Many carp streamers hang from a line for Children's Day and Golden Week

Golden Week: Japan's Springtime Mega Holiday

Working in Japan can be intense, which is why Japan loves its holidays. It’s both a chance to relax and unwind while also observing parts of Japanese culture. One of the biggest times to let loose is during the super fun long holiday known as Golden Week!

Read on to learn all about Golden Week, when it is, how it started and if it’s a good time to travel or not!

What is Golden Week?

Many people walk along a Kyoto traditional street with many shops
Besides being a popular travel season, there are also plenty of traditional events that happen during this week-long period. Image via Unsplash

Golden Week, or goruden wi-ku in Japanese, is a series of holidays in Japan that often results in about a week of holidays for a majority of people in Japan. This makes it one of the longest holiday periods in Japan, with O-Shogatsu (Japanese New Year) and Obon (like a Japanese Day of the Dead) also being quite long.

Despite ‘week’ being part of the name, there are only four official holidays in Golden Week. The holidays are Showa Day, Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day and Children’s Day, with Greenery Day technically being the newest holiday of the four.

For those curious Japanese learners, the Japanese name is Ogon Shukan (literally Golden Week) or Haru no Ogata Renkyu (big spring holiday series). However, most people just call it Golden Week.

When is Golden Week?

Tons of people walk under many beautiful pink cherry blossoms
What's great about Golden Week is that it happens just a little after Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season. Image via Unsplash

As a collection of holidays, Golden Week starts on April 29 and ends May 5. Showa Day kicks us off on April 29. Then, we get three holidays in a row with Constitution Memorial Day on May 3, Greenery Day on May 4 and Children’s Day on May 5.

However, as you may have noticed, April 30 to May 2 aren’t included in that. It’s because they’re not actually holidays in the usual sense. However, Japan instituted a few laws that act as a loophole to get out of work for many people. The main one is that a day sandwiched between holidays gets holiday privileges.

Because those days fall between Showa Day and Constitution Memorial Day, May 1 and May 2 are sometimes treated as holidays too. However, most folks just are given those days off or use their holidays to just enjoy the week off.

We also have Japan’s Happy Monday policy to thank for the long holidays sometimes. The rule is that a holiday that lands on a Sunday gets moved to the following Monday. That means that even if one of the days ends up on a Sunday, we get a replacement day off.

You know what we love to do during Golden week? Eat ramen! If you can't make it out to Japan, just get a box from Nakama Noodles! We curate a delicious box of ramen, udon, soba and yakisoba every month for you to enjoy at home (holiday or not)!

Get Nakama Noodles Today!

Is Golden Week a Good Time to Travel?

The question you’ve probably been waiting for. If you’re wondering if you should travel to Japan during this time, we can’t give you a definitive answer. It’s a huge holiday for most of Japan, meaning that many Japanese citizens and residents travel during this time. But what does that mean for people traveling to Japan?

Why You Shouldn’t

Many people walk through the packed Takeshita Street in Harajuku
This is Takeshita Street on a normal day. Imagine what it looks like during Golden Week... Image via Unsplash

It’s a peak travel season in Japan, so travel prices spike for most of the travel industry, including plane tickets and hotel costs. Also, the amount of people traveling means that trains, buses and bullet trains gets very crowded.

The shinkansen (bullet train) in particular will often have sold out reserved seats and full non-reserved seats. The shinkansen is fast, but standing for an hour or more on a bullet train isn’t fun. To avoid this, you will have to buy your bullet train tickets well ahead of time.

You also run into the issue of crowds, with a lot of both domestic and international tourists. While it can be annoying for walking around certain areas, it can also be frustrating with some of the places on your itinerary being full of people. Plus, some reservation-only spots may be fully booked.

Why You Should

Many people walk through the busy Shibuya Crossing intersection
It's so great to see some of these iconic places full of life, especially for nightlife areas like Tokyo's Shibuya and Shinjuku or Osaka's Umeda or Namba areas. Image via Unsplash

That being said, Golden Week travel has some hidden positives. Golden Week has an interesting effect on Tokyo. While plenty of tourists head there, a lot of Tokyo residents go back to their hometowns or travel to other areas. This means that the city is basically just as crowded as it always is (as opposed to more crowded).

Also, the surge of travelers also means that the nightlife will be in full swing and full of life. If you can handle the crowds, you might even have more fun with all of the people.

The Holidays of Golden Week

Showa Day (April 29)

Showa Day is the day where Japan honors Emperor Showa (AKA Emperor Hirohito) and takes place on his birthday. He was the reigning emperor from 1926 to 1989, and the holiday was initially celebrated as the Emperor’s Birthday.

Of course, the Emperor’s Birthday changes based on the birthday of the reigning emperor, but his birthday continued as holiday under the name Greenery Day. In 2000, the government changed the name from Greenery Day to Showa Day to honor the emperor.

Constitution Memorial Day (May 3)

Constitution Memorial Day is the day Japan celebrates its new Constitution. After World War II, Japan created a new Constitution that was officially declared on November 3, 1946. However, it didn’t go into effect until May 3, 1947.

Fun Fact: The prime minister of Japan wanted the holiday to be on November 3 since it was already a holiday, but the date was set to May 3.

Greenery Day (May 4)

Kyoto's Kinkakuji, Golden Pavilion surrounded by greenery and a pond
Some of Japan's most gorgeous locations double as great places to spend Greenery Day, like Kyoto's Golden Pavilion.

This holiday is all about nature, both communing with it and thanking it for all that it gives us. But like we said, it was originally Emperor Showa’s birthday (April 29). However, it was changed to Greenery Day as a way to honor the somewhat controversial emperor who had a love for nature and plants.

In 2007, it was moved to May 4 to create an actual Showa Day while keeping the day to honor nature.

Children’s Day (May 5)

We could write a whole blog about Children’s Day. It’s a holiday where people pray for the happiness and healthiness of their children. However, the holiday historically was for young boys, so it still has that connotation today.

The holiday usually involves people hanging up carp-shaped kites and putting samurai dolls on display in the home. These traditions help to pray for their children’s success and for the strength and happiness of their sons. For those wondering about girls, Hina Matsuri (Dolls’ Festival) is the more girl-focused holiday.

Many carp streamers hang from a line for Children's Day, a Golden Week holiday
These carp streamers tend to represent the families that hang them, but they've become super associated with Golden Week. Image via Unsplash

The History of Golden Week

This holiday period actually dates back to 1948, when the Japanese government first put the National Holiday Laws into place. This law initially saw nine holidays put into place with some of them being in the same period of late April to Early May.

This stretch of holidays had an interesting effect on the Japanese economy. Leisure-based industries noticed that people spent more during these long holiday stretches. (Of course, we all know this now, but it was probably new then.) The film industry noticed this too, with movies seeing higher ticket sales, even compared to New Years and Obon.

That led to a director of Daiei Film Co., Ltd. to call this time period “Golden Week”, inspired by radio’s “golden time.” Golden time refers to the time of day when they get the highest number of listeners. This term quickly caught on and this holiday period became Golden Week.

Men in festival garb carry a Mikoshi float at the Hakata Dontaku Festival, a Golden Week festival
Several festivals, like the famous Hakata Dontaku Festival, also take place during this season, attracting tons of people! Image via Unsplash

And that’s all you need to know about Golden Week! It really is a wonderful stretch of holidays that help people to recharge and enjoy the springtime vibes.

Would you travel to Japan during Golden Week? Let us know in the comments!

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