What is Golden Week?

Jessica Ellis

Golden Week is a collection of Japanese holidays that span between 29 April and 5 May each year. Many companies give employees the entire week off, and it is often devoted to tourism and worldwide travel. Along with Japanese New Year and the Obon Festival, Golden Week is one of the longest holiday periods in Japan.

Japan celebrates Golden Week in the spring.
Japan celebrates Golden Week in the spring.

In 1948, a law was passed declaring nine annual Japanese state holidays. The Emperor’s birthday, Constitution Memorial Day, and the Boy’s Festival were all within a week of one another. Because of consecutive days off, leisure activities all increased revenue dramatically during this holiday period. Because of its positive effect on moviegoing revenue, the director of a film company dubbed the week “Golden Week” after a Japanese radio term for the hours drawing the most listeners.

Many Japanese tourists vacation in Seattle during the nation's Golden Week holiday in spring.
Many Japanese tourists vacation in Seattle during the nation's Golden Week holiday in spring.

Until 1988, 29 April was celebrated as “Emperor’s Birthday” for the reigning emperor, Showa. After his death, the holiday was renamed “Greenery Day.” On this day, Japanese citizens are supposed to enjoy nature by visiting woods, gardens and mountains. In 2007, 29 April was again renamed “Showa Day” in memory of the emperor, while Greenery Day was moved to 4 May.

Constitution Memorial Day, held on 3 May, is in honor of the signing of the 1947 Constitution of Japan. In honor of the day, legislative government buildings are open to the public, the only time in the entire calendar year. Citizens are meant to use this day of Golden Week to reflect on democratic ideals, and a 21st century tradition is extensive editorials printed about controversial government subjects.

Boys' Day, also referred to as Children’s Day, is the May 5th celebration of children and gratitude to their mothers. Families hang colorful carp-shaped kites and banners, one for each child. Boys are given special samurai dolls that represent famous legendary heroes. Kashiwamoshi a sweet, filled rice cake, is a customary food on this day.

A common practice during Golden Week is to take vacations to popular tourist destinations. Hawaii, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle all experience Japanese tourism spikes in the beginning of May due to Golden Week. Some families choose to remain in Japan, but travel to traditional inns, called ryokan and seaside resorts.

Golden Week is a wonderful time to visit Japan. The nation takes on a carnival appearance for the many festivals, and it gives the tourist a chance to experience several different customs and rituals. The traveler should book well in advance, however, as travel pricing increases in anticipation of the holidays, and hotels tend to be more crowded during this time.

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