The month of May falls in spring and signals the early beginnings of summer, warmer weather, floral displays, holidays and festivals. As the month draws to an end let's look at some of the annual May highlights.
Golden Week (Ōgon Shūkan - 黄金週間)
Due to the celebration of four public holidays together, Golden Week (Ōgon Shūkan - 黄金週間) is one of Japan’s longest holiday seasons. Starting in 1948 the name 'Golden Week' was first used in 1951 after the phrase ‘golden time’, which was widely used by the Japanese radio industry to refer to primetime listening hours. With so many holidays clustered together in Golden Week, a larger-than-usual number of people would tune in to the radio, attend movie theatres and spend money on leisure activities.
With luck during most years Golden Week is combined with a weekend and thus becomes one of the busiest travel seasons in the Japanese holiday calendar. Many Japanese plan their holidays to travel overseas during this time or they return home on packed bullet trains and buses. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting state of emergency in Tokyo and other major cities, Golden Week was certainly quieter last year and again this year with few people able to travel overseas and many unable to even travel domestically.
In Tokyo residents were advised to stay home for what became known as "Stay Home Week" (ステイホーム週間, Sutei hōmu shūkan).
Shōwa Day (Shōwa no Hi 昭和の日)
Shōwa no Hi is celebrated on 29th April. Emperor Shōwa (Emperor Hirohito) was Japan’s longest-reigning emperor from 1926-1989. He is remembered on Shōwa Day with his birthday being the first of the Golden Week holidays. Some people may choose to honour the day by paying a visit to the Musashino Imperial Mausoleum in Tokyo where Emperor Shōwa is buried. On this day there are also public lectures and other activities to learn more about the Shōwa Era.
The kanji characters for “shōwa” are: 昭 (shou,しょう) meaning “shining” or “bright”, and 和 (wa, わ) which means “peace”. Putting them together makes “enlightened peace”.
Constitution Day (Kenpō Kinenbi 憲法記念日)
Constitution Day, celebrated on May 3, is a patriotic holiday in honour of the 1947 Constitution of Japan, the new fundamental law passed in post-World War II Japan.
The day commemorates the end of WWII and celebrates the date when the post-war Japanese constitution was enacted. Possibly the most famous part of this constitution is Article 9 which prohibits Japan from participating in war activities, except in cases of self-defense.
The day is used to remember Japan’s history and to learn more about the government.
On this day many people visit the National Diet Building in Tokyo because this is where the new constitution was made.
Interestingly the name for the Japanese parliament in English is “Diet”. The word comes from the Prussian term and reflects the history of Japan's parliamentary development from this period and the influence particularly of Prussia and other European countries on Japan.
Greenery Day (Midori no Hi みどりの日)
A day to celebrate the outdoors and be thankful for blessings, "Greenery Day" was originally established to celebrate the birthday of Emperor Shōwa and his love of nature. In 1989, following the ascension of the Emperor Akihito to the Chrysanthemum Throne, the name of the holiday was changed from "Birthday of the Emperor" to "Greenery Day". In 2007 the public holiday for Greenery Day was moved to May 4 and April 29 was changed to Shōwa Day in accordance with the 2005 revision of the laws pertaining to public holidays.
How then do Japanese celebrate Greenery Day in/around Tokyo? Admission is free to most public gardens and some zoos. Ueno Zoo, Rikugien Garden, Hama Rikyu Garden and Jindai Botanical Gardens all offer free admission on Greenery Day. Unfortunately, this year most venues are temporarily closed to help curb the spread of Covid-19.
Children`s Day (Kodomo no Hi こどもの日)
May 5 was originally known as Tango no sekku (端午の節句), the Japanese equivalent of the Double Fifth which is a holiday celebrated in many Chinese households around the world. In 1948, the government changed the official name to Children’s Day. It is a national public holiday and is the final celebration day during Golden Week. Even though it is known as Children’s Day it is mostly a celebration for families with sons. Households with daughters are not forgotten as Hinamatsuri (Girl’s Day) is celebrated on March 3, Double Third, although it is not an official public holiday.
Families fly koinobori banners in the shape of a carp for each child in their house. In Japanese folklore the carp is a symbol of determination and vigor, overcoming all obstacles to swim upstream. These are the traits that parents hope for their children.
The black carp, the largest one on the koinobori flag, represents the father and is known as the magoi, 真鯉. The red carp represents the mother (higoi, 緋鯉), and the last carp (often blue) represents the child (traditionally, the son) with an additional carp added for each younger sibling.
Families with sons will also decorate their homes with samurai armour and helmet miniatures, representing their wishes to raise strong and powerful boys. The armour (yoroi, 鎧) and helmet (kabuto, 兜) form the word yoroikabuto, which you will hear often around this time of the year.
