Saturday, April 27, 2013

Japan Golden Week: Starting today!

Today starts this year's Golden Week holidays! And we have grand plans of driving to Tokyo to spend time with my husband's family. It's been over a decade since I was in Tokyo, and I'm feeling eager and anxious about re-visiting some of my former haunts.

Golden Week refers to a series of consecutive holidays that all fall close together. Often times companies will give their workers a whole week off, making it the perfect holiday for traveling, going for extended visits, or just sleeping in 5 days in a row! My husband has a full 10 days off work, a rare event for him, prompting him to take us for a trip.

Officially, the holidays are as follows:
April 29th: Showa Day
May 3rd: Constitution Memorial Day
May 4th: Greenery Day/Midori no Hi (sounds much better in Japanese!)
May 5th: Children's Day or Boys' Day

April 30-May 2nd are not national holidays, so schools are usually back in session those days, often making it very inconvenient for families with kids to take off unless those days fall on the weekend. In our case, we are going to be playing hooky on the 1st/2nd in order to take the trip.

Many stores, parks and public places have fun events going on for children on these days, games with prizes, free gifts, special deals, to celebrate the birth of our youngsters, combined with the perfect spring weather of May, it's a very popular time to spend outdoors, picnicking, BBQs, hikes and walks.

But Japanese families do other things too. I polled some of my neighbors about their plans, one family said they use GW to do their yearly cleaning, and if they finish early will spend time doing family activities. Another plans a yearly BBQ with friends, always a fun event. As for us, we usually do walks or hanging out at a fun shopping center, or if the weather is bad, buy a bunch of snacks and spend a day playing our favorite family game: Mahjong!

One way you know Golden Week is on its way is by the Koinobori, or Carp Streamers, that are hung up in yards, on gates, sold at shops, or kids bring home little handmade ones from kindergarten. Koinobori are usually hung to honor the sons of the house, and in wishes for their good health and upbringing. There are usually at least 3 carps on the streamer, signifying there is a son in the house, and are added for each son. I guess the girls have their celebration back in March with the Hinamatsuri, or Princess Festival.

Streamers hanging over a river in Tokushima

Another popular decoration families set up in their entrances are the Japanese Kabuto helmet, which was first used by ancient Japanese warriors. This cool piece of decoration really adds a touch of Japan to the house, and I was lucky enough to locate an affordable set last year!

(No, it isn't my husband wearing our set!)

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