Here at Nihongo Master, we loooove talking about Japanese holidays! While some holidays Japan adopted from the West (like Christmas and Valentine’s Day), every country also has holidays that are only celebrated by them. Golden Week in Japan ゴールデンウィーク (gōruden wīku) is not just one holiday, but FOUR holidays that align each year to provide a week of vacation for everyone! Hooray! Golden week is the third busiest travel season in Japan, after New Year and Obon.
Since we’re actually right in the middle of Golden Week in Japan right now, let’s talk about the four holidays that make up this wonderful time of year!
Golden Week in Japan Holidays
April 29th – Shōwa Day – 昭和の日 (Shōwa no Hi)
May 3rd – Constitution Memorial Day – 憲法記念日 (Kenpō Kinenbi)
May 4th – Greenery Day – みどりの日 (Midori no Hi)
May 5th – Children’s Day – こどもの日 (Kodomo no Hi)
Let’s start with the first holiday, 昭和の日. Shōwa Day is a holiday to commemorate the birthday of the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito). He ruled Japan from 1926 through his death in 1989. While the celebration of the emperor’s birthday used to be an occasion to honor him, since his death it has become a time of reflection on the 63 years of his reign. Many believe these years were a turbulent, and often dark, time for Japan.
In America, we celebrate the 4th of July because it was the day the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress. In other words, it marked the day of American Independence. So what do you think 憲法記念日 celebrates in Japan? Well of course, it commemorates the adoption of their constitution after World War II in 1947. Constitution Memorial Day in Japan is also a day to think about democracy and Japanese history. So far it seems like these holidays make you do a lot of thinking! Of course most people just enjoy the time they have off work.
みどりの日 used to be celebrated on Emperor Shōwa’s birthday, because he loved nature and plants so much. After his death, his birthday became its own holiday and Greenery Day got moved to May 4th. While Greenery Day is meant to be a day to appreciate plants and communicate with nature, you can bet most people just see it as an extra day in their spring vacation!
While the celebration surrounding Children’s Day has been practiced since ancient times, the holiday itself wasn’t made official until 1948. こどもの日 is a day to celebrate children’s personalities and their happiness, and also to express gratitude towards mothers. Originally, the holiday was called 端午の節句 (Tango no Sekku) and was focused only on celebrating boys. Of course now Japan is more modern and celebrates all children!
On こどもの日, families will often hang a flag of carp with a carp for the mother, the father, and one for each child. The carp are hung on Children’s Day because of a Chinese legend where a carp swimming upstream can become a dragon!
While ゴールデンウィーク offers a lot of different reasons to celebrate, the main reason is because it is often the longest vacation you will have all year! Many businesses will close down for 10 whole days since opening and closing between all the holidays is too much work! Also, the fact that Golden Week occurs in the first week of May means that the weather is almost perfect in Japan! Spring has already sprung but stifling and humid Japanese summer has yet to arrive.
Just remember, if you visit Japan during Golden Week you might find a lot of businesses closed, but the tourist attractions, transportation, and accommodations may be fully booked up! Plan accordingly!