From April 28 to May 6, Japan enjoys a week of historical holidays and lively cultural traditions as the country observes Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク). The National Holiday Laws of 1948 declared four official holidays concentrated at the end of April and the beginning of May. During this period, businesses across Japan enjoyed a rise in profit as citizens enjoyed trips to the movies, restaurants, and parks. In 1951, ticket sales for the film Jiyū Gakkō were higher during this week than any other time of the year, and the film director nicknamed this week “Golden Week,” advertising it as the golden opportunity to go to the movies.
Nowadays, employees enjoy a week of paid vacation as companies close their doors for the four holidays and the gap days. While the holiday hours make it a tricky time for global business, each of the four festivals hold important significance that makes Golden Week a fascinating cultural snapshot of Japanese society. In honor of this festive time in the Japanese calendar, we’re sharing the history and traditions of the four official holidays.
1. April 29: Showa Day
Considered a quiet holiday of historical reflection, Showa Day commemorates Emperor Showa who served as emperor in the periods before and after World War II. Citizens are encouraged to reflect on Japan’s struggle during Emperor Showa’s rule, and remember those lost in World War II. In 2007, a new bill stated that celebrations on this day should include solemn remembrance of this troubled time in Japanese history. Shops and public offices are closed as citizens generally show their respect for the holiday by staying home.
2. May 3: Constitution Day
The second Golden Week festival is a livelier historical holiday, known as Constitution Day. The Japanese Constitution was signed on May 3, 1947, and the government declared this anniversary a national holiday in 1948. On this day, thousands of citizens attend lectures on the constitution’s impact and role in Japanese society. The Diet building also opens its doors for the day, and people have the opportunity to visit halls normally restricted to visitors.
3. May 4: Greenery Day
Greenery Day, or Midori no Hi, was originally celebrated on April 29 as a tribute to nature-loving Emperor Showa, but was moved to May 4 in 2007. Although many view this holiday as merely an extension of Golden Week, it’s devoted to the environment and nature. The Japanese are encouraged to take time to appreciate Mother Nature’s verdant bounty.
4. May 5: Children’s Day
The week ends with carp, candy, and family fun as the Japanese celebrate Children’s Day! This Day began in 1948 as a celebration of children and their youthful happiness. Although it was originally consecrated exclusively for boys, the festival now includes girls as well. The holiday’s symbol, the carp fish, represents a Chinese legend which states that carps swimming upstream become dragons. The fish has come to symbolize a child’s maturity and growth into adulthood.
This lively season in Japanese culture is a time of reflection, family fun, and springtime enjoyment. Whether you’re celebrating Children’s Day in Osaka, or observing Midori no Hi in your backyard, from our team to you and yours, happy Golden Week!
Sharon Schweitzer and Amanda Alden co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.
Amanda Alden is an intercultural research assistant with Access to Culture. She graduated with honors from St. Edward’s University with a major in Global Studies and a minor in French, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Intercultural Mediations at l’Université de Lille III. Feel free to connect with Amanda at on LinkedIn.