So, while I know it's a little early to think about such things (being as it's in May) Erin nagged me to get something up here. This entry is basically a copy/edit/past job from an entry of mine last year. This is also a hold-over post until I get my post up about being a miko-san at a shrine for New Years... ^^;;
Though to be honest, it's never too early to make Golden Week travel plans...since hotels tend to fill up (even in China, as I hear they have Golden Week the same week too...but for different reasons) @@;;
Golden Week (ゴールデンウイーク - gooruden uiiku) is named so because it's a giant string of holidays. Unfortunately, it's on specific dates, so if one of those dates falls on a Saturday, you're kinda screwed (Saturday is not a day off. Sunday is the only actual rest day according to the government. Some people work on Saturdays, and kids used to have to go to school on Saturdays. Actually, even now, some kids still go to school on Saturday mornings for classes, not clubs!! ). If one of the holidays fall on a Sunday, though, you get a compensation day the next Monday, so you hope it's one of those years... The actual holidays are as follows:
April 29th - みどりの日 (Midori no Hi) - "Green Day" <---not related to the band >:P
May 3rd - 憲法記念日(Kenpou Kinenbi) - "Constitution Day"
May 4th - 国民の祝日(Kokumin no Shukujitsu) - "National People's Day"
May 5th - 子供の日(Kodomo no Hi) - "Children's Day"
So, if it's a good year, like this year, you can see that if you take 2 days off, you get about a week and a half! That's pretty Golden to me!! ^_^ And it's pretty Golden to the airplane people and the train people, since they charge higher fares during this Golden Week... (I'll stop with the Golden references ^^;; )
As for the days that people actually do anything on, it's pretty much just Kodomo no Hi. Tradition is that people fly these windsocks of colorful fish (carp to be more specific -- carp are symbolic of strength) off of flag poles and display miniature sets of armor, if they have boys. Why do only boys get something special? Because this day actually used to be 端午の節句(Tango no Sekku - "Boys' Day"). In 1948, the government "combined" this day with the traditional ひな祭り(Hina Matsuri - "Doll Festival" or "Girls' Day") and just made this day Kodomo no Hi for all children. But as with all Japanese traditions, they die slowly, so people still celebrate Hina Matsuri on March 3rd (3/3), which sadly, is no longer a real holiday that you get a day off from, with O-Hina dolls and they still put out miniatures of suits of armor and fly fish on flagpoles on Kodomo no Hi (5/5). <--- 3, 5, and 7 are important numbers for children... there's a holiday called 七五三 (Shichi go san - "Seven, Five, Three", although most people say "Three, Five, Seven" in English) which celebrates children of those ages on November 15th. You can read more about each of these kids" holidays here and here.
Other than that, the only other one that needs explaining is perhaps Midori no Hi. As far as anyone can tell me, it's like Japan's version of Earth Day. Though I'm not sure people actually do anything... They did have an Earth Day celebration in Toyama-shi last year, and I heard it was good.
I think Kokumin no Shukujitsu was probably just an extra day stuck in there since it would be strange to have a gap between Kenpou Kinenbi and Kodomo no Hi. I mean, what other reason could you come up with to have a random free day off for the people?? According to my Japanese language dictionary, they say that in 1948, the actual Kokumin no Shukujitsu day was moved to the day after Kenpou Kinenbi. 'Course, it fails to explain what it really is or why it was moved there.
Speaking of Kenpou Kinenbi, I wonder if people will have a march or something on that day someday... I mean, there are people who really want to change the Constitution and feel that they should not salute the 日の丸 (Hi no Maru - "Circle of the Sun" -- the name of the Japanese flag). There have been court cases involving some Tokyo school districts about this. Some Japanese people feel that they don't have a real Japanese identity. I mean, I wouldn't either if everything that I have was forced upon me by foreigners, or in the case of the flag, a horrible reminder of pre-WWII Japan. The Constitution was forced on to the Japanese by the Americans, and even Kimigayo, the Japanese national anthem, was strongly suggested by a British man after he heard that the Japanese had no national anthem (*gasp!* the unspeakable horror of not having a national anthem! *shock!*). The harmony isn't based in a real Japanese mode of music, but is based off of an old Greek musical scale (the Gregorian mode) that sounds vaguely "Japanese" (more here) The lyrics are from an old Japanese poem, but still... There's also resentment against the anthem because the lyrics talk about the imperial reign of the Emperor and how they want it to be eternal, which conjures up thoughts of pre-WWII Japan again. Even the national religion, Shinto, is under fire, due to its belief that the Emperor is the direct descendant of the Sun, and is blamed as one of the causes of people's undying loyalty to the Emperor during WWII (who knows how founded this blame actually is, but that's what some people believe). Maybe that explains why most people aren't very into religion -- Shinto or Buddhism, why 1% of Japanese people say they are Christian, why Toyama Prefecture seems to be erecting churches left and right, and why there have been more and more signs hung around my town quoting the bible... That's why I think there should probably be a consensus somewhere as to what the new Japanese national identity should be. In Asahi Shimbun (a Japanese newspaper) there was an editorial that suggested that in the case of the anthem, perhaps a second verse should be added that would reflect post-war Japan...
Ok, before I go on to a rant... too late, I suppose...
And there you have it. Golden Week in a nutshell (and then some ^^;; ).