Know Your Holiday is back to help you understand the history and traditions of your Japanese holidays. This time, we’re tackling the big one: Golden Week!
Of course, Golden Week is made up of a few different holidays. Last time we discussed Showa Day, which falls on April 29th. This time we’ll take a look at the remaining holidays, Constitution Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day.
On the 3rd of May, we have Constitution Day. As you can probably guess, this is a holiday set up in honor of May 3rd, 1947, the day Japan’s postwar constitution came into effect. Of course, Japan had a constitution before 1947. The Meiji Constitution, established in 1890, granted the emperor considerable political power. Although things like civil rights and civil liberties were guaranteed to the population, the document was ambiguously worded and at times self-contradicting. It’s worth noting that the Meiji Constitution made Japan into Asia’s first parliamentary democracy.
After the war, the new constitution was written, closely resembling America’s and Britain’s constitutions. It has several noteworthy features. It states the the sovereignty lies with the people (whereas the Meiji Constitution said that sovereignty lies with the emperor alone). In addition, the much-talked about Article 9 renounces war and militaristic endeavors. One thing I found particularly interested was that technically, the Postwar Constitution was added as an amendment to the Meiji Constitution. Also, unlike the American Constitution, the Japanese Constitution has never had any amendments added to it.
Today, Constitution Day is celebrated with speeches, events, and TV programs discussing democracy and its various aspects. In addition, if you find yourself in Tokyo on the 3rd of May, you can snoop around through the Diet building, parts of which are usually off-limits to regular citizens.
On May 4th, it’s time to celebrate Greenery Day. As mentioned in our previous article, Greenery Day was established because of the late Emperor Showa’s love for nature. On this day, various planting ceremonies are held, as well as various activities or events to bring people closer to nature. This would be a great time to start your very own garden!
Next is Children’s Day, on May 5th. Although established as a holiday in 1948, the tradition behind Children’s Day stretches back to ancient times. The fifth day of the fifth month was called Tango no Sekku, and it was a holiday to celebrate boys. Of course, girls had their own holiday on the third day of the third month – Hina Matsuri. Today, Children’s Day celebrates both boys and girls, though its generally seen as a rather boy-ish holiday.
There are a few traditional decorations that go with May 5th. First off, there’s the carp-shaped banners. The top, traditionally black carp, represents the father. Next, the traditionally red carp represents good ‘ol mom. Then come the children, with one carp for each child in the family. The carp are a symbol of strength, and there’s an old Chinese legend that says carp swim upstream to become dragons (the Magicarp – Gyrados combo makes a lot more sense now….) Since the carp banners look like they’re swimming when they blow in the breeze, they call this legend to mind. In addition, warrior dolls and helmets are displayed in houses – again a hearkening to the adventurous, warrior spirit inside children.
If you really want to get into the holiday, try taking a bath with shoubu (iris) leaves, which are said to provide strength and ward off evil spirits. After toweling off, snack on a kashiwamochi, or a rice cake filled with sweet beans and wrapped in an oak leaf. You can also find lots of activities for children on this day – Kanazawa’s own Children’s Center, on the banks of the Sai River, has a big festival every year.
Of course, Golden Week is a great time to explore around Japan. If you’re heading south, give Karin’s Destination: Kyushu article a read! However, its also infamously crowded in the big tourist places, so be ready for long waits and plenty of traffic (also, good luck getting a hotel room, if you didn’t make your reservation a few months ago…) Luckily, there are plenty of festivals here in ishikawa you can check out. Give our article on Nanao’s Seihakusai festival and Nomi’s Kutanyaki festival a read. Or there’s always the Uchinada Kite Festival!
Have a great Golden Week, everyone!