National / Media | MEDIA MIX

Question mark hangs over holiday reshuffles

by Philip Brasor

Contributing Writer

The Diet passed a bill in June that will shift certain national holidays in 2020 to ease traffic congestion during the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Marine Day, which is usually the third Monday of July, will be moved to July 23, the day before the opening ceremony, while Sports Day, normally the second Monday in October, will be shifted to July 24, the day of the opening ceremony. Meanwhile, Mountain Day, which is usually celebrated on Aug. 11, will be moved up a day to Aug. 10, the day after the closing ceremony, which falls on a Sunday.

By concentrating these holidays around times when the population of Tokyo is expected to swell, the government hopes to relieve some of the pressure on roads and public transportation, since fewer people are likely to be commuting. According to IT Media Business Online, these changes do not sit well with some sectors of the population. There will be no increase in the number of national holidays, so workers and students who normally look forward to three-day weekends in July and October won’t be able to utilize them in 2020. That means leisure and tourism-related entities will lose business during those periods. Also, people who don’t live in Tokyo wonder why they have to change their schedules just for the convenience of the capital, since these holiday shifts are being made on a national rather than a local basis.

The government’s scheme shows how arbitrary the national holiday system is. Moving Sports Day to the day of the opening ceremony makes symbolic sense because its original meaning was to commemorate the opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Broadly speaking, Marine Day and Mountain Day were initially implemented to compel the public to take a break from work, the implication being that they needed permission from the government to do so.

Consequently, time off in Japan is seen as a matter more of supervisory fiat than personal inclination, which may be why the government’s more recent decision to grant the nation 10 full days of vacation during Golden Week 2019 has been met with mixed reactions.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the calendar changes on Oct. 12 as the result of a Cabinet directive. The Golden Week vacation period next year will start on April 27 and end on May 6. The stated reason for the long vacation is to celebrate the ascendance of Crown Prince Naruhito to the throne, even though the enthronement ceremony won’t take place until the following October. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the purpose of the extended holiday is to allow all citizens to enjoy the succession in a unified manner.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported on how these calendar changes will affect the business community. Obviously, the tourist industry is excited because more people will be taking trips. The JTB Corp. has already received twice as many reservations for overseas travel during Golden Week 2019 than they did for Golden Week 2018 in early October last year. All Nippon Airways reports an increase in domestic flight bookings for the period.

On the other hand, many companies announce their annual business results in May, so they will have to either move up their plans or push them back, which may be troublesome for investors. And industries already suffering from labor shortages, such as transportation and delivery services, will be particularly inconvenienced. Yamato Transport predicts a huge increase in last-minute demand before the 10-day break kicks off.     

In a Nov. 14 editorial, the Asahi Shimbun said that while “many will welcome such a long vacation,” wage-earners forced to take days off will lose income. And parents who still need to work during the designated period will have to find someone to watch their children, since schools will be closed.

The government seems oblivious to these concerns, says the Asahi Shimbun, especially considering the timing. Why is the succession celebration centered on May 1? Jan. 1 makes more sense, since a new Imperial era will start on that date. Isn’t it more practical to begin the new reign at the start of the calendar year? The government’s reasoning is that the Imperial family already has much to do during the New Year’s interval. In that case, why not schedule the succession for the beginning of the fiscal year on April 1? The government says that there are regional elections on April 7 next year.

Another worry is the announcement of the name of the new Imperial era, which won’t be made until at least one month before the planned May succession, a decision that seems to satisfy nobody. Printers and information technology companies have pleaded for the government to announce the new gengō (era name) as soon as possible so that their businesses would not be adversely affected. Meanwhile, traditionalists, many of whom are not crazy about allowing the present Emperor to abdicate before he dies, want to at least follow the protocol of not announcing the new gengō until the Emperor is off the throne.

The Asahi Shimbun also argues that the Cabinet decision violates the letter of the Constitution, which says the Emperor represents the will of the people. The Asahi Shimbun thinks the government ignores public opinion by unilaterally selecting the date of succession and dictating when people will celebrate it.

In that spirit, the government will likely designate a new holiday to celebrate the new Emperor’s birthday, but because the succession doesn’t happen until May and the new Emperor’s birthday is in February, the holiday wouldn’t go into effect until 2020. The Sankei Shimbun says that the current Emperor’s birthday — Dec. 23 — will not be celebrated after the succession, so that means one less national holiday in 2019.

The government will likely make that day a holiday just as they did for the birthdays of the Showa Emperor (Green Day, April 29) and the Meiji Emperor (Culture Day, Nov. 3). For some reason, the Taisho Emperor’s birthday doesn’t get a holiday, but it’s always there in case the government needs another one.