Culture

Golden Week in Japan And Why You Should Avoid It

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Golden Week in Japan before.
Today I want to explain what exactly it means and why you should avoid it – if you can.

 

What exactly is Golden Week?

Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク) refers to a rare accumulation of Japanese national holidays.
While students get a lot of school vacation, the working population in Japan usually doesn’t.
But Golden Week is golden because it’s the longest vacation period of the year for most Japanese employees.

Golden Week in Japan

Golden Week is one of the most popular travel season and thus extremely crowded. This photo was taken inside of Kyoto Station.

 

When is Golden Week?

Golden Week is usually from April 29 to May 5 (sometimes May 6) and includes the following public holidays:

 

April 29: Showa Day (昭和の日, showa no hi)

On this day the birthday of the former emperor, Showa Emperor Hirohito who died in 1989, is celebrated. Japanese people are supposed to remember the 63 years of the Showa Era and also the hardships they had to endure during that time.

Until 2006, Greenery Day (now on May 4) was celebrated on April 29.

 

May 3: Constitution Memorial Day (憲法記念日, kenpou kinenbi)

Japan’s new postwar constitution became effective on May 3 1947.

 

May 4: Greenery Day (みどりの日, midori no hi)

Greenery Day is – as the name suggests – a day where Japanese people should appreciate the environment and nature.

Until 2006 it was celebrated on April 29. May 4 used to be a nameless holiday. It was a national holiday because a certain law in Japan states that a day between two national holidays also needs to become a holiday. Don’t even ask! emoticon

 

May 5: Children’s Day (こどもの日, kodomo no hi)

“Kodomo no Hi” is also known as “The Boy’s Festival” (端午の節句, tango no sekku) – as opposed to “The Girl’s Festival” which is celebrated on March 3.

Golden Week in Japan Golden Week in Japan

You’ll notice it’s Golden Week when you see all the “carp streamers” (koinobori) hanging everywhere in Japan around this time of the year.
At home families also display samurai dolls that represent strength and success. This is to pray for a healthy and successful life of one’s son.
Nowadays, it’s not exculsively a festival for boys anymore, but parents generally pray for their childrens’ happinnes.

 

After reading this you might probably think that Japan is kind of all over the place with their holidays – and I agree. I mean, we also have “Marine Day” (umi no hi) and starting in 2016 there’s also going to be “Mountain Day“. Well, as long as there’s another day off, who cares, right? emoticon

You’ve probably already noticed that those few days don’t result in a whole week of consecutive holidays. That’s right.
But most people will get the entire time off from April 29 to May 5. In some cases there’s even a “Compensation Holiday” (振替休日, furikae kyuujitsu) on either April 30 or May 6 if any of the previously mentioned holidays falls on a Sunday.
Yes, Golden Week is holy! ;)

2015 Golden Week is on April 29 and May 3-6, so there’ll be a compensation holiday.
2016 Golden Week is from April 29 – May 5 (with April 30 being a Saturday and May 1 being a Sunday).

 

Why Should I avoid Golden Week in Japan?

I’ve mentioned this in a lot of my blog posts already. Golden Week is certainly not the best time to travel in Japan.
The majority of Japanese people will have these days off, making it one of the most popular travel season in Japan.
Of course, some of them will travel abroad, but as it’s the most expensive season, a lot will stay in Japan.

This results in crowded popular sightseeing spots!
Airports, train stations and highways will also be very crowded.

If you live in Japan, then you probably have your vacation during Golden Week as well.
You could just stay at home, but who wants to do that, right?
If you don’t live in Japan, but absolutely have to come during Golden Week, book way in advance!

Not only is Golden Week an expensive season, it’s also difficult to find vacant accomodation, rental cars etc.
You need to plan ahead and book everything months(!) in advance.

 

That being said, there are many places in Japan that aren’t so busy – even during Golden Week.
Those are the less known spots, but they’re still great, so you might want to stay away from anything your guidebook is suggesting.
You can use my previous Golden Week trips as a refercen to see how crowded several places were: Golden Week 2012 / Golden Week 2013 / Golden Week 2014.

Golden Week in Japan

These were pretty much the only “people” I ran into in Bungotakada City, Oita Prefecture, Kyushu during Golden Week 2014.

 

Most offices in Japan close during Golden Week, some up to 10 days. Make sure you have enough cash on you as you might have a hard time withdrawing money during GW.

If you can, you should come either right before or after Golden Week as it’s a nice travel season after all with azaleas, cherry blossoms, shibazakura, wisteria and much more. Please note that there are some really interesting festivals that can only be attended during Golden Week such as Hamamatsu’s Kite Fighting (May 3-5) or Fukuoka’s Hakata Dontaku Festival (May 3-4).

