Golden Week, Festivals, and Flowers: Japanese Spirit with Western Learning

A week long vacation doesn’t appear that often – but that’s exactly what Golden Week gave JCMU English Language instructor Sam Sorenson! As he writes below, Sam celebrated the extended holiday with the locals and explored Japan’s flower-covered mountain sides.


Every year starting at the end of April and leading into the first week of May Japan celebrates four national holidays within a seven-day period. This seven-day period is colloquially known as “Golden Week” and is generally a time for people living in Japan to relax, travel, or participate in local festivals. Fortunately for me, I was able to savor all that Golden Week had to offer me back in May by taking part in a unique neighborhood festival and spending some time out in Shiga’s beautiful nature – and relaxing with family and friends of course!

My first Golden Week highlight was going to see a festival that took place in my fiancé’s hometown of Kinomoto, Nagahama City. Every year during Golden Week, the neighborhood men gather to carry a portable shrine known as an omikoshi around the town, making numerous stops for sustenance including food and drinks provided by local businesses and residents. I was surprised to see how frequent the stops were, with the men stopping every couple hundred feet or so for brief respites of snacks, drinks, and socializing. The procession was especially fun for the neighborhood children as they followed closely behind the men and got to partake in any of the leftover snacks at each stop in a practice that reminded me a little of the American tradition of trick-or-treating on Halloween.

Picture 1
The men prepare to hoist up the omikoshi after a brief snack break
Picture 2
It wasn’t just kids who followed the procession cleaning up with snacks – my fiancé’s family and I also did our best to follow along and cheer on the men (collecting snacks along the way of course!)

The men would need all that sustenance though to give them the energy needed for the final event of the festival. The culminating event took place in the center of town near Kinomoto Station where the men demonstrated their strength and coordination by thrusting the omikoshi as high into the air as they could. It was quite the feat of strength as the men alternated between raising the left and right sides of the shrine. Check out the video below documenting the coordinated chaos!

The next stop on my Golden Week adventure was a familiar one: Mt. Shizugatake. The mountain is located in the same town of Kinomoto, and readers of my blog might remember me mentioning it here when I visited it with some JCMU students last November. The purpose of my visit this time was to see the shaga (著莪; sometimes translated as “fringed iris”) flowers that bloom en masse every year right around Golden Week.

A chair lift is installed along the slope of Mt. Shizugatake so visitors can ascend to the peak without the effort involved in making the climb by foot. The shaga flowers bloom along the chairlift path creating a long carpet of white flowery goodness. We took the chairlift to the peak and the whole way up it was like floating above a snowy-white layer of clouds.

Picture 3
Viewed from far away the shaga flowers create the illusion of a white carpet

If you are ever in Shiga over Golden Week I hope you can get a chance to view these beautiful flowers and participate in a local festival or two as well!

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