Golden Week is called as such because several national holidays happen in a span of about seven days. In Japanese, it is called Ōgata Renkyū or Ōgon Shūkan. It occurs in the spring, from the end of April until the first week of May. It is a huge event in Japan and many of the offices are closed during Golden Week, a fact that might shock people from the West. What is more incredible is that most Japanese take the opportunity to have their vacation before and after the Golden Week, thus the celebration could extend to about 10 days.
Many tourists avoid visiting Japan at this time of the year. Things are expensive in Japan and the prices rise higher during Golden Week. Hotels and local transport are packed due to the number of local and foreign travelers and prices go up exponentially because of the demand. A few places in the northern part of Japan could still be visited for hanami or the cherry and plum blossom spring celebrations. Parks would be full of people admiring the sakura blossoms, and enjoying the good weather with picnic parties.
Golden Week encompasses four fixed national holidays.
April 29 – Shōwa Day or Showa no Hi (birthday of the Showa Emperor)
May 3 – Constitution Memorial Day or Kenpou kinen Hi
May 4 – Greenery Day or Midori no Hi
May 5 – Children’s Day or Kodomono Hi. Tango no Kekku or Japanese Boy’s Festival, a day when parents pray for their boys to grow up healthy is also observed on this day.
The Golden Week starts with Shōwa Day on April 29, which is also the date of birth of Emperor Hirohito. The emperor was Japan’s ruler from December 25, 1926 to January 7, 1989, the date of his death. He was succeeded by Emperor Akihito, his son.
Emperor Hirohito was a prominent figure during World War II. His 63-year reign was tumultuous and many atrocities occurred during his reign. The demand of General Douglas MacArthur to allow him to continue his reign after he surrendered when WWII ended, enabled him to continue being the head of Japan.
April 29 used to be called Greenery Day. The date was only proclaimed as Shōwa Day in 2007 and Greenery Day was moved to May 4. The day is meant to encourage the Japanese to reflect on the 63 tumultuous years Japan and its people endured during Emperor Hirohito’s reign. It’s a recognition of the resiliency of the Japanese.
Many Japanese visit shrines to pray on this day. Street dancing with performers wearing colorful traditional costumes is common.
Constitution Memorial Day
The day is celebrated on May 3, the second holiday in the Golden Week celebration. On this day, the public is encouraged to remember the start of Japanese democracy after the declaration of the new constitution.
Before the war, the Japanese constitution stated that the Japanese emperor was the sovereign leader of the country who directly descended from Amaterasu, Shinto religion’s sun goddess.
The new constitution that was approved after the war said that the Japanese emperor symbolizes the nation, with the sovereignty resting on the people. It also symbolizes the people’s unity. Up until now, Article 9 of the new constitution is still controversial and the subject of many debates. Article 9 disallows Japan from declaring war on any nation and from having an armed forces. Many lectures focused on the role of the constitution in the government and the lives of the people are part of the celebration of the day as well as the Golden Week.
May 4 is the day to celebrate Greenery Day, a day for nature appreciation. It is marked by the planting of trees in different areas around Japan. Although not obviously acknowledged, this day also commemorates Emperor Hirohito’s fondness for plants.
In Tokyo, the highlight of the day’s activities is the visit by Japan’s current Emperor and Empress in a specific area. They will sow seeds and plant a tree after they give an address to the guests. Fireworks, people in traditional costumes, traditional paper lantern decorations and Japanese floats complete the activities.
Greenery Day also signals the rice planting season and the time to harvest the first crop of green tea or ichibancha. This is regarded as the tastiest green tea among the annual pickings. Green tea is harvest thrice a year in Japan. The second, nibancha is done in July while the third picking or sanbacha is done in September.
You can go to a tearoom or a tea garden on Greenery Day, which gives you the opportunity to try the tastiest green tea of the year.
Signaling the end of Golden Week is the celebration of Children’s Day. It is a holiday that has been celebrated since ancient times. Japanese families display carp-shaped wind flags or koinobori on tall poles. The carp is used as the symbol because it is known to swim upstream and according to a Chinese legend, the carp turns into a dragon during its swim.
There is an order to the stringing of the wind flags or socks. The first one, a black carp represents the father. The second one, usually red, represents the mother. Each son in the family is represented by a carp as well.
Many families also display a kabuto, a military helmet traditionally used by Japanese soldiers and a Kintarō doll that is often shown astride a large carp. These two items are traditional symbols of vitality and strength. Many homes also display gogatsu ningyo or samurai dolls.
Kintarō was a legendary hero. His real name was Sakata no Kintoki and he was a subordinate samurai during the Heian period. He was under the samurai Minamoto no Raikou. Kintarō was known for being a very strong child when he was a young boy. He was said to ride a bear rather than a horse and the animals found in the mountains were his playmates.
Traditional food served on Children’s Day includes chimaki, a bamboo or iris leaf-wrapped sweet rice paste. Also served is red bean jam filled kashiwa-mochi, which is wrapped in oak or Kashiwa leaves.
The Japanese are known as hard working and they take pride in their work. On Golden Week, aside from it being a national holiday, it is a time to reward the men and women who work tirelessly week in, week out. Japanese companies are willing to shut their offices and business to allow employees to take a long break.
Languages spoken in Japan
By nature, the Japanese are traditionalists although they readily embrace what’s new in different aspects, such as music, technology and fashion. Most of the people would rather speak their own language instead of conversing in English, unless it is absolutely necessary.
Japan does not have an official language but Japanese is the most widely spoken language. The language is divided into several dialects. The Tokyo dialect is regarded as standard Japanese, although other areas use their own dialect. Japan also has the Ryukyuan languages that are spoken in several parts of Kagoshima and Okinawa. Although these are also Japonic languages, the Ryukyuan languages are considered separate. They are already endangered according to UNESCO. Speakers of standard Japanese would not be able to understand the Ryukyuan languages and vice versa.
The Ainu, the indigenous people in the island of Hokkaido speak the Ainu language, which is a language isolate. It is another endangered language because the Japanese language was used more widely since the Meiji era.
Other endangered languages include Nivkh, Evenki and Orok. These languages were spoken in the southern part of Sakhalin, which used to be under Japanese control. When the Soviet Union controlled the area, the speakers of these indigenous languages as well as their families migrated to the Japanese mainland. While there are still existing communities around Japan, their numbers are getting smaller.
Chinese, Portuguese and Korean are migrant languages. There are also speakers of Zainichi Korean, which is a combination of Japanese and ethnic Korean that is commonly spoken by people from the provinces of Jeju, Jeolla and Gyeonggi. Incidentally, the Korean immigrants to Japan are called Zainichi Korean. The language does not have its own written form. Korean-Japanese still use the traditional Korean writing style.
For English speakers, Japanese or Nihongo is a difficult language to learn. The language isolate has three writing systems – kanji, katakana and hiragana. Kanji interprets Chinese characters in Japanese, while the phonetic systems are katakana and hiragana.
The experienced and highly skilled translators of Day Translations, Inc. would not find it difficult to translate your documents from and into Japanese. They are all native speakers and understand the nuances of the Japanese language. For Japanese translations with a high degree of accuracy, get in touch with us any time, any day of the year. Contact us or call us at 1-800-969-6853.
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