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Mega holiday Golden Week grips Okinawa

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2010-04-29

Schools, banks, government offices and many businesses are being shuttered this week and next as Okinawans embrace a week chock full of holidays.

Golden Week is celebrated both in mainland Japan and Okinawa, with fun and frolic the operative works to describe activities by the vast majority of islanders. It began today, the birthday of former Japanese emperor Showa. It’s the first of four holidays over the coming week, with Constitution Day on Monday, Greenery Day on Tuesday and Children’s Day on Wednesday.

Constitution Memorial Day, Kenpou Kinen-bi, marks the day in 1947 Japan’s new constitution went into effect. Before moving forward, double back to May 1st which, although not a legal holiday, is treated as one by most companies and businesses. May Day is popular with Japanese, because it helps make Golden Week the longest vacation time of the year. Greenery Day, Midori no hi, is Tuesday. Until 2006, it was celebrated on April 29th, the birthday of former Emperor Showa. Now, it’s been structured as the “in between the holidays holiday” bridging the gap between Mondays’ Constitution Day and Wednesday’s Children’s Day.

Children’s Day is Kodomo no hi, also known as Boys’ Day, a day when Okinawans and mainland Japanese pray for their children to grow up healthy. Historically, it’s also been a day to honor sons, and Japanese families with boys hang colorful carp streamers, Koinobori, outside their homes, and often display May dolls inside.

Golden Week got its name decades ago, when the term was coined by movie theater operators after experiencing the birth of the new holidays in 1948. As the story goes, Golden Week is the perfect opportunity to take in some golden movies.

It’s a week where work comes to a screeching halt across this island nation, and everyone finds a place to go on vacation. It’s nearly impossible to find a plane, train or bus ticket available anywhere in the country during Golden Week, unless one made the reservations months in advance. Don’t expect to find any empty hotel rooms either; tour agencies say Japan’s booked solid. The demand for Golden Week vacation destinations is so high, Japan and Okinawa can’t handle it. Instead, foreign sites including Thailand, Guam, Saipan, Hawaii and even the American West Coast benefit.

Businesses across the country began closing a day—or even two—before the holiday week begins, and will not start settling back to normal until Friday or Saturday of next week. Apart from the holidays themselves, businesses grant employees liberal vacation opportunities, with the average being about 4.5 days. Add it all up, and Golden Week is golden indeed, with as many as 11 days off.

In Naha, the Haarii Festival is about to begin, with the festivities Monday through Wednesday at the city’s Shinko Wharf. Several dozen haari boat teams comprised of 14 racers will challenge each other in categories that include military and childrens’ races. The finals of the 36th Annual Haarii Festival are set for mid-afternoon Wednesday.

The traditional Okinawan dragon boat race custom originated centuries ago in China, as a part of prayers for safety and good harvests. Today, dragon boat races are held throughout Okinawa…in small villages as well as the more organized festivities of the big cities. Naha Haarii is the largest of the festivals, with a dozen boats with hand carved heads and dragon faces, and tails in the form of dragon tails. The main dragon boat races are Wednesday, with the challenges beginning at 10:30 a.m. The finals take place starting at 4:40 p.m. following the traditional prayers to the ocean’s god for safety. Races are by category, with children, community groups or companies, and the American military taking on the Japanese Self Defense Forces.

No festival is complete without fireworks, and Naha Haarii organizers have fantastic fireworks shows planned for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, with the pyrotechnics set to begin launching about 8:30 p.m. Throughout the days Monday through Wednesday, live entertainment will take place on Shinko Wharf stages, while dozens of food, beverage, games and souvenirs stands ring the festival grounds selling their wares.

Apart from the Naha Haarii, the Okuma Beach Festival is luring thousands to join in a weekend filled with live entertainment, water activities, games, food and fireworks. Okuma Beach Fest 2010 runs 8 a.m. ~ 10:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Okuma Recreation Center. Enjoy live entertainment, water activities and exhibitions, games, food, fireworks, and a whole lot of fun! The festival is being sponsored, in part, by Yamaha, Yanbaru Club, Okuma JAL Private Resort, FC Ryukyu, Okinawa Resort & Spa Marriott, Climax Coffee, Triple-P and JAL Private Resort Okuma Paraiso.

Also happening during Golden Week, the Toyzaki Beautiful Sun Beach Opening Festival is May 1st ~ 3rd at Toyzaki Beautiful Sun Beach in Tomigusuku. Admission is free. The Southeast Botanical Gardens Children’s Fun Workshop runs May 1st through 5th, 9 a.m. ~ 5:30 p.m. at Southeast Botanical Gardens in Okinawa City. Tickets are ¥1,500.

May 2nd brings both a bullfighting tournament at Ishikawa Dome, and Okinawa World Children’s Festival. The bullfights begin at 1 p.m., with tickets costing ¥2,500. The Children’s Festival admission is ¥2,200 in advance or ¥2,500 at the door. The Children’s Festival runs 9 a.m. ~ 5:30 p.m. Road Station Live in Toyzaki takes place May 3rd, starting at 2 p.m. in the Toyzaki Road Station Parking Lot in Tomigusuku. Admission is free.

Okinawa Sound Stage 2010 takes place May 4th at Koza Music Town Outdoor Space in Goya. Admission is free. In addition, there are daily free music and dance shows at Carnival Park in Mihama, Koinobori (carp streamers) over the Hija River, and in Haneji, north of Nago. The Carnival Park Mihama 10th Anniversary takes place today through next Wednesday, a Golden Week activity. Carnival Park Mihama is offering prizes including ¥10,000, ¥5,000 and ¥1,000 gift certificates, plus stores within the Park are offering special sales. Free Street Live Performances take place at the 1st Floor Entrance Square, including globally active T-da Dance Studio.

Carnival Park Mihama will hand out free Japanese-style paper fans to the first 1,000 visitors. On May 5th the Park will have clowns on hand from 1 p.m. ~ 4 p.m.

In honor of Children’s Day, Kids Festival Adventure World takes place at Chatan Dome in Mihama from 9 a.m. ~ 5 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday. The festival is filled with exciting events, including a museum of insects of the world, an exhibition of specimens and information panels for the world’s largest “Hercules Beetle” and “Giraffe Stag Beetle”, as well as butterflies.

Also scheduled are battle matches of giant insects, while visitors can take photos with the 26-inch-tall Cape penguins from the southern coastline of Africa. Chatan Dome is located in the southern corner of Chatan Park, next to Sunset Beach and JUSCO. Tickets are available at all Family Mart and Lawson locations, as well as at Cocostore. Tickets are ¥1,800 for adults 13 and older, and ¥1,000 for those under 13. Day of event ticket purchases are ¥2,000 for adults and ¥1,800 for those under 13. Kids under four are admitted free. The insect battle matches and auctions are scheduled each day between 10 a.m. ~ 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. ~ 2:30 p.m., and 4 p.m. ~ 5:30 p.m.

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