Happy Holidays

The words “holiday season” automatically drag my mind to the busy days surrounding Christmas and new year's eve. But here in Japan, we are in the midst of the biggest holiday season of the year known as Golden Week.

The first signs of the approaching Golden Week holiday appeared when I saw my neighbors mysteriously hanging fish-shaped windsocks outside their homes. At first I thought it was just an odd personal preference for fish waving in the wind, but as the whole island followed suit, I knew there must be an explanation.

I found out that the fish are carp and indicate the coming Children’s Day, one of the many holidays celebrated during Golden Week. Until recently, Children’s Day was known as Boy’s Day (Girl’s day was separated separately). Even though all children are celebrated now, the carp windsocks are a tradition left behind by Boy’s Day. Each carp hung outside a family’s house indicates how many sons are in the family. The carp is known in Japan as a strong fish that can swim upstream and every parent wishes their sons to grown up strong like the carp. Hence, the windsocks. I really wanted to hang up my own carp windsocks but thought it might be insulting to the Japanese for me to consider my dogs “sons.”

It’s been fun driving around the island looking at all the carp flapping in the wind. Almost as fun as Christmas lights. Fred found the carp mother load while taking an alternative route home from work one day. Strung across the river were rows and rows of brightly colored carp all waving in unison screaming out “take my picture for your blog!” So I did.

Until Golden Week is over, I’m going to take that route home from work every day. I will be a little sad when they are gone.

Official Golden Week holidays began on April 29th with Showa Day. Showa is the posthumous name of Emperor Hirohito who ruled Japan from 1926-1989. It was the longest reign of any Japanese emperor over a particularly tumultuous period of history. While he was a very popular emperor, the holiday is intended for the Japanese to reflect upon the tremendous changes that occurred over that time rather than glorify the emperor himself.

May 3rd is Constitution Memorial Day. It celebrates the promulgation of the 1947 Constitution of Japan that established the current day parliamentary system of government. It’s also known as the “Peace Constitution.” I’m pretty sure Uncle Sam helped write it. People rejoice democracy by not going to work on this day. They are probably at the beach or at home drinking sake.

May 4th is Greenery Day (midori no hi). Similar to our Earth Day, it is meant to reflect on Mother Nature and all that is “green.” Emperor Hirohito really loved plants, so they used to celebrate greenery on his birthday which is now Showa Day. Someone must have said “let’s just celebrate the emperor’s birthday on one day and push the plant-loving off to another day so we get an extra day off of work.” I like where your head’s at, Japan.

May 5th wraps Golden Week up with the aforementioned Children’s Day (kodomo no hi). In addition to the flying fish, families display special dolls in their windows and eat certain foods to celebrate. There are even cartoon stickers of kids playing decorating the expressway toll booths this time of year.

Golden Week is an overall festive time in Japan. People are off from work and school and spend time visiting friends and family. It’s also a busy travel time for people to take vacations. We were warned not to try and travel this week if we could avoid it. Airports are zoos and traffic is hellish with all the Japanese travelers. And since Okinawa is a major tourist destination for mainland Japan, they are expecting a huge boom on the island this week. I did notice a much larger crowd out and about last night as I went on a Yogurtland quest. Unfortunately, since I work for the U.S. government, I don’t get Golden Week off. But my commute in the mornings has been significantly reduced. Party on, Japan. Party on, Carp.

No comments:

Post a Comment