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Golden week puts Okinawa on festive mode

Date Posted: 2011-05-03

Schools, banks, government offices and many businesses are being shuttered late this week and pretty much all of next week 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 begins tomorrow, the birthday of former Japanese emperor Showa. It’s the first of four holidays over the coming week, with Constitution Day on Tuesday, Greenery Day on Wednesday and Children’s Day on Thursday.

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 Tuesday’s Constitution Day and Thursday’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 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 10 days off.

This year’s Golden Week isn’t as wonderfully timed as businesses and company employees like, as the holidays fall in a way that precludes two distinct holiday periods. In 2012, however, the weekends fall in a way to create two separate holidays of three and four days. Travel activity next year will peak on May 3rd when people leave town, and on May 5th and 6th when people return home.

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