A Golden Week at home in the midst of COVID-19
If you’ve spent time in Japan, you know that during Golden Week cities clear out and airports, train stations and tourist traps are all abuzz from late April to early May. Usually, this is the time of year with “golden” opportunities to travel or for quick day trips around the country.
This year, however, Golden Week, which runs from April 29 to May 6, will not be the same. Trips are being canceled and the local governments are asking residents to stay home to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Much like spring break in the States, Golden Week is our time to enjoy a week off, but this year everything is canceled in Japan, too.
The week is usually a time where most Japanese schools, government offices and businesses close up to mark 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 of the year.
With the pandemic, all the usual sporting, amusement and special events have been canceled. And to discourage travel, the holiday discount rates on the expressway toll roads will not be applied.
Already the travel industry is reporting enormous losses. As of April 14, only 180,000 out of 4.43 million seats of Shinkansen bullet train available for the period are booked. ANA airlines reported only 132,000 of 1.34 million seats for the period are reserved as of April 22.
This is usually the busiest time of year for tourist spots, museums and shopping centers, but now we’re trading that in for books, binge-watching and spending time with our families.
And, though we are about to meet the quietest Golden Week ever in the history, I take heart in knowing that staying home will mean there’s always next year!
Holidays that make up Golden Week
Showa Day (April 29) commemorates the Showa Era, and is the birthday of former Emperor Showa.
Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpo-kinenbi) (May 3) honors Japan’s constitution which came into force on this day in 1947.
Greenery Day (Midori-no-hi) (May 4) is dedicated to the environment and nature
Children’s Day (Kodomo-no-hi) (May 5, celebrated May 6, this year) 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.
Showa Day - Ex-emperor’s birthday is still celebrated during Golden Week
Like the birthday of Japan’s current Emperor Naruhito, which is celebrated on Feb. 23, the birthday of his grandfather, Emperor Hirohito, is celebrated on Apr. 29. Hirohito 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.
Hirohito’s birthday, along with Constitution Memorial Day (May 3), Greenery Day (May 4) and Children’s Day (May 5), form the string of holidays that comprise Golden Week.
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. In fact, the Showa Era literally covers some of modern Japan’s brightest and darkest hours.
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