Since life is life for work, and work is work for the nation, personal vacation days basically amount to treason. “We give you these ten paid vacation days with the promise that you never use them.” Okay, no one ever actually says that out loud, but oddly everyone collectively reads the exact message in the subtext.
Then someone high up in the command chain realized some years ago that quality of life has an inverse relation to per capita labor hours. The national government thus started drowning the population in national holidays. The logic being, even in the Army, your captain does owe you an “At ease!” once in a while. And they can’t bark orders to stand up unless you are sitting down.
In late April and early May, red letters start to multiply on the calender until coalescing into a massive holiday rollerskating jam called Golden Week. If you cleverly take off just two paid vacation days in the middle of the week (or work at the right industry where bosses allow you to stay home), it gives you nine days to go somewhere.
Thanks to this miracle of rational planning, a good bulk of the 127 million inhabitants of Japan all focus their yearly (non-hometown related) holiday desires upon this one near-fortnight. Space in hotels, airplanes, ferries, minshuku, pensions, B&Bs, museums, art galleries, remote islands, and outer space, however, is limited. Adam Smith could tell you incredible demand for a very small supply raises prices, and guess what: costs for Golden Week travel are high enough to make a good Puritan or Confucian feel dirty and wasteful for even thinking about attempting to leave the neighborhood.
Due to short-sightedness and lack of motivation to overspend, I am going nowhere this year.
Monday’s amazing weather, however, almost made up for my gripes against these artificial machinations to destroy Man’s yearning for non-labor related self-actualization. We biked to Nogawa Park, which may just be Tokyo’s least artificial and most verdant public recreation area. There is a pleasant river running through the park full of barefoot kids hovering with nets, hoping to catch small crawfish.
After biking ten minutes radially from a train station in Western Tokyo, you are pretty much in “the suburbs.” Almost like a tree line on the mountains, the inhabitants’ outfits suddenly cease to be constructed in world-class styling from first-tier brands. The wide-roads are filled with commercial ventures totally alien to the urban landscape — tire stores, Matsuya fast foods with parking spaces, crummy decaying used video stores, and Home Depots — all of which demonstrate the dominance of the automobile and the domicile in this forgotten land.
On the way to Nogawa, we passed the Reversible Destiny Lofts, which I had wanted to check out for a long time. Despite the radiant glow of their pop coloring, the apartments are almost hidden behind other buildings on initial approach. You pass a drive-through McDonalds on your right, cross the street, and then the circles and squares of Reversible Destiny appear in the corner of your left eye — almost like the McDs fun park has relocated catty-corner and caught Elephantitis along the way. As one could imagine, they are quite striking and imposing, but for whatever reason, almost none of the passers-by stopped to take a deeper look. The location is mixed: There is some nice greenery at their back, but the entire complex directly faces a very busy highway in the middle of a concrete nowhere. The apartments seem to be at least half-populated at the moment, but the books and clothes in the windows looked more like the possessions of hip architectural students than of the elderly — the latter a demographic which the architects originally planned as tenants to take advantage of the apartment’s unconventional design in their battle against the inevitability of senility.
Like LOHAS, this kind of socially-progressive design is always in danger of being stripped-down and consumed as empty style in Japan, but at least the architects were nice enough to experiment out in the middle of nowhere instead of adding one more monument smack-dab in the center of Omotesando.