Hello everyone! It’s May. The weather has improved significantly, hasn’t it? I can go outside without a jacket, and it feels great. It really feels like spring too. Apparently this year in Japan has been really strange in terms of weather. I’m not a climatologist, so I can’t answer why, but cherry blossoms bloomed in Sapporo last week. I’ll show you the pictures below. They’re really beautiful.
Anyways, it’s a little late, but I want to talk about Golden Week in Japan. It’s a series of national holidays, so all the schools are out of session and most business are too. A lot of travel occurs during this time, but I stayed in Sapporo.
Thursday, April 29th
This year, Golden Week started on a Thursday. April 29th is known as Showa Day. Interestingly enough, the name of this day has changed over time. It used to be known as “The Emperor’s Birthday” in order to commemorate Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989. After he died, April 29th was renamed to “Greenery Day” since the birthday of the current Emperor is now December 23. As a result, December 23 is now known as The Emperor’s Birthday, until the current Emperor dies and his son takes over.
Showa Day still commemorates Emperor Hirohito, as the period under his rule was known as the Showa Period but since he passed away and a new Emperor (Akihito) took over, it no longer made sense to keep it as “The Emperor’s Birthday.” However, there was a short period in which it was known as Greenery Day but the Japanese government passed a law to change it to “howa Day and move Greenery Day to another day, so I’ll talk about Greenery Day in a bit.
Friday, April 30
Strangely enough, although they call it Golden “Week”, it’s actually not a week at all. April 30th is not a national holiday in Japan, so if it lands on a Friday like it did this year, it is still a school day and everything runs normally.
Saturday, May 1 and Sunday, May 2
May 1st and May 2nd are not part of Golden Week, but this year they landed on the weekend, so it basically made it feel as though everyone had a much longer vacation than normal. It depends. If Sunday is a public holiday in Japan and the following Monday is not, that Monday becomes a holiday for that year. In other words, if April 29th lands on a Sunday, April 30th will become a holiday for that year! This will happen in 2012. Hopefully I’ll be back in Japan for that too. I’m excited.
Oh year. May 1st was my birthday. I’m now 21 and can legally drink alcohol in the US, even though the legal age required is 20 in Japan. In other words, there wasn’t much difference! I had fun though. I’ll talk about that too.
Monday, May 3
Any day without class is a welcomed day by me. I don’t mind being able to sleep in or stay up late at all. I think all of us can agree. It’s nice having an escape from classes and work once in a while. We won’t have any breaks from now until the semester ends in August, so there goes my summer. Since I’m in Japan, I’ll be happy though. I love it here. Anyways…
May 3rd is known as “Constitution Memorial Day“, which, as you can probably guess, commemorates the day that the Japanese constitution was put into effect in 1947, after Japan surrendered to the US. Interesting fact, it is the only day in the entire year that the National Diet Building (government building in Tokyo) is open to the public. All other days, it’s closed. I’m not sure who would want to go there during vacation, but I suppose it might be a nice tourist spot. Maybe I’ll go there someday.
Tuesday, May 4
May 4th used to be known simply as a national holiday. The reasoning behind that was May 3rd and May 5th are national holidays in Japan, and according to Japanese law, any day that lands between two holidays is also considered a holiday, even if it has no special meaning officially. I wish they would adopt this in the US. However, as previously mentioned, May 4th was changed to Greenery Day. Emperor Hirohito (Showa) had a love for plants and nature, which gives birth to the name. It designates a day to appreciate nature around us, but in reality, it’s just another day for the Japanese to remember the fallen Emperor, just less controversial.
Wednesday, May 5
May 5th is “Children’s Day“. Families pray for the good health of their children and their future success. During this day, families are encouraged to spend time with their children and hang up “carp streamers and displaying samurai dolls, both symbolizing strength, power and success in life.” Too bad I don’t have a family of my own to do anything like that.
There is something known as “May Sickness” in Japan, or “Go-gatsu Byou” which literally means “5th Month Sickness.” This period of time is generally right after Golden Week. While Japanese people are in college, their lives are really relaxed and they enjoy themselves a lot. It’s a break between childhood and adulthood. Golden Week to them is an escape from school and they become really relaxed and happy.
