Golden Week is a special time of the year for most Japanese people in the beginning of May, where 4 of the 15 national Japanese holidays occur back-to-back:
- Showa Day [celebrates former Emperor Hirohito’s birthday]
- Constitution Day [celebrates the implementation of the Japanese constitution]
- Greenery Day [celebrates nature and plants]
- Children’s Day [originally created to celebrate boys as a contrast to Girl's Day which falls in March, but is now for all children]
As a result of these holidays, Golden Week is a period where most Japanese families take time off and travel for a much-need break without having to take paid holidays from work.
The final holiday, Children's Day [子供の日 - Kodomo no Hi], is one of the oldest and most observed in the Japanese calendar, and has been around for centuries [it's speculated that it was introduced in the Nara period around the 8th century]. In modern day Japan, it's significance is to represent the uniqueness of every child and their happiness, and to encourage them to lead fulfilling and harmonious lives in the future.
You can usually tell when the holiday is coming up, as families will fly koinobori - 鯉のぼり or carp streamers/wind socks from their houses before and during Golden Week. Some are beautifully adorned and very large, so it's a beautiful sight to see when the weather is nice, the wind is blowing and the cherry blossoms are blooming. The streamers are arranged in a way that represents the family that lives in the house - the top streamer is a black carp, which represents the father, down from that is a red or pink carp for the mother, and a blue/green/yellow etc. carp for each child in the family below that. Carps hold special meaning for Children's Day, as there is an ancient myth that if a carp swims hard enough upstream against the current, it will morph into a dragon and prosper - just like if children are treated well and work hard, their futures will always be bright.
Children's Day is considered one of 5 sacred festivals in Japan, alongside New Year, Hina Matsuri [Girl's Day], Tanabata [celebrates the meeting of the gods Orihime and Hikoboshi] and Kiku no Sekku [lucky date of 9/9, 9th September] so it is widely celebrated and is just as big as adapted holidays like Christmas and Halloween. Ways that people celebrate the holiday include travelling to a new place in Japan and spending time with family [since they have an extended break thanks to Golden Week], and eating Japanese sweets like Kashiwa-mochi [sticky rice cakes filled with red bean jam and wrapped in oak leaves] and chimaki [sticky sweet rice wrapped in an iris or bamboo leaf]. Some families also give their sons kabuto dolls, small samurai figures with detailed outfits to represent the old practice of samurai families gifting sons a piece of their future armor back when Children's Day was just for boys.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the carp streamers around your neighbourhood if you are in Japan during early May and spoil your children if you are around on Children's Day, it's a wonderful day to celebrate the joy of youth and a holiday that is unique to Japanese culture.