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 since 2016 there’s also “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! ;)

Golden Week 2018: April 28-30 + May 3-6
Golden Week 2019: April 27-29 + May 3-6

 

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

97 Comments

  • Hello,
    Thank you for all the useful information! Im going to Tokyo for business and have only a day and half to escape. I was planning to take the train to Kyoto very early apr 28, see what i can, and return directly to Narita on Apr 29th to catch my 6:00pm flight. Am i crazy? (Given it’s the first day of GW)Should i just give up on Kyoto and just enjoy the city? Please Help:) thks so much.

    • Hi Carla,
      If you don’t mind the time and money you’ll lose by going to Kyoto for only one day, why not?
      The 28th shouldn’t be that crowded yet – although Kyoto is always very crowded. *g*
      Enjoy! ^^

  • Hi, if I need to travel from Tokyo (Ueno) on the 29th April ’16 to either Fuji Shibazakura, Hitachi Seaside or Ashikaga Flower Park, which journey would be the least crowded on train and at the park? And what time should I leave Tokyo to avoid the crowds? Thanks so much!

    • Hi,
      I’ve only been to Fuji Shibazakura during GW, so I don’t know for sure how crowded the other choices will be.
      I don’t recall the train being so full. It got crowded once I arrived at Kawaguchiko Station from where everyone had to take the shuttle bus. You had to line up and wait for a long time as there were too many people and not enough buses.
      Obviously, the earlier you leave, the better.

      I suppose it might be pretty much the same with the other two locations. Trains are usually not so much of a problem, but buses get crowded. You might not be able to take the bus in front of you, not even the next one. It means you have to stand in line for a long time. Same goes for admission at the entrance. Sometimes you need to line up for hours.

  • Hello and thank you for sharing your knowledge of Japan.
    Where do you suggest I go to in Japan to get away from the GW crowds? My plan is fairly open at the moment so I am able to go to less popular places in the country.

    • Stay away from the famous tourist spots. I remember spending a lovely time in Kyushu, e.g. in Oita Prefecture (but not in Yufuin or Beppu because everybody knows about these).
      I’m hesitant to say stay away from the seasonal events, because some of them are just too awesome to skip such as the Kawachi Fuji Garden and the Kawaguchiko Shibazakura Festival. But at least I’d try to go there a few days before or after GW. ;)

  • Wow that looks like soooooooo much fun :3. But it sounds like it will be super busy! Hopefully not as busy as Black Friday shopping :p.

  • Hi! I’m traveling to Tokyo between 23rd April to 1 May. Do you think I’ll be affected by Golden Week much? Also, do you have any suggested itinery for this 9D8N trip? Thank you!

    • Hi,
      Well, you’ll be there right during GW. Some parts of Tokyo aren’t that crowded, though. Just “normal Tokyo crowded”. ;)
      With absolutely zero background information, there’s nothing I can do for you. It depends on so many things, e.g. if it’s your first time in Japan, what you’re interested in, how old you are, who’s travelling with you etc.
      But you can browse my blog any time to find some great spots in and near Tokyo. For example, I’ve suggested some awesome day trips from Tokyo.

  • Hi I’m planning a holiday to Japan with my husband for our anniversary April 26 and it was suggested to us we go to Aomori for the cherry blossoms (something I’ve always wanted to see). We were going to fly in to Tokyo 24-25 april, spend 26-29 in around Aomori then head down to Kyoto 29th-2May then to Osaka 3-5. Having come across this post Im now worried about the timing of this. I am wondering your thoughts.
    I see in an earlier comment you saying Kyoto will be very busy. Would we be better arriving in to Osaka and Kyoto the week prior instead? Is it that much of a problem that we should change our dates if we can?
    Also is it going to be busy up in Aomori from 25 -29 April? And is the cherry blossoms up there worth planning our vis it around?
    I take it there won’t be any cherry blossoms in bloom in Kyoto whether we are there 21st April or 1st May???
    Much appreciate anyour advice.

    • It shouldn’t be that busy in Aomori prior to GW.
      However, you might be a bit too early for cherry blossoms. They were just in full bloom at the end of April when I visited, but it’s not the exact same every year.
      The Tohoku region gets quite busy during GW because a lot of people use the opportunity to enjoy cherry blossoms there when they’re gone everywhere else already.

      If you’ve already booked accommodation, I wouldn’t change anything. It will be very difficult to find available accommodation in Kyoto that way.
      If you haven’t booked yet, then do it ASAP!

      There won’t be any cherry blossoms in Kyoto anymore during your stay. You could check out Mt. Yoshino instead, but even there they might be gone already.

      Good luck! :)

  • Hi, I’m currently here in Nagano for a trip and planned to go to Tokyo for side trip on April 30 (morning) and back here in Nagano by May 1 (late afternoon). Do you think it would be a problem to ride the shinkansen on these date? It would be my first time riding the shinkansen. Happy to hear your thoughts. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Chris,
      There won’t be a problem. It just might be crowded and you might not find a seat immediately. But it’s not such a long trip, so just go for it. :)

  • I was wondering how crowded you found your time on Izu islands during GW? I am planning got visit Niijima for camping and beach time and I am worried about it being packed with people.

