Golden Week, Part 1: National Days of Rest

Happy Golden Week! Um, what’s Golden Week, you ask? It’s a handful of national holidays packed into the end of April and beginning of May, of course! China celebrates it, with its own holidays. These are the holidays (as they currently stand) for Japan:

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I say “as they currently stand” because there’s been a lot of swapping around of holidays throughout Japan’s history; Greenery Day was once on April 29, and May 4 was a “National Day of Rest.” Although the three days between April 29 and May 3 aren’t official holidays, many offices close, or people take those days off. Still, I think it’s pretty sweet that the government would have (at some point) something called a “national day of rest.” I’m sure lots of people on base or where I’m from wouldn’t mind some “national days of rest.”

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I feel your pain.

Golden Week is named after the “Golden Time” of radio–peak listening hours (in the U.S., that’s 7 am commute-to-work time and 4 pm picking-kids-up-from-school time, if you’re wondering). As the story goes, in 1951 the managing director of Daiei Films noticed that movie ticket sales peaked during these holidays, so he named it “Golden Week,” and it caught on. Which may explain, perhaps, why Iron Man 3 just opened in Japan.

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Total badass, in any culture.

So what does Golden Week look like, on Okinawa?

Here’s what I’ve observed:

There are lots of carp fish windsocks hanging outside, in celebration of Children’s Day (formerly Boys’ Day) on May 5 (Girls’ Day or Doll Day is on March 3).

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Legend has it, carp that swim upstream become dragons, and the windsocks look as if they’re “swimming” in the wind. The carp also represent strength, and a windsock is displayed for each boy/child so that he/they grow up strong and healthy, like the magical carp-turned-dragons.

Golden Week also means lots of travelers–many visit their families and hometowns during this time, or go on vacation. Ticket prices for short-range trips go up, WAY up. Traffic is also pretty nutso, both on mainland and here on Okinawa. In fact, a lot of mainlanders come to beachy Okinawa for vacation. It’s a good time to remember both the official and unofficial rules of the road, I’d say.

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Hey, these blog posts aren’t gonna read themselves.

Since most government offices are closed, it’s the worst time to try to get anything done that would involve the Japanese government, like Japanese Compulsory Insurance (JCI) for your vehicle or changing the title of the car when you sell it to the new owner. That’s potentially bad news bears for military families who are moving (PCS’ing) around this time.

I just can't catch a break!

I just can’t catch a break!

Many retail shops and even some restaurants close for Golden Week. Most people take the time to rest, barbecue, check out the nightlife, even go to the beach or just go outside to be in nature (that’s what “Greenery Day” is all about, after all).

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Or take a nap in a blanket that looks like ocean waves. ‘Cuz that’s pretty much the same thing. No really, I want this blanket.

There are also lots of sales to be had at malls and shopping centers (wonder where they got THAT idea?! Hmm. . . ). And, of course, lots of festivals, like the Kodomo No Kuni Festival at Okinawa City Zoo or The Kids’ Festival Adventure World in Mihama. I asked one of my Japanese students what he was planning to do. He said he was going to drink beer, travel to mainland, play golf, and watch some sports.

Not bad at all!

Not bad at all!

Now, normally, the thought of sitting in traffic or navigating massive crowds makes me want to hide out and watch movies on my couch, or play board games with the hubby.

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There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, some hurt feelings, and upturned tables, right?

However, this year is different.

This year, I’m going to be in the thick of it, participating in the most highly-attended cultural event in Okinawa.

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The Naha Dragon Boat races.

What’s a dragon boat? Well, here are a few:923059_10151587181874310_770560164_n

A shot of the dragon heads, with tongues that would make Gene Simmons drool:401239_10151587181974310_706783651_n

 The Naha Dragon Boat races always take toward the end of Golden Week, and the main races are on May 5. That happens to fall on Sunday this year.

In Part 2, I’ll focus on all the details of my dragon boat experience. But first, we have to race.

If you’re on island, you should definitely consider checking out the races at Naha Port. The races start at 10 am.

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Even if you can’t make it out this Sunday, it’s definitely a cultural event worth experiencing sometime. Just make sure  you have the patience and sanity to brave the traffic and parking. Or else buy a (pricey) bus ticket!