 

What’s your experience with Golden Week in Japan?

  • Have you been in Japan during Golden Week?
  • What was your experience?
  • Was it extremely crowded where you went?
  • Did you book in advance?
  • Did you have difficulties finding vacant accommodations?

Feel free to tell me and share your experience and tips with others in the comments below!~emoticon

90 Comments

  • Dear Friend,
    I Have planned ahead do the pilgrimage during golden week
    30 April 2016 Haneda – Hakodate, going to Mount Hakodate by cable car then visit Rusian Orthodox Church
    1 Mei we visit Motomachi Catholic Church, Hakodate Morning Market, Lake Toya, Toya Bear Ranch, Mount Showa Shinzan
    2 Mei we travel from Noboribetsu – Shiraoi – Sapporo by Bus
    3 Mei we travel from Sapporo – Chitos by bus
    Chitos – Akita by plane
    Akita (church of Our Lady of Akita)
    Kanto Bamboo Festival
    4 Mei we travel from Akita – Haneda by plane
    Haneda – Komatsu by plane
    Komatsu – Kanazawa
    5 Mei we travel from Kanazawa – Takayama- Shirakawago
    6 Mei we travel from Kanazawa – Toyama – Alpine Route – Matsumoto
    7 Mei we do shopping at Gotemba Outlet then go to Tokyo
    We stay a night in Tokyo,
    8 Mei we visit saint Mary, Asakuza temple & Anakamise street
    this is the last day of our holiday

    Would you give an advise?
    thank you.

    • Hello,

      May 1 and 6 sound a bit crowded. I’m not sure if you can actually pull it off.
      Other than that I don’t know what kind of advice you want. As you’re going during Golden Week, be prepared for the crowds and book everything way in advance. :)

      • Thank you for yor reply
        how about changing from 5 to 13 May
        or 6 to 14 May 2016
        Which one better?
        Besides the trend of Cherry Blossoms in Sapporo is the early of May if i am not mistaken.

        • Sometimes the 6th is also included into Golden Week. I haven’t checked for 2016 yet. You might want to make sure, but either way on the 7th most people go back to work, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a hotel room for the 6th. :)

          Yes, Hokkaido usually gets cherry blossoms in early May (but that also always varies a bit year by year). ;)

  • Hi Jasmine,
    wie geht’s? Mein Freund und ich haben ziemlich kurzfristig einen Flug nach Tokyo gebucht weil es momentan von den Preisen her recht günstig war. Nur leider haben wir bei den Reisedaten net so aufgepasst und ich hab mit Entsetzen und Panik in den Augen festgestellt, dass wir auch die Golden Week erwischt haben. Wir werden vom 17. April bis 5. Mai in Japan sein, wobei wir die ersten beiden Wochen durchs Land düsen wollen und die letzten 4 oder 5 Tage in Tokyo sein werden. Wie schlimm muss man sich denn die GW vorstellen?

    Du hast in deinem Post geschrieben, dass die Leute die Großstädte wg Urlaub verlassen. Wird es dann in Tokyo net so überfüllt sein? Wir schauen zurzeit auch wg Hotels und sehen jetzt scho, dass die Preise in der GW bereits höher sind als zu anderen Zeiten.

    Kannst du vielleicht Reiseziele empfehlen, die man von Tokyo aus erreichen kann wo es zur GW nicht so voll sein wird? Wir möchten da schon große Menschenmassen lieber vermeiden, wenn es irgendwie geht.

    Liebe Grüße an dich und hoffe dir geht’s juut,
    Iris

    • Ich fand es in Tokyo zur Golden Week damals nicht so schlimm. In Tokyo ist IMMER viel los, also einfach nur das ganz normale Chaos.
      Wobei ich mit Erschrecken feststellen muss, dass seit 1-2 Jahren überall extrem viele chinesische Touristen sind. Das gilt vermutlich auch für die Golden Week.

      Ich weiß leider vorher auch nie, wo weniger los sein wird.
      Generell gilt, lieber Orte aufzusuchen, die nicht so bekannt sind (sprich Hakone, Kamakura und Co. lieber vermeiden). ;)

      Und auf jeden Fall die Hotels rechtzeitig buchen!

  • Hallo Jasmine,

    danke für die Tipps. ^^ Wir haben jetzt die Hotels alle gebucht und ich mache gerade eine grobe Reiseplanung. Kann ich dir den Plan dann später zum drüberschauen wieder zumailen?

    Und wenn es in Tokyo net soo schlimm ist, dann find ich’s ok. Das Chaos werden wir scho irgendwie überleben. :D Ansonsten werde ich mal schauen, dass ich die üblichen Sightseeing-Spots bei der Planung rauslasse. Wobei wir uns zB Kamakura schon gerne anschauen wollen würden. Mal schaun wie wir das machen.

