Silver Week glitters like gold
You may have heard of Golden Week, Japan’s string of four consecutive holidays from late April to early May, but you probably didn’t know that there is also a Silver Week which occurs once every few years in September. And, this is one of those years.
Here’s how it works:
Autumnal Equinox Day is a national holiday that falls on Sept. 23 (Sept. 22 during leap years). Japan’s National Holiday Act dictates that when Respect for the Aged Day, celebrated the third Monday in September, falls on Sept. 21, and it is not a leap year, the day between the two holidays becomes another holiday – National People’s Day.
Combined with the weekend that precedes the Monday holiday, you get the five-day aptly named Silver Week. The last Silver Week occurred in 2009. The next Silver Week will be in 2026, followed by 2032 and 2037.
So, what does one do during Silver Week?
With the moderate autumn temperature, it is considered one of the best times to enjoy traveling around the nation. Accotrding to Japan Travelers Bureau, as of July 22, the most popular domestic travel destinations for Silver Week are Wakayama, Shiga and Mie Prefectures.
Some people are also planning to travel overseas for the long holiday. Since the yen is weakening, many overseas travelers plan to go to beach resorts in neighboring countries instead of Europe or America. The most popular destinations include Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, according to the bureau.
If you’re planning to travel in Japan during Silver Week – beware!
Just like Golden Week, it is one of the busiest and most expensive times to travel. Staying within the city may be the best bet. Those determined to take a road trip nonetheless should know what’s in store.
Heavy traffic is common, both on expressways and general roads. This is especially true with expressways around big cities. According to Japan Traffic Information Center, heavy traffic will peak on various expressways around big cities Sept. 20 (outbound) and Sept. 22 (inbound). Traffic on general roads is expected to peak throughout Sept. 19 to 23.
The heaviest traffic for general roads will be Chita Road in Aichi Prefecture; Route 135 and Manaduru Road in Shizuoka Prefecture which accesses the Izu Peninsula. These roads are known to have traffic jams that stretch more than 6 miles long every year during the Golden Week.
Public transportation and accommodations are also fully booked throughout the period. “Shinkansen” (bullet train) bookings for Sept. 18-23, for example, are already at 640,000 – nearly two and a half times more than for the same period of last year. Local train bookings have more than double, too. The most crowded date for out-going traffic from large cities is Sept. 19; the in-coming is Sept. 23, according to Japan Railway Company.
So, if you are planning to travel during Silver Week reserve accommodations and transportation well in advance and check traffic information as much as possible. Road Bureau traffic updates are available online at: www.mlit.go.jp/road/traffic
21 Respect for the Aged Day
Respect for the Aged Day may call to mind graying Japan’s rapidly aging population, but that only underscores this national holiday’s emphasis on honoring and appreciating the contributions senior citizens have made to society.
Celebrated this year on Sept. 16, this holiday traces its origins back to 1947 when a farming village in Hyogo Prefecture proclaimed Sept. 15 as “Day for the Elderly,” or Toshiyori-no-Hi. They held a meeting to honor seniors and listened to them speak in order to benefit from their words of wisdoms. The idea spread throughout the prefecture, then spread nationwide.
“Respect for the Aged Day (Keiro-no-Hi) was legislated in 1966 according to the National Holidays Act,” said Yukihiro Miura from the holiday section of the National Cabinet Office’s General Affairs Division. “The purpose of this holiday is to express respect for the elderly in our communities and wish them longevity.”
“I think sometime after Japanese society started recovering from the devastation of the war, people began to think of how they could appreciate the elderly who had contributed so much to society, and how to glean from their wisdom,” Miura added.
Although the holiday was originally observed on Sep. 15, the National Holidays Act was amended in 2003, introducing the so-called Happy Monday system which moved several holidays to Mondays to create three-day weekends. Respect for the Aged Day has been celebrated on the third Monday of September ever since.
On this day, many communities honor the elderly with parties or ceremonies and present them with gifts. TV stations usually air senior-related programs such as features on the number of elderly in Japan or the oldest people in the country. And school children often visit facilities for the elderly to entertain them with song and dance.
How will you honor the elderly in your community on Respect for the Aged Day?
How old is old in Japan
In Japan, people age 65 and older are considered elderly, according to the Act on Assurance of Medical Care for Elderly People. The act defines people 75 and older as “late-stage elderly.”