    • It wasn’t crowded at all. The ferry was quite empty. At least the smaller islands where I went aren’t a tourist magnet (yet), so I think it’s a great way to get away from the masses. :)

  • I booked flight to Fukuoka during Apr 29 – May 9, 2016.

    I planed to going around in Kyushu, Hiroshima, Kobe and Nara.

    Please recommend where should i go first???

    Thanks

    • Hi,
      You mean you haven’t booked accomidation yet? Uh, oh …..
      If your flight arrives in Fukuoka, I’d start out with Kyushu, then Hiroshima, then Kansai. :)

  • I am in Tokyo right now and the place is deserted. Weather is great. Waited 5 min to go up skytree. Got a reasonable hotel 2 days before we came on 3rd May for 75€ a night in a great location.

    I would say its the best time to come to Tokio, not the worst.

    Safe trips everybody!

    • It used to be quite empty during GW, but as there are so many foreign tourists, I had the feeling it’s getting more and more crowded during GW even in Tokyo, but I guess it depends on where you’re going. :)
      Glad to hear it was deserted when you visited.

  • Hi – well we have just had an amazing week in Tokyo and Kyoto slap bang across Golden Week. We had no idea about this holiday other than noticing that accommodation was was disappearing before our eyes when we were booking. Sure there were lots of people about but we only ever encountered courtesy and respect. Plan as far in advance as you can – reserve tickets and book tours – and go early if you want to visit museums and galleries. But don’t be too concerned. It’s an amazing place.

  • Hello!
    I’m planning a week long trip to Tokyo from April 27-May 4, 2017 which is literally in the heart of Golden Week. There’s going to be myself and 2 other friends. After reading reviews, the reactions are mixed. As were only staying in Tokyo (no plans to go to Kyoto, Osaka, etc.) Will we be okay? Our plan is to stay in Ikeburo and explore Tokyo via the Yamanote Line but we’re worried it might be too busy. What are your thoughts?

    • Hi Kim,
      To be honest, I don’t know anymore. Tokyo has changed so much in the past few years.
      I was really shocked when I visited last month. Like … I remember a time (about 10 years ago) when I was in Harajuku on a weekday around 11 a.m. and it was LITERALLY dead. Nobody there.
      Now, you can go to Harajuku early during a weekday and it’s just as crowded as on a weekend. It’s insane.

      So, I suppose as there are SO many foreign tourists (it has boomed so much ever since 2011) – especially from China – that even Tokyo is super crowded during Golden Week.
      But it’s not like it’s not doable. It’s just insanely crowded … maybe. ;)

  • I current live in Yokohama area and have experienced Golden Week for about 20 years off and on from Aomori to Yokohama. I like to cycle and the best/worst time to ride is Golden week. The traffic can get so bad that it’s much faster to bike then take public transportation.
    Especially around Kamakura heading toward Odawar and Izu Pen. The bad part is that traffic is crazy and you might get mushed by a bus. My advice is to avoid it because where every you wish to go everyone else has the same idea and there’s no “getting their early”.
    I have to say, since I don’t work for a Japanese company, it makes my commute to work adventurous. It’s faster to bike the 12K then drive and get surprised by spontaneous traffic jams.
    ej

    • I think public transportation is still the best option during busy times.
      I would never recommend going by car.
      I haven’t biked over a huge distance in Japan, so I don’t know how bad it can get, but within a city or town this can be quite pleasant and a good alternative to the crowded tourist buses.

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Eric. :)

  • Hi,
    Very interesting article you have posted here.
    I am planning to visit Japan for 2 weeks starting from the 17th of april to the 30th of april.

    The initial plan was to visit tokyo first and the go to western japan and come back to Tokyo around the 28th. But because of the GW, i am thinking to directly go to the Kansai region a day after we land (i.e. 18 – 23th of april) and keep the discovery of Tokyo for the last week (i.e. 23 – 30th april). Would this be a smart move to visit or is travelling a week before the GW no problem? Would the trip from kansai regio to Tokyo on 28th be feasible and not busy ?

    I am also not sure yet on the best time for the return flight because of the GW. The 2 options would be from Haneda on Sunday 30th at 00:30. This would include to travel from central tokyo to haneda around 20:00 on saturday 29th.
    The other option is also from Haneda on Sunday at 8:30. This would imply leaving for the airport around 4:30 from central Tokyo.
    Would both option be feasible regarding to how busy it would be to use public transport ?
    Or would be better to fly out from Narita at the same date and take the Narita Expresss ?

    Thanks in advance!
    I seem to freak out about that GW thing eventhough I would travel 2 weeks before it starts.

    Jayjay

    • Hi, nobody will be able to tell you how things might end up. We can all only guess.
      As the 28th is a Friday leading towards the longer vacation time, it might get busy towards the evening, but I wouldn’t be too worried about it. :)

      I’ve never travelled through the airport during GW, but I suppose it’s going to be busy. For trains I wouldn’t worry that much, but for buses it might be difficult.
      Just make sure you plan enough time not only getting to the airport, but also standing in line at the security check etc. ;)

      Enjoy your trip! ^___^