Traveler Tips for Japan’s 10-day Golden Week

Golden Week is Japan’s busiest travel season season. Everyone, literally everyone, would strongly suggest you not to travel to Japan during those days, and the reason is obvious: all the attractions and destinations will be flocked with people! With consecutive public holidays from the end of April until early May, the 125 million hardworking Japanese locals take advantage of the rare, week-long holiday. With this in mind, you’ll want to consider a few things if you’ve got a Japan trip planned this spring.

Background of Golden Week:

This 2019, Golden Week will be a rare 10-day long vacation, from April 27 to May 6. The national holidays are:

  • April 29, Showa Day: This celebrates the birthday of late Emperor Showa, who ruled Japan from 1926 to 1989.
  • May 1, Emperor’s Coronation (2019 only): The new Emperor is planned to ascend the throne, hence this day is designated as a one-off holiday.
  • May 3, Constitution Day: On this day in 1947, Japan effected their new (and present) post-war constitution.
  • May 4, Greenery Day: Because Emperor Showa loved plants and nature, Japan established ‘Greenery Day’ in the spring to celebrate the environment.
  • May 5, Children’s Day: Families pray for the health and success of their children by hanging up symbolic carp-shaped flags (koinbori).

Japan is a wonderful country this time of year, but the huge influx of travelers can make it difficult. The best advice we can give, of course, is to avoid traveling in Japan at these days. However, if you happen to have booked a flight already for visiting Japan around these days, here are some last-minute Golden Week travel tips.

Book as early as possible

With school and work out, expect flights and accommodations to be fully booked months before Golden Week. Prices climb pretty high, pretty fast—enough for travelers to reconsider their travel dates by a week or so. But if you’re set to travel during this time, start scouring for your rooms as early as now.

Minimize your transit

Travel Tips for Japan's Golden Week
Golden Week in Japan: Keep your travel local and avoid public transportation

Because most Japanese head home during Golden Week, major highways will be clogged and the trains will be packed. It’s best to keep your trips very local to avoid wasting your time in traffic.You’ll probably want to avoid driving, or renting a car. It would be best to choose a city as the base and arrange a few short one-day trips. If your itinerary involves day trips, then take advantage of the JR Trains’ seat reservations, which you can book online.

Stay in Tokyo

Travel Tips for Japan's Golden Week
Golden Week in Japan: Stay in Tokyo

If you’re looking to avoid the Golden Week crowds, Tokyo is the best place to stay. This normally bustling capital becomes eerily quiet, as most Tokyo residents flock to the countrysides. This is a great time to enjoy Tokyo’s museums, gardens and popular restaurants that are typically packed.

Golden Week is also a great time for shoppers, so be sure to check out Tokyo’s top shopping spots and districts to score some great deals and discounts.

Festivals, Festivals, Festivals

Travel Tips for Japan's Golden Week
Travel Tips for Golden Week: Hamamatsu Kite Festival in Shizouka (Wikimedia Commons/Benichan used under CC)

For travelers looking for offbeat experiences you can only find in Japan, make the local festivals part of your itinerary. With the whole country in a celebratory mood, it’s easy to join in the fun.

Check out the Hamamatsu Kite Festival in Shizuoka. Here, over a hundred intricately designed kites are flown over the Nakatajima Dunes overlooking the Enshunada Sea. The highlight event is a series of kite fights; Participants maneuver their kites from the ground to cut their opponents kite strings. This festival usually coincides with Japan’s national Children’s Day, and is a great family event to attend.

If you really want to celebrate Golden Week, head over to Fukuoka for the Hakata Dontaku festival. A true citizens’ festival, it recalls the time when visits were paid to the Lord of Fukuoka Castle. Now, this spectacular parade draws over 2 million spectators a year for a day of colorful costumes, live performances, and all-around fun.

Get Outdoors

Travel Tips for Japan's Golden Week
Travel Tips for Golden Week: Go Outdoors

With Golden Week falling right in the middle of spring, this is a great time to experience hanami—the Japanese tradition of enjoying the plums and cherry blossoms. And while the sakura are the iconic springtime symbol, there are a number of other beautiful flower festivals you can catch (READ: A Guide to Japan’s Stunning Spring Flowers).

Wherever you’ll be in the country, it’ll be easy to join in the local festivities celebrating the holidays. But you only have to step outside your hotel room and stroll through the nearest park to enjoy the stunning flowers in bloom.   

Whether you plan to avoid or enjoy Golden Week, keep these things in mind. But Japan is a country that’s always worth the visit—even on its most hectic days.

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