All that glitters is gold
Ever wonder why cities clear out and airports, train stations and tourist traps are all abuzz from late April to early May? It’s a time of year that presents “golden” opportunities to travel Japan – or stick close to home and trade the solitude of an emptied city for the crowds and mayhem.
In Japan the last week of April to the first week of May is “Golden Week” – a string of four consecutive holidays, Showa Day (April 29), Constitution Memorial Day (May 3), Greenery Day (May 4) and Children’s Day (May 5). These national holidays along with regular weekend make up of one of the longest holiday periods in the year. This week Golden Week is April 27 to May 6.
Showa Day commemorates the Showa Era, and is the birthday of former Emperor Showa. Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpo-kinenbi) honors Japan’s constitution which came into force on this day in 1947.
Greenery Day (Midori-no-hi) is dedicated to the environment and nature, while Children’s Day (Kodomo-no-hi) celebrates Boy’s Festival (Tango no Sekku). Parents wish health and future success of their sons by hanging up Koinobori (carp streamers), a symbol of effort and success, outside houses and by displaying Musha Ningyo (samurai dolls) in their houses.
The week gets its name from broadcasting jargon, a “golden time,” which is the equivalent of primetime. Since this period is usually blessed with good weather and moderate temperature, many large festivals take place all around the nation, helping to make Golden Week to be an extremely popular time for travel and sightseeing.
Some of the more famous festivals include Hamamatsu-Matsuri, in Shizuoka); Kurayami-Matsuri, in Tokyo; Naha Hari, in Okinawa; Hakata Dontaku, in Fukuoka; Hirosaki Sakura Matsuri, in Aomori; and Odawara Hojo Godai Matsuri in Kanagawa. Transportation and accommodations are often fully booked throughout this time, despite traditionally high Golden Week rates.
Road travelers beware!
Since Golden Week is one of the most crowded and expensive times to travel, staying within the city may be the best bet. But for those determined to take a road trip – drivers beware.
Heavy traffic is common, both on expressways and general roads, as a result of people traveling to their home towns or tourists attractions. This is especially true on expressways around big cities.
According to Japan Traffic Information Center, heavy traffic is expected to peak on various expressways around big cities May 3 and 4 (outbound) and May 4 and 5 (inbound). For general roads, heavy traffic is expected to peak throughout the weekend.
The heaviest traffic for a general road will be Chita Road in Aichi Prefecture; Route 135 and Manaduru Road in Shizuoka Prefecture which accesses the Izu Peninsula. These roads are known to have traffic jams that stretch more than 6 miles long every year during Golden Week.
So, if you are planning to travel during Golden Week, you had better to reserve accommodations and transportations before the beginning of period and check the traffic information as frequently as possible.
Road Bureau traffic updates are available online at: www.mlit.go.jp/road/ traffic
Have you ever wondered why Japan still celebrates Emperor Showa’s birthday, 25 years after he passed away? You may be surprised to learn that Showa no Hi, or Showa Day, is as much about Japan’s “turbulent” times as it is the emperor. It also has its fair share of controversy.
Today, even many younger Japanese may think this April 29 birthday-turned national holiday is simply one of four that, along with the weekend, comprise Golden Week, a time for family visits and vacations. But Showa Day was actually declared as a day to reflect on Showa Era events that occurred during this emperor’s 1926-1989 reign – from the prewar rise of fascism to post-wartime prosperity.
Needless to say, it can be a delicate subject for some people in Japan.
“The official aim of Showa Day is to recall the Showa Era, rather than glorify Showa Emperor,” said Yukihiro Miura, of the national Cabinet Office’s General Affairs Section. “This holiday, which was legislated by House members in 2005 according to the National Holidays Act, was enacted in 2007. The Act clearly defines it as the day to reflect on Showa Era when the nation recovered after the turbulent times, and to think about the country’s future.”
Like the birthday of Japan’s current Emperor Akihito (Dec. 23), April 29 was originally celebrated as the birthday of Emperor Hirohito. He reigned before, after and – most notably – during World War II. After his death in 1989, he was renamed Emperor Showa, and Japan’s parliament kept his birthday as a national holiday. But there was one politically correct caveat: It was named Greenery Day, in part, to stave off criticism against honoring the wartime monarch.
Initially, some conservatives fought hard to have the new holiday named after Showa. After considering international and domestic arguments that Emperor Showa and Imperial Japan symbolized the country’s wartime aggressions, however, more moderate lawmakers prevailed. But in about 2000, those wishing to explicitly honor Japan’s last imperial monarch began presenting bills regarding the holiday in parliament.
After a series of failed legislative attempts, proponents of the name change finally prevailed, and the holiday was renamed Showa Day in 2005. As an added advantage, Greenery Day was moved to May 4, adding to the string of holidays that comprise Golden Week.
Ironically, the five-year struggle to establish Showa Day, along with an ongoing controversy over the pros and cons of the Showa Emperor and his reign, also seems to symbolize the “turbulent” era the holiday represents. So, what makes the Showa Era so turbulent, yet worthy of reflection?
In brief, the Showa Era is the longest and most dramatic reign of an emperor in Japan’s history. Emperor Showa was the longest living emperor. He died at age 87, after reigning for 63 years. The first half of his reign saw the rise of fascism, military expansion, wars, complete collapse and eventually the ultimate surrender that ended the Pacific War.
During the second half of his reign, however, Japan experienced a so-called economic miracle, with annual growth averaging 10 percent in the late 1950s and higher in following years. In the 1980s, the Japanese economy became one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated, with per capita income surpassing that of America. Emperor Showa’s reign ended in the middle of Japan’s historic economic expansion.
The Showa Era literally covers some of modern Japan’s brightest and darkest hours. Clearly, there is much to reflect on?
“Just as the (National Holidays) Act states, the Showa Era seems to have had its full of ups and downs,” Miura said. “The struggles and efforts in rebuilding nation after the turbulent period may have been a driving force in preparation of the ensuing economic development and prosperity. So, this holiday may provide a good opportunity for us to recall the entirety of Showa Era history.