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

  • Hi Hiya ,
    I’m traveling to Japan on 30 April – 9 May , and realised that is GW!! We have booked our hotels and stays on Dec 2016, so there’s no problem on stays .
    30 April – Touch down Kansai Airport (Stay Osaka)
    1 May – take Shinkansen to Tokyo
    2 – 4 May – Tokyo
    5 May – Morning heading to Osaka drop our baggage & have a day trip in Kyoto
    6 May on Planning

    We are taking JR Pass (7days Pass) & we are worry about the Shinkansen (seat reservation),as we know we only can reserve / mark our seat once we touch down airport … wondering if there’s available seat :(

    • Nobody will be able to tell you if there are seats available or not. :)
      I can just speak from my own experience. I’ve never ever reserved a seat in a Shinkansen (apart from the Tohoku ones, where you have a few where reservations are required).
      I’ve NEVER struggled finding a free seat, not even during GW.
      I wouldn’t stress out too much about reservations to be honest. Without a reservation you’re a lot more flexible and can just take an earlier or later Shinkansen. I like this a lot more, that’s why I never make a reservation. ^__^
      But I hope you’re done with your hotel bookings at this point!

      Enjoy your vacation!

  • Hello,
    I’ll be traveling with a friend to Japan on 26 April – 5 May, we didn’t know about GW until now… :\ We’re thinking about enjoying Tokyo first and then take the train to Kyoto and Osaka and goback to Tokyo as late as possible on May 4th and go straight to haneda airport because we have an early flight on May 5th (7am).
    Do you think we are taking a risk by doing this? Is it better to go to Kyoto and Osaka first and then Tokyo? What do you recommend?

    Thank you*
    Marta

    • Hi Marta! ^_^
      I’m really surprised to see how many people are actually unaware of Golden Week.
      But don’t worry too much about it. I hope you’ve already booked your hotels, though?

      You’re actually leaving on the last day of GW, so it will be crowded on the way back from the airport, but not to the airport. So that’s good.

      Tokyo is always crowded nowadays, so I would suggest stay in Toky during GW and enjoy Kyoto / Osaka outside of it.
      I don’t know how many days you want to spend at each location, but then it makes more sense to start in Kansai and then go down to Kanto. :)

      Enjoy your trip. ^____^

  • Hello,

    I booked my flight to Japan not realizing it was GW from 4/30-5/13. Can you recommend an itinerary for me given GW? I want to go to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hakone. Is it better to stay in Tokyo during GW and then do Kyoto and Hakone the 2nd week? Or Osaka the 2nd week?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Jeff! :)

      Don’t worry too much. You’ve already booked your trip, now make the best out of it. ^_^
      I hope you’ve already booked your hotels as well?

      Doing Hakone and Kyoto together makes no sense. Hakone is a day trip from Tokyo! :)

      What I’d do is spend your time during GW in Tokyo, do Hakone after GW (so from May 6 onwards) and spend the rest of the time in Osaka / Kyoto then.
      You might want to consider checking out the Fuji Shibazakura Festival but AFTER GW!! :D

      Have an awesome journey! ^^

  • Hello there,

    Very useful discussion on Japan’s golden week.

    I need advice for my itinerary for our honeymoon trip in Japan. I will arrive in Tokyo on the 25th.
    Here is our plan :
    25-28: Tokyo
    28-30: Hakodate
    30-2 may: sapporo
    2may : tokyo
    3-5 may : kawaguchiko
    5-8: osaka/kyoto
    9 may leave japan from Narita

    My concern is kawaguchiko since I heard it is a popular spot during golden week. We booked a really nice honeymoon room there and we are scared if we can’t get there because of overcrowded trains.

    Do you have any advice? Also for other parts of the trip. I’ll try to reserve jr east tickets online when I am able to.

    • This year’s peak is probably going to be from April 29 to May 7.
      Overcrowded trains are usually not so much of a problem, but buses are.

      From Tokyo you can go either by train or by bus to Kawaguchiko. You need a reservation for the highway bus anyway.
      I’ve never had a reservation for my trains during GW, never was a problem, but that’s up to you.

      Usually I’d recommend that you go to Kyoto / Osaka before GW and then later to Tokyo, but at this point, you probably won’t be able to change accommodation anymore.

      Just be prepared for the crowds. It can’t be changed anymore.
      I’m sure you’ll have a nice trip nevertheless. :)

      And there are also some places you can visit that are not THAT crowded (from Kyoto e.g. a day trip to Otsu in Shiga etc.).

      Feel free to report how it was once you’re back.

  • So lucky that I stumbled your post. My bf and I just booked the ticket (nonrefundable) and I just realized that oh.oh we will travel during GW this year. It is great that I can see many events but I dont like busy traffic at all. I plan to be in Tokyo from April 24 to May 2, Osaka -Kyoto – Naranfrom May 2 to May 6 . May 7 , I have to go leave Japan
    Do u think that sounds okay? Or should I switch Tokyo to the end of the trip? I dont want to miss Tokyo because I really want to visit it again ( used to stayed there for a few months for exchange study:) I can skip Kyoto (already visited) and instead, go to Bepbu or Kobe or other cities in the South
    Thank you so much for this helpful post!

