Pokémon Koinobori

Golden Week in Japan: Fun Holidays and Busy Train Stations

If you’re a fan of Japanese pop culture, and hopefully that applies to most readers of OTAQUEST, you’ve probably heard about Golden Week. But what is it? Why is it so important? Why should you care about it?

If you have questions about Golden Week, we’ve got answers.

What Is Golden Week?

Fun Holidays, Big Train Crushes: Golden Week in Japan

Let’s start with the basics. Golden Week is the collective name for a group of Japanese holidays that are all bunched together. These holidays are: Showa Day, Constitution Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day. These four holidays take place between 29 April and 5 May.

  • 29 April is Showa Day (Showa no Hi). The birthday of Emperor Showa (aka Hirohito). Interestingly, two other Golden Week holidays are also linked to Showa.
  • 3 May is Constitution Day (Kenpo Kinenbi). Celebrates Japan’s postwar constitution. Japan’s constitution is famous/ infamous for being pacifist. Japan uses the clever euphemism ‘Self-Defense Force’ to describe its army. Showa was ‘in control’ (U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, really) when the new constitution was created.
  • 4 May is Greenery Day (Midori no Hi). Sort of a Japanese-only version of Earth Day; Greenery Day celebrates the environment and nature. It started under Showa, who was a huge fan of nature.
  • 5 May is Children’s Day (Kodomo no Hi). It used to be officially Boys’ Day until 1948, and some people still call it that. Girls have their own separate day in March. The best-known tradition of Children’s Day is the koinobori, or koi flag, a fish-shaped windsock.

When you combine these holidays together, you get a large chunk in the calendar when just about everybody gets time off. It’s a bit like the ‘nothing gets done’ week between Christmas and New Year’s, except with twice as many holidays.

Should I Visit Japan During Golden Week?

Golden Week in Japan
This doesn’t look fun, does it?

Definitely don’t attempt to visit Japan during Golden Week, unless you absolutely have to.

The problem is most Japanese go on vacation during Golden Week. It makes sense: People have time off, and they want to use it. In fact, it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. People go on vacation at this time of year because traditionally, people have always gone on vacation at this time of year.

For foreign travelers planning a trip to Japan, Golden Week is the worst possible time to visit. Every place is going to be crowded, especially trains.

It can even have a mild effect on places where Japanese tourists like to go, such as Hawaii. It also coincides with Lei Day (1 May), one of the bigger celebrations in Hawaii.

Golden Week in Pop Culture

Golden Week in Anime

Golden Week shows up less often in anime and manga than you might think. There are many reasons for this. For example:

  • The Okinawa vacation episode of Azumanga Daioh (episode 21) isn’t a Golden Week trip, but a school trip. This allows the characters to remain together, rather than be with their families.
  • Same thing goes for the Kyoto school trip (episode 4) in K-On!
  • The K-On! movie features a graduation trip at about the right time, but it wasn’t specifically Golden Week-related.
  • The Non Non Biyori movie went to Okinawa… during summer break. They spent Golden Week at home (season 2, episode 3).

As you can see from these examples, it’s hard to tell when a beach or vacation episode is Golden Week-related.

Undeniable Golden Week references are more rare:

  • The silly, short gag anime series Sparrow’s Hotel has an extremely busy Golden Week episode. It’s not Fawlty Towers, but it’s not bad.
  • Episode 16 of Yo-Kai Watch (2014) is titled Golden Week is Full of Yo-Kai!, but the DisneyXD dub translated it as Spring Break.
  • One of the villains in One Piece is codenamed Miss Goldenweek, although it’s never fully explained why.
Teasing Master Takagi-san celebrates Children's Day
Teasing Master Takagi-san celebrates Children’s Day

It’s much easier to tell when a show references Children’s Day, because the koinobori is a dead giveaway. Also, it fits the audience for a shonen series. For example:

Also: Kotono Mitsuishi (Sailor Moon) and Toru Furuya (Tuxedo Mask) celebrated Constitution Day 2018 by reading off the entire Japanese Constitution on NicoNico. NicoNico later posted her version to YouTube.

Other Golden Week Events

Of course, not everybody takes a vacation during this week (especially during a pandemic). Movie theaters, TV stations, and others will sometimes have special promotions. For example:

Koinobori at Cabrillo Beach

One final note: Japanese immigrants brought some traditions with them across the Pacific. As U.S. citizens, Japanese Americans don’t care about Emperor Showa or the Japanese Constitution, but you will find koinobori (sometimes at the wrong time of year) here in Los Angeles. You may find some near where you live.

Pokémon on Twitter (@AniPoke_PR), Shuhei Yasuda; allabout-japan.com; This Is Golden Week by Chris Gladis via Japan Trends; NipponNewsNet on YouTube; Sparrow's Hotel on Crunchyroll; Soichiro Yamamoto, Shogakukan, Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san Production Committee; NicoNico on YouTube; James Fujita on Flickr; JACCC on Twitter
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