Kameido Tenjin Shrine Wisteria Festival (亀戸天神社 藤まつり)
Wisteria is one of the most popular spring flowers in Japan. It begins blooming from mid April and there are many festivals celebrating the wisteria blooming throughout Japan.
The two most famous wisteria festivals in Japan are The Great Wisteria Festival at Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture (see our August 2020 blog) and Kawachi Fuji Wisteria Garden in Fukuoka Prefecture. Both festivals feature hundreds of colourful wisteria flowers and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every season.
One of the most popular flower festivals in Tokyo is the wisteria festival held at Kameido Tenjin Shrine in Koto Ward, Tokyo (located near Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree). Along with the magnificent scenery of wisterias, the festival also features several special events plus vendors offering food and drinks. At night the light-up of the wisteria flowers is held after sunset until 10pm.
Access is a 15-minute walk from Kameido Station and entrance is free.
Shōwa Memorial Park Flower Festival (Shōwa Kinen Kōen 昭和記念公園)
The Shōwa Memorial Park is situated in the city of Tachikawa, approximately 30 minutes from central Tokyo by train. The park was opened in 1983 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Emperor Shōwa’s reign. It is a large, spacious park with expansive picnic areas, walking trails, a large pond with boats, a bonsai museum, children’s playground and Western and Japanese style gardens. Besides the beautiful and abundant cherry blossom trees the gardens are famous for a variety of seasonal flowers, such as tulips, azaleas and poppies. The best time to visit is from late March to May during the annual flower festival. Admission for adults is ¥450.
Kyoto Aoi Matsuri (京都葵祭)The Aoi Matsuri is known as one of Kyoto’s three biggest festivals alongside the Gion Matsuri (held in July) and Jidai Matsuri (held in October). It is held on May 15 each year at Kyoto’s two Kamo shrines in the north of the city, Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine. Therefore it is also referred to as the Kamo Festival. There are two parts to the festival, one is the procession and the other is the shrine celebrations. The procession is led by the Imperial Messenger on horseback. Following the Imperial Messenger are two oxcarts adorned with wisteria flowers, four cows, thirty-six horses, and six hundred people all dressed in the traditional costumes of Heian nobles. Also featured at the Aoi Matsuri are horse races (kurabe-uma) and demonstrations of mounted archery (yabusame).
Tokyo’s Sanja Matsuri (三社祭)
The Sanja Matsuri is one of the three largest Shinto Shrine festivals in Tokyo. It is known literally as “Three Shrine Festival” and is considered one of the wildest and largest festivals.
It is held on the third weekend of May at Asakusa Shrine. Three portable mikoshi shrines are paraded through the streets over the course of three days with lively music and dancing. Sanja Matsuri's most important event occurs on the following Sunday. The procession of the three Asakusa Shrine-owned mikoshi begin their march down Nakamise-dōri toward the large temple gate, Kaminarimon, early on Sunday morning. These three elaborate shrines honour and represent the three men responsible for founding Sensōji. During this final day of the festival, these important mikoshi are split up in order to visit and bestow blessing to all 44 districts of downtown and residential Asakusa. When evening falls, the three shrines find their way back to Asakusa Shrine in another grand procession that lasts late into the night.
Current situation in Japan
On 15th May smartraveller.gov.au advised the following:
Japan has expanded its current state of emergency to include Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima. The state of emergency remains in place for Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto, Aichi and Fukuoka until 31 May. Bars, karaoke bars and restaurants that serve alcohol are asked to close. Dining establishments that do not serve alcohol are asked to close by 8pm. Department stores are closed except for the food and cosmetics sections. Most movie theaters and tourist attractions are also closed during this period. Supermarkets and other essential stores will remain open. Residents are asked to refrain from cross-prefectural travel and non-essential outings after 8pm. Strict non-emergency measures are already in place in a number of other prefectures. Exact measures may vary between regions. Monitor media and be alert to the advice of local authorities.
On Friday, May 28, with the medical system remaining under severe strain in the midst of a fourth wave of infections, the COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and seven other prefectures was extended by three weeks to June 20.
Matsumoto City school interaction request
On a positive note we have had contact from a high school situated in Matsumoto City. The teachers and students are wanting to interact on line with students at a school in Australia using Zoom, Skype or Google Meet. The school has previously enthusiastically organised and enjoyed interaction activities with our Australian school groups. Due to COVID-19 they are missing the opportunity to interact with overseas students and hoping a school in Australia would be keen to meet with them online.
If your school is interested please contact us at email@example.com
Written by Rondell Herriot, Co-Managing Director Saizen Tours
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