In Japan people are not so hot on taking holiday, not in the sense that they don’t want to, but that there is a lot of pressure, for various reasons, not to take holiday. To combat this, the government designated a number of public holidays to make sure people take time to have a rest! The result is Japan’s Golden Week, a number of public holidays in a row (from around April 29 to May 5) which basically mean a long holiday for many workers.
It is the perfect time to go back home to visit family, go travelling around Japan or jet off abroad. Unfortunately, this means that everyone goes at the same time so flights and hotels get expensive, and airports and train stations get super crowded.
In many respects Golden Week has become famous around the world for being the time of year not to go to Japan, tourists who have gone to Japan without knowing it was Golden Week have found it to be a bit too difficult! However, with a few tips, and advance planning, there is no reason why you can’t come to Japan and have a great time!
Tips for visitors coming to Japan – Plan Ahead!
Any visit which will occur during Golden Week, or which overlaps with Golden Week, can be a success with just a bit of forward planning. One of your first considerations will no doubt be cost, if you suddenly want to go to Japan at short notice you will inevitably find that both flights and hotels are very expensive, however if you can make your reservations as far as in advance as possible you can help minimize the cost.
Another key factor, even if you are coming at short notice, is flexibility. Being able to choose an arrival date that is at least a couple of days before Golden Week starts, and a departure date that is a couple of days after Golden Week ends will work absolute wonders for flight prices.
It is the same for hotels, you need to book in advance as far as possible, but also be flexible with the dates and places you want to book a hotel for. Later in this article we will talk a little bit about where you should go in Japan to avoid the crowds, and it follows that hotel prices for those areas are more reasonable.
If you can make your dinner reservations as soon as possible, if you know where and when you want to eat, and can be flexible, then this will be to your advantage. Generally you will have to do your train reservations once you are in Japan, so it is best to do this as soon as you arrive.
In all respects your best ally will be detailed advance planning, know where you are going and when you are going for every day of your trip.
Tips for Securing Train Seats in Japan
One of the common horror stories about Golden Week is in regards to riding Japan’s world famous bullet trains, the shinkansen. People circulate photos and videos online of completely rammed train stations and platforms brimming with travelers, however don’t be put off. You may think you should miss out on the pleasures and convenience of travelling by shinkansen, but never fear you can still experience this very fast mode of transportation without dealing with the hassle of massive crowds and queues.
One trick is to know that many Japanese will be traveling to tourist resorts, amusement parks, and places such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Traveling in reverse can work out quite well. The same is true for any major public holiday in Japan, and if you do the opposite of where people are travelling you will find life much easier!
This means that the beginning of Golden Week is a good time to already be in Japan and to travel towards Tokyo by shinkansen ahead of the curve, and vice versa the end of Golden Week is a good time to travel on the shinkansen away from Tokyo. The stations themselves will be very busy, but the trains will be relatively peaceful.
For other train journeys, or shinkansen routes that may be busy, then it is best to make reservations in advance, and be very flexible about the time when you travel – for example early in the morning is much better than travelling around midday. If you absolutely have to get on that crowded train with no seats available then be prepared to stand, and make sure you have snacks and drinks ready.
As with any kind of travelling try to arrive at the station, and the platform as early as possible. As much as possible avoid taking highway buses, or a hire car, on the expressways throughout this week as you will end up spending a lot of your trip in a traffic jam. In particular the beginning and the end of the week experience a lot of road traffic.
Hints for Where to Travel in Japan during Golden Week!
The beginning to middle of Golden Week is the best time to be in Japan’s cities, as so many city residents head away from them. If you head into Tokyo then once the initial exodus dies down you will find that it is easy to visit many of the attractions Tokyo has to offer, and this is similar to other cities like Osaka. However, at the same time extremely popular family attractions like Tokyo Disneyland will be packed with crowds, so don’t expect everywhere to be empty of people. A key tip is that anywhere in Japan which is popular will be very busy during Golden Week.
So rather than a major theme park try checking out places like “shitamachi”, areas of old Tokyo famous for harking back to the Showa Period from the 19th century, or Yanesen with its small alleyways, historical buildings and shrines. You can also try visiting somewhere close to Tokyo like Yokohama, the famous port of Japan with its massive Chinatown, or Kamakura – another port city but one with Buddhist temples and a big bronze statue of Buddha which dates back to nearly 800 years ago.
Towards the end of Golden Week all the crowds will start heading back towards the major cities so that is then the time to visit the rest of Japan! In somewhere like Kyoto you might find that the last day of Golden Week is still a little crowded but thereafter they will start to thin out. In general for any museums, parks, and other attractions that you want to visit it is best to aim to arrival early to avoid the queues.
Another tip is to head for the deep countryside during Golden Week, try visiting small towns and villages which are hard to reach, try to get to know the real Japan by actually experiencing life away from cities and popular tourist spots – you won’t regret it!
This week is also popular for all kinds of festivals, so by going into a city like Tokyo, or out somewhere in the countryside you can expect to find all kinds of events going on including a kite festival in Zama City, Kanagawa and a wisteria flower festival in Ashikaga, a city 90 minutes north of Tokyo.
Close to Tokyo you can experience the slower pace of Japanese country life in the mountains of Saitama, for example Chichibu, or the south of Chiba around Hamakanaya. In the area around Chichibu you can experience long train journeys winding through picturesque valleys and villages, while in Hamakanaya you can explore Mt. Nokogiri, or take the ropeway, and discover Nokogiri Mountain Nihon Temple with its 31 meter high Buddha statue which has been carved out of the mountainside.
Be sure to check out the following links for more on these less-busy areas - and to pick up ideas on where else to visit!
A Stress-free Departure from Japan
At the end of Golden Week the airports and train stations will become extremely crowded as everyone returns to Japan, or to the cities, so it is best to plan your own departure from Japan around this.
If flying around this time then be prepared for modes of transportation to be busy, so leave early and get to the airport early, however while the most crowded planes will be flying into Japan there will be less people departing Japan – although please keep in mind this depends on the destination as many Japanese people living outside of Japan do return home for Golden Week and may be returning to the country they live in. If you can depart Japan a couple of days after Golden Week has ended you will find it much easier and hassle-free, so as far as it is possible try to depart Japan on one of the weekdays following the end of this busy holiday.
Golden Week in Japan is an exciting time for Japanese people: they can visit family, travel around Japan or go abroad on holiday. But for the unsuspecting tourist it can be bit overwhelming!
With this in mind, just because it is a major public holiday it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a successful trip. The key really is planning, planning and planning. As well as avoiding doing things that Japanese people are doing, i.e. don’t do as the Japanese do in Japan, and where necessary booking ahead or just making sure you travel or go to attractions early in the day.
By keeping just a few of the above tips in mind you will find that you can avoid the crowds, enjoy cities like Tokyo in a peaceful setting – a city which in particular is famous for not being very peaceful – and by booking early avoid some high costs! With some very careful planning you can have the run of cities like Osaka and Tokyo, have a stress-free ride on the shinkansen and discover the deep culture of Japan out in the more inaccessible parts of this amazing country. No matter how you look at it, that sounds like a great trip!
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