Written by Laurel Brinker-Cole, (Franklin & Marshall College) Student Correspondent CET Japan Spring 2019
Last month was the end of an era – quite literally, here in Japan. In addition to the “2017, 2018, 2019” method of time-keeping that most of us are familiar with, Japan also makes use of their traditional way of making the years; that of era names. These names are chosen by each new emperor, and last for the duration of that emperor’s rule. Up until a week ago, Japan was living in the “Heisei” (平成) era, under emperor Akihito. As of May first, however, and the ascension of Emperor Akihito’s son (now) Emperor Naruhito, Japan is officially in the “Reiwa” (令和) era!
Usually the end of an era corresponds with the death of the ruling emperor – in fact, this is the first time in over a hundred years than a Japanese emperor has done so! Needless to say, it can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so a lot of the locals were pretty excited back when the new era name was going to be announced. Even Okada-sensei, who takes our class rather seriously, had everyone stop to check their phones for announcements. Twice.
Besides having a professor stop class and ask everyone to check their phones (which is surreal to remember, let alone when it was happening!), the other big impact that came from the new emperor showed up through Golden Week! Golden Week, if you’re not familiar, is a stretch of time in late April to early May when Japan has multiple holidays in close succession, such as Children’s Day (kodomo no hi) and Greenery day (midori no hi). However, Japan also has some interesting rules regarding holidays; one of which my friends and I joking refer to as “the sandwich rule”. If a holiday falls on, say, a Monday, and a holiday falls on a Wednesday, rather than having a Monday break and a Wednesday break but still having to go to work or school on Tuesday, Tuesday also becomes a holiday! Sounds great, right?
In addition to the sandwich rule, there’s one more magnificent holiday rule to go around. If a Holiday falls on a Sunday – such as this year’s Kodomo no Hi – then rather “losing” the day off, it’s moved to the next regular work day, i.e. that Monday. Now, between these two rules, you get “Golden Week”! Usually, Golden week is four to six days long. But this year because of the ascension of the new Emperor, the government tacked on a few extra holidays – making Golden Week into a whopping 10 days long, nicknamed “Platinum Week”!
Now, to a tired College Student like me, the concept of a 10 day break mid-semester is pretty enticing, especially since we wrapped up our semester-long research projects the week before. Talk about a good time for a de-stress break. However, my Golden Week did backfire a little bit – the first half, when I planned for a good deal of reading, relaxing, and playing games with friends, went fine! Then came the second half, with plans of watching a soccer game and visiting Nara…which were all rather waylaid by a nasty cold instead. In fact, I’m still sniffling my way through writing this, facemask and all.
(If you’re not familiar with Japanese habits regarding illnesses and allergies, just know that it’s far, far more common to see someone wearing a face mask here than it ever is at home in America. Not only does it help with hygiene, it’s also a great way to indicate that you’re somehow feeling under the weather – be it from a cold or evil, sabotaging pollen.)
But derailed plans aside, Platinum week was still a great way to relax, and I heard plenty of stories from friend who managed to be a bit more adventurous – ranging anywhere from a few days in Korea to carrying a $60 fish back home in their backpack! With a week of relaxing behind me, even sniffles can’t keep me from striding my way through our last few weeks here.