The timespan between April 29 and May 5 is commonly known in Japan as “Golden Week.” It’s a time in the spring where there are 4 national holidays in one week: Showa Day, Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day and Children’s Day. People usually get the whole week off from school and work; they go on vacations, relax and have parties. Stores have Golden Week sales, and Shinkansen (bullet train) ticket prices shoot right up to take advantage of all the travel.
As for my case, Sophia University only gave its students May 2 – 5 off from school. The class sizes began to dwindle comically around April 27, and the morning trains grew progressively less crowded. Over the past week, students on my program left for 10-day trips to the US and Taiwan. Some went to stay with friends in Tokyo, while others went sightseeing as far away as Osaka. Two girls actually went up north to volunteer in the Tohoku region (the area most affected by the earthquake/nuclear crisis).
In other words, my dorm building has been incredibly quiet for the past few days.
Since they haven’t returned yet, I can’t help but wonder how the two girls who went to Tohoku are faring. There are a lot of mixed feelings around foreigners in the Tohoku region right now. On the one hand, there’s resentment for “flyjin” (gaijin, or foreigners, who flew away following the disaster). There’s also mixed gratitude and contempt for the gaijin who stayed.
The latter is partly due to an alarming recent trend of “disaster tourism” where people actually go on day trips up to Tohoku to see the stricken area like it’s just sightseeing. There are also people who go up to help, but don’t speak much Japanese and just manage to get in the way and sap resources. The Tohoku region has actually requested officially that no one come to help unless they have strong enough language and physical skills to be helpful.
There’s a person in my dorm building who is originally from Fukushima, where the troubled nuclear plant is. On Tuesday of Golden Week he brought out a large bottle of saké from his hometown, saying that it was sold to raise funds for the relief efforts.
We opened the bottle and toasted Fukushima. Every time we took a drink, we would say, “Ganbare Fukushima.” or “Ganbare Nihon.” (rough translation: Good luck Fukushima. Good Luck Japan).
I feel like Golden Week was a time to make meaningful memories and to really explore Japan. Everyone has stories to tell after this week.Although the weather hasn’t really been spring-like, Golden Week is the pinnacle of the Japanese springitme–everyone comes back into their normal routines rested and ready to persevere.
“Ganbare Fukushima. Ganbare Nihon.”
Read Christina Macias’ other related posts:
1. Student headed to study abroad is not deterred by earthquake in Sendai, Japan
2. New beginnings in Tokyo during Hanami Matsuri season
3. Golden Week signals springtime in Japan