Japan has many officially recognized public holidays — 16 during most years — but 2019 is a special year, and there are an additional five holiday days on the calendar. Most are concentrated into three holiday periods during the year: The New Year, Golden Week, and Obon. New year is the most important family holiday in Japan (like Christmas in the west), and the official holiday is January 1st. Most businesses, however, are closed from the 1st to the 3rd. Obon is the Festival of Souls in Japan, honoring ancestors and the dead. It is celebrated in mid-August. But the longest span of holiday days in Japan occurs at the end of April, and into the first week of May. This is Golden Week.
This year — 2019 — the Golden week holidays started on April 29th with Showa Day… a day honoring the birthday of the former Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989 (the end of the Showa Era — Emperor Hirohito’s posthumous name is Emperor Showa). There are usually four holiday days during Golden week, but this year because of the ceremonies surrounding the abdication of Emperor Akihito, and the ascension of his son, Naruhito, to the throne, there are additional holiday days. May 1st has been officially declared Emperor Coronation Day, with the abdication of Emperor Akihito occurring on the evening of the 30th. But because the 30th is a weekday between two national holidays, according to Japanese law, it also becomes a holiday for this year.
Likewise, Friday May 3rd is officially Constitution Day, but because the 2nd lies between two national holidays, it becomes a holiday as well. Saturday, the 4th is Greenery Day — an official holiday celebrating the environment and nature — and Sunday the 5th is Children’s Day with the Boy’s Festival (Girl’s Festival was held March 3rd.) But because Children’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, Monday the 6th will also be a holiday.
So including the weekend days, 2019 Golden Week becomes an unprecedented 10-day holiday week in Japan. But… the really notable thing about this year’s Golden Week is the change in Era. Emperor Akihito has been on the throne since 1989. We have started into year 31 of the Heisei (Achieving Peace) Era, and now — tomorrow, with the coronation of Akihito’s son Naruhito — Japan will enter into Year One of the Reiwa (Beautiful Harmony) Era.
In a moving — but very brief — ceremony at the palace late this afternoon, the beloved Emperor Akihito stepped down. Tomorrow is a new day… and a New Era for Japan and its people.