    Ich meld mich dann nochmal per Mail und sag schomal vielen Dank für die Hilfe :)
    LG Iris

  • hello
    We are also so concern, just realized that we will be for 17 days in our first travel to Japan starting Friday 22 april till Monday 9 may, the Golden Week….
    Given the fact that you seems to be really an expert in Japan, can you suggest us an Itinerary. Should we visit Tokyo first, and then go to Kyoto, Hiroshima etc, or we should travel first out of Tokyo and then spend the Golden Week in Tokio. Please help us!!!!

    • Given the choices you listed, I’d recommend staying in Tokyo for the peak time, although in the past few years even Tokyo seems to have become crowded with tourists especially from other Asian countries. That might also have an effect on how crowded it might be during GW in Tokyo.
      But that’s still the better choice. Hiroshima is probably far more crowded – and Kyoto is for sure!

      Enjoy your trip! ^___^

  • ahh I’ll be travelling with a buddy in Golden Week this year as one of my other friends is teaching in Fukuoka and he wants to travel with us for a week :)

    I’ll be sure to report back my experiences!

  • Would you say that for a first-time visitor, a one week trip covering Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka is long enough or too short? Is it better to spend one week in each place? I’m interested in the touristy stuff, but also interested in the historical/cultural stuff.

  • I feel sick in my stomach knowing that I have a holiday booked in Kyoto that starts on the 27th and going back to Tokyo on the 2nd of May. I didn’t know about Golden Week until after I had already booked my flights.

    • Hi Katie.
      I felt the same way last year after realising I had done the same thing. I contemplated cancelling the whole holiday….but they were non refundable tickets. It was not as busy as I had imagined in Tokyo, thankfully. We made sure not to train travel before 9am or around 5pm. We did once and it was just a tad squashy :0
      The shopping centres were busy on the public holiday days so we opted to go to the parks or wander outside on those days instead. We even went to Tokyos largest flea market and it was not super busy. After my experience last year, it would not put me off booking to go to Tokyo during Golden Week again. Hope that helps!

      • Most people in Tokyo leave Tokyo for Golden Week, so often it’s less crowded than usually.
        However, a lot of Japanese people come TO Tokyo for travelling during that time and sights near Tokyo, especially the popular spots e.g. Hakone, Kamakura .. can become very crowded.
        Glad to hear you didn’t have a bad experience during GW. ^^

  • Hey I have a question for you
    Do you have a holiday that you yourself really like and what are some more of the really popular holidays in Japan?

    • I think my favorite holiday is “Setsubun” aka “Bean Throwing Day” although it’s not a national holiday.
      I guess Golden Week is popular because of its length and because of Children’s Day, so of course kids like it. Doll’s Festival in March is also quite popular.
      And just like Christmas is important and popular in many countries, so is Shogatsu in Japan. :)

  • Hi,

    I’ve just learned of Golden week and I think I will have a hard time backing out of the bookings. We arrive in Tokyo/Narita on the evening of the 1st May (sunday) and need to travel to Kyoto on the 2nd of May. Is this going to be difficult, I don’t plan on travelling until say 11am. We then plan to head to Hiroshima on the friday 6th May, then back to Tokyo on the Sunday 8th May where we stay for a week. Had I have realised earlier I would have swapped it around and stayed in TOkyo for the week but not sure I have a choice now. If I have to be in Kyoto for golden week and I want to do some day trips i.e. Nara. Whats the best days during golden week do you think.

    • Travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto won’t be that bad. If you have no reservation for the Shinkansen, then maybe you won’t get a seat for a while … but even that only happend ONCE during GW to me. No worries. It will be extremely crowded IN Kyoto, though. Just so you know. ;)

      During GW it’s always going to be crowded, especially at the spots that everybody knows. There are no good days, really. ;)
      Enjoy your trip, but plan a lot of waiting time here and there.
      It’s all doable, it’s just a bit more annyoing with SO many people around.

  • Golden week is the only time I can go to Japan. My girlfriend is from Osaka and it’s the only time we can guarantee she’ll have time off.
    Coming from London it doesn’t feel too bad to me. It’s crowded but nothing I’m not used to. If we’re gonna travel elsewhere we don’t have too much trouble finding accommodation but the prices are higher that week.
    I’ve also put off going to USJ 3 years in a row now. I’ll get there one day.

    • Apart from Kyoto the crowds are not the worst thing, but having to wait in line for hours or waiting for the 4th bus as the previous ones were all full etc. is. ;)
      I hope you get to go to USJ some day. ^^

  • Hi There,

    Glad that I stumbled across this blog.
    I am traveling on 29 Apr-9May to Tokyo and I would like your advise if the shops are opened during this period of time.

