Golden Week 2019 kicked off today in Japan: do you want to know what it’s really about and which holidays and festivals you can celebrate? Let’s discover it!
Why ‘Golden Week’?
The term Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク) was first used by a representative of Daiei Films, after the movie Jiyu Gakko (自由学校) was released on May 6, 1951 breaking box office records. Golden Week is a reference to Golden Time or Prime Time, which in radio and tv determine the hours with the highest listeners/viewers.
As there are four national holidays in the Golden Week, this is one of the busiest holiday periods, alongside Obon and New Year.
What are the festivals of Japan Golden Week?
Showa Day (昭和の日, Shōwa no Hi), 29/4
Showa Day celebrates Showa era in honor of Emperor Hirohito, who was born on this day in 1926. The Showa era has been longer than any other and saw turmoils and great changes. In the first part of Showa period, there was a rapid development of the nationalism and imperialism movements in Japan; the government endorsed racial discrimination policies against Asian countries to fulfill its expansionist ambitions. This led to the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and to the alliance with Germany and Italy in 1940. The second part of Showa period from 1945 was completely different, as the government fostered change and peace; also, with the reconstruction of the 50s came the fast economic growth know as “Japanese Miracle”.
Constitution Memorial Day (憲法記念日, Kenpō Kinenbi) 3/5
Constitution Memorial Day commemorates the promulgation of the Japanese Constitution in 1947. In particular, Article 9 is one which people should reflect on, as it declares Japan a pacifist country.
Greenery Day (みどりの日, Midori no Hi) 4/5
After the death of Emperor Showa, April 29 was referred to as Midori no Hi. As he loved plants and nature, this was a way to commemorate him without really mention his name. However, in 2005 the Japanese Parliament approved the law to rename the holiday in honour of Emperor Hirohito; ever since, Showa no Hi is celebrated instead, while Midori no Hi was moved forth to May 4. This sparked controversion on whether Emperor Showa is to be celebrated; however the Parliament stated that the day is intended as a moment of reflection on Showa era events. In fact, Emperor Showa’s role in military campaigns and wars is still controversial.
Spend Midori no Hi outside, reflect on nature and environmental issues; just enjoy one of the different parks and gardens of Japan!
Children’s Day (子供の日, Kodomo no Hi) 5/5
Known as Boy’s Day until 1948, Kodomo no Hi or Children’s Day celebrates all children and commemorates mothers. On this day, families hang one carp shaped banners (koinobori) for each member. You can enjoy koinobori at Tokyo Tower, read here to know how and when. It’s a tradition to eat kashiwa-mochi and chimaki to celebrate. You can buy some at a konbini – or click here for my mochi recipe!
What’s so special about Golden Week 2019?
This year the Golden Week holds special meanings. In fact, on April 30 Emperor Akihito will abdicate and the next day his son Crown Prince Naruhito will ascend the throne. It’s the first time in 200 years that an emperor abdicates, the last being Emperor Kōkaku in 1817. May 1 will also be the start of the new Reiwa era.
Japan adopted the era system in 645 CE from a similar one already in use in China for centuries. Emperors used era names to establish their power, or to create continuity, or to foster change. Until the Meiji period the court declared a new era within a few years after a new emperor ascended the throne. However it was custom to name a new era also for the sankaku (unpropitious years) or for particular disasters or fortunate times. In modern times a new era stars the first day of a new emperor’s accession.
If you want to know how you can greet the new Emperor and top picks for Golden Week, read this article about it.