Dear Gaijin Girl.
Everyone keeps asking me what I'm doing for Golden week?
Golden week, what's that?
I'm glad you asked. Golden Week or GW is officially a time for Japanese nationals to reflect on the turbulent rein of Emperor Hirohito, as well as, honor his obsessive compulsion to document and classify every sea animal and plant in existence to cope with his role in WW II. (To be fair, it is better that hitting the bottle or the wife. It's frankly hard to hate the guy. He was buried with his microscope and Mickey Mouse watch for crying out loud.) The Japanese are also supposed to reflect on the constitution they have but didn't write or ask for.
I should note that when I say " reflect" I mean "spend a lot of money." The entire country takes 3-7 days off work and celebrates being Japanese by leaving the country. Many go to Guam, Saipan or Hawaii and complain about all the other Japanese tourists there. Those stuck in Japan due to inflated airfare might go to Kyoto or Osaka and complain about not being able to complain about all the other Japanese tourists in Waikiki-ken.
The Japanese are also celebrating Boy's Day which is on March 5th. A little FYI, Girl's Day is on March 3rd (Not a national holiday like Boy's Day. Now, that's a surprise.) and Drag Day is April 4th. (Not a national holiday but there is a parade.) I was informed of this by a Japanese man on what I thought was our first date. It then occurred to me that straight men do not offer this kind of info to women they plan on sleeping with. Looking back, I should have known he was gay when I realized our conversation was genuinely interesting and he was considerate. It turns out he'd asked me out because he thought I was a lesbian and he was looking for a "comrade" I don't blame him, I was going through a rock n roll look at the time. I was aiming for heroin chic, but that only works if you are actually on heroin. I was pretty chubby so I looked a bit butch. On top of that, I met him at a birthday party at a gay men's cowboy themed bar named Arty Farty. He came up to me and asked if I "come here often?" I thought he was one of those straight guys that hit on "fag hags" in gay men's bars I’d heard about. (By they way, I hate that term. I prefer the "fruit fly" thank you very much) I don't think I've ever disappointed a man more by telling him I was straight. (except for maybe Dad)
I'm telling you all this because this all happened my first Golden Week in Japan and your first GW won't be anywhere near as awkward as mine was if you take my advice.
Withdraw heaps of cash from your bank account a few days before GW starts because the ATMs will be CLOSED for most if not all of Golden Week. I know, it sounds stupid to not be able to get cash anytime you want. Isn't that what ATMs are FOR?! The answer is yes and no. The thing is Japan is a fairly safe country. (as long as you don't have any family in it) It is also primarily a cash country where the average salaryman/ housewife is carrying the equivalent of $300 in cash at all times. I've seen university students pay for laptop computers entirely in cash, thumping the equivalent of a grand or two on the counter and the cashier doesn't even flinch. Hell, the cashier is already fishing out correct change. It's like watching people play monopoly.
There is another psychological reason for the ATMs to be closed. Credit cards aren't really used in Japan the way they are in the US. Not that many people have them to begin with and the credit limit is usually set way lower than your monthly salary. (Particularly if you are a working class foreigner) Whatever you owe the credit card company is taken directly out of your bank account at the end of the month. Only if your bank account is empty do you incur interest. The interest rates aren't nearly as high as in the States. There are other more predatory avenues to borrow money, these are often called "sarakin" or "gakusei loan" these companies offer short term cash loans for up to 20% interest and are often "family business" related. A great avenue if you want to practice begging for forgiveness in Japanese and sitting dogeiza http://youtu.be/bG6oT5kYI0Y
The phycological reason for shutting down the ATMs is this. As you withdraw more cash than you plan to spend just before the holiday in case there is an emergency, something always happens. (though it’s hardly ever an emergency)
GW is one of the few times you and your friends are free see each other and since nobody goes to anybody's home, you'll inevitably go out to eat, drink and shop. Karaoke box hustlers will try to pull you into their shop where you'll spend ¥5000 yen an hour belting out the latest Taylor Swift in Katakana English and drinking the weakest cocktails on earth, all the while, trying not to touch anything in the karaoke box, knowing it's the poor man's love hotel. (Don't ever stop to ponder where people have put the microphone, it'll spoil your evening. Just bring hand sanitizer and dip the microphone handles in it.)
That’s my advice, withdraw as much cash as you can to get you through a week that will always be much more expensive than you expect it to be. (Oh yeah, and try to get your Japanese friends to do an Eminem song in the karaoke box. Eminem in katakana English is way cuter than kittens on the internet.)