  • Hi,
    I have planned ahead visit kansai region from 27th april to 3rd may. I will be staying in osaka and planned to travel back and forth between osaka to
    27th – usj
    28th – kyoto
    29th – nara
    30th – kobe
    1st – wakayama
    2nd – arashiyama and osaka umeda area
    3 – osaka

    Is my plan suitable for the dates? Or you can give some suggestion to change the travel dates?
    Also wanna ask what time is the most crowded in train station as I want to arrive early at my destinations.
    *my flight is on 26th and 4th and cannot be changed.
    Hope you can help me….

    • Hi there,
      May2nd could be ok because it’s not officially a holiday, so maybe not so many people get time off.
      I’d say it looks okay. Nara on the 29th could be crowded, but it’s not something you can do a forecast for, you know?
      I’ve been guessing wrong many times. Nobody really knows, but one should be prepared and calculate enough time for possible waiting time etc. ;)
      Enjoy your trip!

  • Hi there,

    I am planning a 6 week trip in Japan. I am from Canada. I worry about the amount of people that will be on the streets during busy seasons, such as GW and other major holidays, as I’d like to travel in less busy times. Would you suggest me travel to Japan around May 16 – June 13?

    THanks!

    • Hi Jenny,
      Sure why not. I mean it all depends on what you’re interested in and where in Japan you want to travel. Okinawa is completely different in June compared to Hokkaido, for example. ;)
      But I suppose you stick to the main spots such as Tokyo or Osaka. Usually end of May / early June is a nice time to come. :)

  • Hi,
    I’m also going to Tokyo during GW (going to visit a friend and she only has time during GW.
    I wondered about transportation to the airport. I’m leaving via Narita at the 3. May and my flight is scheduled at 1pm. I planned to take the N’EX from Ikebukuro to Narita at 9:30am.
    Now I wonder, if the train is going to be packed and if there are chances of me missing it thanks to GW. Do you have experience with this?

    • Hello Hana,
      Unfortunately I have no experience with this as I never was crazy enough to actually travel by plane during GW, but to be honest I don’t think it will be very crowded. You’re coming from the opposite direction and kind of in the “middle” of GW, so I dobut it’s going to be too bad.
      Enjoy your stay. ^^

  • Hiya,

    Thanks for the inputs – will be helpful for my trip from 29th April ’16 to 15th may’16. Below is an overview of my itinerary. Might you be kind enough to share yr thoughts?
    Day 1-travel from Sg to narita to Hakodate
    Day 2&3 -explore hakodate
    Day 4~7 explore Sapporo
    Day 8&9-explore Osaka
    Day 10-explore Kyoto
    Day 11- universal studios
    Day 12- travel to Tokyo
    Day 13-explore Nikko
    Day 14-explore Tokyo
    Day 15-mt Fuji, hakone
    Day 16 – explore shinjuku/shibuya
    Day 17-return to sg

    thx ahead!:)

    • Hi,
      In order to enjoy cherry blossoms in Hokkaido, I would have reversed the trip maybe, but maybe it’s going to be okay.
      I hope you also planned a few day trips from Hakodate / Sapporo. You won’t need that many days there.
      If you’ve never been in Kyoto before, then 1 day is not enough.
      You cannot do Mt. Fuji and Hakone in one day, or have you just mentioned Mt. Fuji because you hope to see it from Hakone? :)

      • Hiya, I will be travelling from CTS on 28 April 2017 to Hakodate by Ltd. Exp. drop by Noboribetsu (sight-seeing) and overnight in Hakodate. Going Fort Goryokaku on next morning for Hanami viewing then going back to Sapporo on 29th, drop by Lake Toya (sight-seeing). Then I will spend 3 nights in Sapporo (29th-2 May). Then going Otaru (overnight). 3 May overnight in Chitose hotel and last, coming back to KL on 4 May. When is the best week to enjoy full bloom in Fort Goryokaku actually? Kindly give your comments and advice . Thanks ahead!

        • Hello,
          Wow, you’re planning way ahead. ^_^;
          In fact, the sakura don’t bloom exactly during the same time every single year.
          It’s true that for Hokkaido the first week of May is probably the best to enjoy sakura, but nobody can tell you ahead of time. Sometimes they’re delayed by a whole week … or they bloom earlier than usually. And if there’s a typhoon they’ll be gone immediately.
          With that kind of stuff you always need a little bit of luck, but with your current schedule you should be able to see them unless they’re super late next year. ^^

Leave a Reply to pedrito17 X