Greenery Day: A Perfect Reason for a Day Off

Unlike some people in my home country, I’m not the kind of guy to ever question a paid vacation day. You can argue all you want about whether Columbus’ contributions to history merit an official holiday in the US. In the mean time, I’ll be relaxing and enjoying Greenery Day (not to be confused with the American Rock Band “Green Day,” according to Wikipedia), Ocean Day, Respect the Aged Day, and any other day my office tells me it’s ok to stay at home in my PJs.

The Meaning of Greenery Day

Most Japanese probably don’t care where the holiday came from. Like “Constitution Day” before it, and “Showa Day” during the preceding week, there’s very little unique about it, and no attendant celebration that I’m aware of. It comes in the midst of a string of holidays (the last one being “Boys’ Day” or “Children’s Day,” depending on who you ask) called Golden Week. Technically, there are a couple work days in the middle of that week- three this year- but if you take vacation on those days, you end up with nearly a week and a half of vacation time all at once, which makes this one of the busiest travel times of the year. But in all the travel and holidays-for-holidays’-sake, Greenery Day gets lost in the shuffle.

The history of the holiday is pretty interesting for history geeks like me. To summarize, April 29th was the Showa emperor’s birthday, but since he remains a controversial figure thanks to his role in World War II, after his death in 1989, they kept his birthday as a national holiday under the new name of Greenery Day to commemorate his love for plants without mentioning him by name. In 2007, the Japanese government decided it was acceptable to mention Emperor Showa by name, so he got his birthday back and Greenery Day moved to May 4th, taking over a previously unnamed holiday and essentially losing all meaning. Again, I’m not complaining. A meaningless holiday is just as good, if not better. Just ask anyone in the US military who has to go to work on Veteran’s Day.

A Little Love for Green

For a long time, I saw the holiday “Midori no Hi” on the calendar and read it simply as “Green Day” (it never occurred to me to confuse it with the band, despite that group’s formative impact on my childhood). Even though I now know it celebrates plants rather than just a color, I still like to think the holiday at least gives green back a little of the dignity that it has lost in Japan. Fresh greenery here is called “aoba” (blue leaves), though more mature leaves are acknowledged as green. And, perhaps most jarring in a country full of traffic jams: traffic signals, and all of the societal analogies they inspire, are regarded here as being red, yellow, and blue. The light itself is the exact same color as it is in countries where it is called green.

If I was green, I’d let blue keep the traffic signals, though. I’ll take the holiday and go picnic beneath the trees by my home.

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