It might come as something of a surprise, but in addition to the traditional gift-giving periods of お中元 (o-chūgen, mid-summer) and お歳暮 (o-seibo, year-end — which precedes the Christmas season), the months of March and April are probably the third most popular of Japan’s major gift-giving seasons.
Why? For one reason: These two months mark the end and beginning of the academic year, described as 卒業、 新入学 (sotsugyō, shin-nyū gaku, graduation and matriculation), making it the time in which students receive congratulatory gifts.
It makes sense, then, that just prior to March, companies launch sales of new products. During the decade I spent working as an in-house translator at Aiwa （アイワ, an electronics manufacturer recently resurrected in Chicago), I was kept busy turning out translations of press releases, called 新製品情報 (shinseihin jōhō, new product information), which, accompanied by photographs, were mailed out to the media.
The stock expressions used when extolling the new product features and performance might include 世界最初 (sekai saisho, the world’s first) and 世界最小、最軽量 (sekai saishō, saikeiryō, world’s smallest and lightest).
To appeal to female consumers, a product might be described as 使いやすい (tsukaiyasui, easy to use) or コンパクト (konpakuto, compact, i.e., the opposite of bulky).
Depending on the price and targeted consumer, products would be classified as 高級 (kōkyū, deluxe), or 一流 (ichiryū, the “popularly priced” or “mass market model”). Products that offered good value at an affordable price were referred to as 目玉商品 (medama shōhin, “eyeball products”; in MBA lingo they would be termed “loss leaders”).
April also marks the start of Japan’s 年度 (nendo, fiscal year) for both the government and many corporations. Prior to the beginning of the fiscal year, it’s also common for company staff to receive orders for 転勤 (tenkin, transfers or reassignments). Because of numerous problems involving relocation — particularly housing and finding a new school for children — many workers reluctantly decide the husband will be 単身赴任 (tanshin funin, taking up a new post and leaving one’s family behind).
The first working day of April is also when the new crop of 新入社員 (shinnyū shain, company “freshmen”) — faces scrubbed and shaved and the 茶髪 (chapatsu, brownish tinted hair) of their student days (usually) changed back to basic black — begin their careers. The ones who take up new residence in an apartment typically go on spending sprees for bedding, furniture and 白もの (shiromono, “white things,” i.e., electric appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners and so on).
No sooner do the freshmen begin their jobs than the series of holidays called ゴールデンウィーク (Golden Week) is upon us. Although commonly spoken out loud in English, its Japanese name, 黄金週間 (ōgon shūkan) does find use in newspaper headlines, probably because it can be written out more economically using four characters instead of the nine needed to write Golden Week. Another popular term, also digested to four characters, is 大型連休 (ōgata renkyū, literally big-size consecutive holidays).
This year, Golden Week begins April 29 with 昭和の日 (Shōwa no Hi, Showa Day). Formerly the birthday of the late Emperor Showa, aka Hirohito, the holiday called 天皇誕生日 (Tennō tanjōbi) was moved to Dec. 23 when the current Emperor ascended to the throne in 1989. This year April 30 and May 1 will be working days, although many companies give their workers a holiday on メーデー (May Day). Banks and government offices will be closed from May 2 to 6.
In recent years it has been observed that young Japanese are less inclined to exercise 我慢 (gaman, fortitude). As evidence of this, the percentage has been rising of new company hirees who, for whatever reason, make a snap decision that they made a mistake in joining the company and fail to return to the workplace following the Golden Week holiday.
Some years ago this phenomenon — of workers leaving their new job by the end of the first month — was humorously nicknamed 成田退職 (Narita taishoku). The term is a spin-off from a more familiar expression, 成田離婚 (Narita rikon, Narita divorce), which refers to newlywed couples who discover while on their overseas honeymoon that 相性が悪い (aishō ga warui, they can’t stand each other), and upon returning to Narita airport go their separate ways.
Although some shell-shocked newbies walk right away from their jobs without so much as notifying the company’s 人事課長 (jinji kachō, personnel manager) in writing, Japanese have a standard format for resignation letters that is remarkable for its simplicity and brevity. It goes: 一身上の都合によって＿月＿日を以て退職させて頂きます. (Isshinjō no tsugō ni yotte __ gatsu __ nichi wo motte taishoku sasete itadakimasu, for personal reasons I hereby resign effective __ month __day).
My friend Osamu, who has switched companies several times, once advised me that if you’re serious about leaving a job, it’s best to keep the resignation letter short and sweet. Or maybe bittersweet, in this case.
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