五月病 (Gogatsu byou) literally means ‘May disease’. This is a ‘disease’ that many Japanese people suffer from every year in May. If you’re in Japan at that time, take care of yourself!
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五月病 (ごがつびょう, gogatsu byou) indicates a feeling of dullness or lethargy that one experiences in May, especially after Golden Week (4/29 ~ 5/5). Although called ‘May disease’, it is a causal term which usually describes a depressed state of mind. For instance, the typical symptom of May disease includes losing your motivation at work, or feeling like you can’t be bothered to do anything with your life. As explained below, May disease usually ensues from the change of circumstances, and the serious case of May disease is often regarded as a sort of adjustment disorder.
The main cause of Gogatsu byou is rooted in Japan’s school and employment system. In Japan, April is the beginning of a fiscal and academic year, when new students matriculate at school and new graduates join a company. Therefore, a lot of people, both newcomers and veterans, feel fresh and optimistic about their new circumstances in April. By the next month, however, many people, especially newcomers face some difficulties in their new environment and realise that their new life is not as exciting as they expected. As a consequence, they suffer from the ‘May disease’, where they lose their motivation for work or studies that they had in April, or feel depressed or disappointed at the discrepancy between their expectations and the harsh realities.
Notably, ‘May disease’ is often triggered by Golden Week in May, the longest national holidays in Japan. During this period, a lot of people take time off work or school, and find it hard to return to their mundane life. At university, for instance, you see fewer freshmen wandering about on campus after Golden Week than in April. Since Golden Week this year was exceptionally long as described in the following section, there would be more ‘patients’ of May disease than usual.
Special Golden Week in 2019
This year, Japanese people enjoyed brighter Golden Week with 10 consecutive jolly holidays from April 27th to May 6th. Originally, April 30th, May 1st and 2nd were not supposed to be national holidays. Only this year, however, May 1st was set as a special national holiday to celebrate the Crown Prince’s accession to the throne, which ushered in the dawn of Japan’s new era, ‘令和 (Reiwa)’. Accordingly, April 30th and May 2nd also became national holidays thanks to the unique and brilliant law in Japan: a day sandwiched between national holidays also turns into a national holiday like Othello. Since April 29th (Mon) and May 3rd (Fri) are national holidays (‘Shōwa Day’ and ‘Constitution Memorial Day’, respectively), the special holiday on May 1st (Wed) beautifully turned the April 30th and May 2nd into national holidays, too. This is why we had irregular 10 consecutive holidays in Golden Week this year.
五月病 (Gogatsu byou) consists of the three kanji characters ‘五’ (go) meaning ‘five’, ‘月’ (gatsu) meaning ‘month’, and ‘病’ (byou) meaning ‘disease’. Therefore, that literally means ‘May disease’. The last character ‘病’ (byou) is used in many phrases related to illness, such as ‘病気’ (byou ki; sickness), ‘病院’ (byou inn; hospital), and ‘病人’ (byou nin; patient/sick person).
I don’t feel like going to school these days. This is absolutely Gogatsu byou (May disease).
Don’t register too much classes in April, as you may have Gogatsu byou (May disease) later.