007, Greenery Day moved to May 4, and April 29 became Showa Day.

Most people just consider it an extension of Golden Week, but why not use the excuse as a chance to enjoy Japan’s beautiful nature with a day out hiking or camping (or glamping)?

Children’s Day

Flying carp banners at Tokyo Tower.

Children’s Day (こどもの日) is held on May 5 and dates back to the Nara Period when it was known as Tango no Sekku. It was initially called “Boys Day” and celebrated sons and their fathers as a counterpart to Hinamatsuri. It was renamed in 1948 to Children’s Day to celebrate all children and recognize fathers and mothers as equals in families. 

During the days leading up to and after Children’s Day, carp-shaped flags are flown throughout the country by families to celebrate their children’s health, happiness and personalities.

Traditionally, a large black carp, known as the magoi representing the father, flies at the top of a flag pole. A red carp, the higoi representing the mother, comes second, followed by a blue carp representing the firstborn child. More carp are added for each son or daughter.

This comes from the Chinese myth about a golden koi fish swimming up a waterfall to become a dragon. You might also see families displaying samurai dolls and helmets, symbolizing their children’s strength and spirit.

What’s your favorite holiday in Japan? Do you celebrate traditional holidays during Golden Week? Let us know in the comments!

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