Golden Week in Japan is a week-long period of celebrations and time off. It is not a specific celebration of one thing, but actually a collection of holidays that all happen to occur during a single week. Kids get time off from school, large companies and office workers also usually get the whole week off. Workers at smaller companies and public employees will only get two or three extra days off, which is admittedly still nice.
Golden Week starts with Showa Day on April 29th. This was the birthday of the Showa Emperor, who was the emperor before Akihito, and passed away in 1989. Next is May 3rd, which is Kenpo Kinenbi, or Constitution Day. This is to mark the day Japan signed the postwar constitution in 1947. May 4th is Greenery Day, which meant to be a day to celebrate nature and its blessings. The last holiday is titled Children’s Day, on May 5th, but is actually celebrated as Boys’ Day (Girls’ Day was in March).
It is common throughout the week to see streamer of different colored koi fish. This is for Boys’ Day, where families with sons display the streamers with the hopes they grow up to be strong and healthy. The koi streamers used to mean the location of brave warriors in ancient times. As a result, they are associated with Boys’ Day because they symbolize masculinity and courage. There is also a specific order to the colors of fish on the streamer. The largest is always black, representing the father of the household. Then each successive fish gets a little smaller, with the second being red for the mother. The next two are blue and green, for the sons of the family.
One negative aspect of this year’s Golden Week is that because of the days it falls on, there will only be one weekend during the period. Similar to the New Year’s holiday or even Thanksgiving and Christmas in the U.S., any forms of transportation, as well as popular vacation or sightseeing locations, will be completely over crowded. One can expect trains packed to maximum capacity, highways flooded with traffic, and long lines at amusements.
One of the common festivities occurring in Tokyo is at the famous Sumida River, where in the evening little floating lanterns powered by LED will be released to float downstream. In Chiba prefecture, there is a huge fireworks display that many travel from afar to see. Many different locations in Japan, not just Tokyo, but also Hokkaido, Kyoto, and Osaka, have multi-day food festivals where visitors can try different foods, beers, and even sweets.