Monday, May 3, 2010

All That Glitters...

Yokohama, Japan - It's Golden Week in Japan. The whole country has the week off (everyone likes to do things together here, even vacation) and everywhere you go it looks like this:


Now let me zoom out.


Well actually this is a picture of the Japanese labor movement's first May Day march dated 1920, but you get the picture. Long lines, crowds, everywhere you go.

This year the anniversary of Emperor Hirohito's birthday (April 29th, a national holiday) fell on a Thursday, then Golden Week kicked off on Saturday and runs through Wednesday which is May 5th, Children's Day (which used to be known as Boy's Day). Sandwiched in between is Constitution Day on the 3rd, celebrating the adoption of Japan's war renouncing constitution. Largely handed down by the post WWII US occupational administration, the foundation of the war renouncing part of that constitution, article number nine, in recent years has been chipped away at by conservative forces both within the Japanese government as well as the US, the original architect of Japan's peace constitution. For most people the day is an opportunity to spend quality time standing in long lines, stuck in traffic, or most importantly with their family and/or a few bottles of sake.

Then comes Green Day (Midori no Hi). If you thought the explanation of Constitution Day was long-winded, hold on to your hats. April 29th was a national holiday in honor of Emperor Hirohito's (the Showa Emperor) actual birthday. Usually when an emperor dies, the new emperor's birthday replaces the old emperor's birthday as a national holiday. Since Emperor Hirohito's birthday fell on the first day of Golden Week, when he died, the government realized that abolishing the holiday would put a wrinkle in everyone's travel plans and a real damper on Golden Week so they decided to keep the holiday. While the new emperor's birthday fell on December 23rd, they could have two holidays called the Emperor's Birthday so they changed the name of the holiday for the former emperor's birthday (Emperor Hirohito's birthday) to Midori no Hi, or Green Day, in honor of his love of not the 90's rock band of the same name but nature.

Some years later the government decided there was a shortage of holidays so they came up with a law making any day that fell between two national holidays a national holiday as well. That made the day between Constitution Day on May 3rd and Children's Day on May 5th a new national holiday. That holdiay was labeled with the decidedly lackluster nomer of May 4th. The holiday didn't have a name (or a significant reason for being) and that was a problem. Then a couple of years ago the national government decided to change the name of Green Day (Midori no Hi) to Showa no Hi (in honor of the reign of Emperor Hirohito, the Showa emperor) for no apparent reason. When somebody asked, "What will happen to Green Day?" the light bulb switched on somebody else's head. The bright light realized they had an open slot on May 4th, the holiday without a name, and so that's how May 4th came to be known as Green Day in Japan. They might as well have named it after the 90's rock band as far as I'm concerned, the important thing is that everybody gets the day off.

According to a recent oped by Loyola University New Orleans law professor, Bill Quigley, " it is only workers in the US who have no guaranteed days of paid leave at all. Korea is the next lowest to the US and it has a minimum of 8 paid annual days of leave. Most of the other 30 [advanced] countries require a minimum of 20 days of annual paid leave for their workers."

Now something is definitely wrong with that picture.

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