In Japan, the fiscal year begins in April. A lot of college graduates start work for the first time in their careers, and shortly after they start is Golden Week. They enjoy the time off only to be forced to go back to work immediately after it ends. Since they got used to the freedom they had during college, a lot of them become depressed because they have to go back to work right away. A lot of people end up taking sick days, but other people most likely become depressed. As a result, a lot of Japanese people are aware of this phenomenon, and it was surprising to me to hear something like this. If I had to find a similarity to that with the US, I would say it’s kind of similar to the feeling people have after the winter holidays are over and they have to go back to school or work. It’s kind of depressing. Well, in Japan, it happens in May.
I’m generally a quiet guy. I don’t like big parties or loud places. For my birthday, I prefer being around people I like and that’s all that I need. I don’t need a birthday party. I don’t need 50 people around me in order to enjoy myself. As long as I can see the person I care about the most, it will be a very happy day. This was the first time I was away from my family for my birthday. They all wished me happy birthday of course, and they also sent me cards, but it’s not the same. I wasn’t heart broken over the fact that I’m on the other side of the world, so it didn’t affect me too much. I was just happy that I was able to meet my girlfriend, and she really made my day.
I was really surprised. She stayed up really late the night before making decorations, by hand, as you can see in the background. She also made me a cake, which was delicious. She made me a cake on Valentine’s Day, if you remember, and I love eating everything she makes. I always tell her that I want to eat more of her food, and I do, because it is just so tasty. After I lit the candles on my cake, she actually sang happy birthday to me. I was really pleased. She made this the most memorable birthday so far, and I can’t wait until next year.
During Golden Week, my girlfriend and I also went to Otaru again. We went before with my mother, but we wanted to go again and see more of the sights. It’s a nice little town north of Sapporo, and you can get there by train in less than 20 minutes. It’s right next to the Sea of Japan which means there are a lot of fresh seafood available. Sadly, we didn’t partake in any sushi, but I suspect I’ll go there again someday. Next time I’ll eat some REALLY fresh sushi.
Here’s me next to the canal that runs through Otaru. Apparently it used to be a lot bigger, but this is the only part that remains. I really wanted to get close to the sea, but I wasn’t able to. Maybe someday I can get close to it. I’ve actually never set foot in any ocean before.
This is the two of us at night in Otaru. When the lights go on it becomes much more beautiful. Sadly I don’t have any pictures of that to show you, but they reflect nicely on the canal. I suggest you go there if you are going to Hokkaido, especially since it is so close to Sapporo.
Cherry blossoms bloom at different times in different places, and it depends on the year. For example, they bloomed in Kyoto nearly two months ago, but they just bloomed here a week ago. I’m glad I was able to see them. We went to Maruyama Park (not the one in Kyoto) and saw them there. I suggest you go there in order to see the cherry blossoms because it’s very lively. A lot of people in Sapporo go there for “hamami” or “flower-viewing” and during this period, there are a lot of roadside shops selling all kinds of things. There were so many people at the park grilling and having fun, it reminded me of summer in the States. It was very nostalgic. You can get to the park by taking the subway, it’s located in Sapporo.
When we went to Maruyama Park, we also went to the zoo located next to it. I’ve been to the zoo countless times in Madison, but there were still a number of animals I have never seen before. I love going to the zoo. I wish I could upload all the pictures, but I took so many. This is another great sight-seeing place within Sapporo, but it costs 700 yen to get in. Be sure to take your camera, the best time to go is during the period of when the cherry blossoms are viewable.
I liked this bird because he looked right at me. Most animals seem to ignore the spectators altogether, except this little guy.
This is a red panda. I find them incredibly cute. They happen to be my girlfriend’s favorite animal, and she really loves seeing them.
We plan on going to another zoo called Asahiyama Zoo, but it takes a few hours to get there and it’s not located in Sapporo. It’s bigger and it is the most famous zoo in Hokkaido. Whenever we go there, I’ll be sure to let you all know.
Thanks again for reading my blog, and stay tuned for the next entry!