- Japan has the highest life expectancy at 84 years (86.61 for women, 80.21 for men) out of 222 surveyed nations, according to the World Health Organization in May 2014. (The U.S. ranks 34th at age 79 [81 for women, 76 for men].)
- 26.3 percent of Japan’s population – 33.4 million people (19 million women, 14.4 million men) – is age 65 and older. The number increases by 1.02 million annually.
- There are 16 million people in Japan age 75 and older, up by 480,000 from the previous year.
- There are more than 50,000 centenarians in Japan. The number increases by 3,000 annually
- The number of the elderly is rapidly increasing in Japan as the number of children being born declines, causing major concerns over how a shrinking workforce will continue to fund healthcare and social security.
– Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications 2012 statistics
The Big Mac attack on Okinawan longevity
Okinawa Prefecture was once long recognized for having the highest longevity rate out of all 47 prefectures in Japan. But times have changed according to a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare study conducted every five years. Apparently, nothing really does last forever.
While a 1995 survey showed that overall there were 22 centenarians for every 100,000 persons in Okinawa – 3.8 times the national average at the time – survey figures show longevity has been declining in Okinawa ever since. By 2005, male Okinawans had dropped from first to 25th place.
Most recently, in 2010, Okinawan women dropped to third place in the survey with a life expectancy of 87.02 years, slightly higher than the ministry’s national average of 86.35. Okinawan men, however, plummeted to 30th place at 79.4 years, just shy of the national life expectancy for males of 79.59 years. The results are no surprise to Dr. Makoko Suzuki who predicted the trend a decade ago in an interview with Stars and Stripes.
Suzuki, now a retired medical doctor, Okinawa International University professor and co-author of the best-selling “The Okinawa Program: How the World’s Longest Lived People Achieved Everlasting Health,” conducted a 25-year study of the traditional Okinawa diet. He said the prefecture’s claim as a haven for centenarians (once the most per capita in the world) came from an old island lifestyle that literally has been dying out. This has opened the door to diseases associated with obesity – once rare on Okinawa – like diabetes, heart failure and strokes that are now becoming all too common.
“The chief factor is diet,” he said in 2004, pointing a finger at ubiquitous fast-food chains like A&W, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. “Their (younger Okinawans’) eating habits are more westernized, which raises their cholesterol.” While older Okinawans still take walks, he added, their younger counterparts, “have the tendency to hop into a car.”
“The last two factors are the loss of the Okinawan culture and tradition in our everyday lives,” Suzuki said. “Traditionally, Okinawans were more involved with their community and religious activities, which kept them active.”
23 Autumnal Equinox Day
Sept. 23 is Autumnal Equinox day, an important national holiday forming this year’s Silver Week.
According to an old Japanese saying, “No heat or cold lasts past the equinox.” Since the equinoxes are transitions between these two extremes, they represent passing from this realm to the next in Japan’s Buddhist tradition.
No matter where you are, however, these are great times to get outside the gates and feel the warmth or coolness of the changing season while learning a little local culture. You may even have an opportunity to experience a side of Japan that many modern-day locals miss out on.
Both the vernal (spring) and autumnal equinoxes (March 21 and Sept. 23, respectively) are moveable calendar events that have been observed as national holidays for more than 1,000 years in Japan.
The “Higan” (literally, “the other shore”) is a seven-day Buddhist memorial service held three days before, after and on the equinox to honor loved ones who have died. Devout Buddhists visit temples and offer prayers for the souls of the dead.
Records indicate Higan was widely observed as far back as the 9th century A.D. when the equinoxes became religious holidays, and the emperor called on Buddhist monks to read scriptures for these rites.
Today, many mainland Japanese visit family tombs in temples or cemeteries to offer prayers for deceased family members and friends during the weeks of Vernal or Autumnal Equinox Days.
Sweet rice-gluten balls are eaten during these periods. Interestingly, this sweet changes its name according to when it is eaten. While the sweet is called “bota-mochi,” in spring after a spring flower “botan,” or peony, it is called “Ohagi” in autumn after an autumn flower “hagi.”
On Okinawa, families offer “ohigan kuwachii,” or equinox delicacies, such as pork ribs, sweets, fruits, rice cakes, flowers, incense and “uchikabi” (money for the other world) for their ancestors at family alters.