    • The peak this year will probably be from April 29 to May 7.
      To be honest I’d switch it up. You can always stay in Tokyo during GW.

      You’re probably better off skipping Kyoto then. It will be INSANELY busy there.
      There are so many lovely spots in Western Japan you could check out.
      I’ve once been in Oita Prefecture during GW and there was NOTHING going on, but of course I didn’t go to Beppu or Yufuin at that time as they’re the most popular spots there.

      If you go to less crowded places, you also might be able to still find accommodation easily.
      Hotels in popular cities might be booked out already (or extremely expensive).

      I’m sure you’ll have a great time! Enjoy. :)

  • Hi. I’m glad I found this site but I can’t help but get worried.
    I’ll be travelling from the Philippines to Kansai Osaka on May 2 with my 78 year old parents. It’ll be our first time to visit Japan. We’ll be arriving at 7:50 pm. They really want this trip and we learned about GW only after we’ve bought the tickets.
    We’ll be staying in Osaka Namba.We have made reservations already.
    We leave Japan thru Narita Tokyo on May 8.
    My brother just came from Japan. They missed their train station stop from the Kansai airport as the train doors close too fast he said,. He also said my parents would not be able to handle the pace and volume of people in Tokyo.
    1.What;’s the best and not-so expensive way for us to get to Nipponbashi osaka namba from the airport considering my parents are senior citizens and we have 1 luggage each? bus? train? definitely not taxi? shuttle?
    2. I plan for us to take the hop-on-hop -off bus to get to see osaka tourist sites without having to worry about what transportation to take? Is this wise? if it is, should I buy tickets online or when we get their? where do I get the tickets?
    3. where can we go so that it’ll not be too crowded for me and my parents? how do we arrange for these?
    4.Please suggest where we can go ? what tours to take ? in Nara or where else as long as we go back to our hotel in Osaka Namba every night.
    5. we have decided not to go around Tokyo anymore as we got worried after watching the video my brother showed us on how crowded and fast-paced Tokyo is. So, we’re thinking of taking Jetstar plane from Kansai to Narita on May 7 and stay at the airport till out May 8, 11am flight back to the Philippines. Is this wise?
    6. What’s the best way for us to communicate with each other when in Japan? Do we buy orrent sim cards or just through wifi? where can we get them?
    7. i’ve been hearing about the 7-day bus/train passes? do all trains and buses accept this?
    Thank you

    • Hello Joy,

      Usually Osaka doesn’t get that crowded.
      You can check train connections on a website (also available as smartphone app) called “hyperdia“.

      Sometimes it can be a hassle to drag along your luggage at the subway stations, but all the train stations (esp. the ones in big cities) have escalators and elevators. There are airport buses, but they probably won’t stop right in front of your hotel. If a taxi is not too expensive for you, then that’s also an option, but with several pieces of luggage they won’t fit into one taxi.

      I’ve never used such a hop-on-hop-off bus in Osaka, but usually you can buy such tickets at the tourist information and if it’s JR also at the train station.
      This information should be all available on the Osaka tourist website in English. You’ll get valid information from there. :)
      There’s usually no need to buy this in advance.

      Well, there are several places in Japan that don’t get crowded during Golden Week.
      However, I suppose you’ve already booked your accommodation, so this is not really an option for you.
      Try to stay away from the well-know spots. You can browse through my “Kansai” tagged blog posts to see if you find something nice.
      Shiga Prefecture is often a good, usually less crowded option, for example.

      In Nara I would avoid Nara Park as this is also very well-known and thus crowded. On the other hand it’s spacious enough there, that you won’t feel the crowds as badly as in some places in Kyoto.

      You could also take the trains from Kansai to get to the airport in Tokyo without having to deal with the crowds.
      That’s up to you and your budget, I suppose. :)

      I’ve written about mobile wifi in Japan. You should check out this post.
      Just google “prepaid SIM cards for tourists in Japan” and I’m sure you’ll get tons of options. :)
      The question is if you really need a cellphone during your short stay. Most hotels have telephones in the guest rooms, too.

      You’re probably talking about the “JR Railpass”. This is not only a 7-day pass. There are other time spans available, too.
      You cannot use it on all trains an buses. There are tons of websites that write in detail about the JR Railpass, please google it. :)

      I hope this information was helpful.
      Please enjoy your stay. ^_^

  • Hi,

    Firstly thank you for sharing :)

    My partner and I will be travelling to Japan on 24 apr 2017 – 3 May 2017.

    Alas we have made all the hotel bookings and attraction tickets purchase before we realised our holiday will be partly meet with Golden Week.

    Follow is our itinerary
    24 apr : Tokyo (Asakusa + Odaiba area)
    25 apr : Tokyo Disneysea
    26 apr : Travel from Tokyo –> Kyoto
    27 apr : Kyoto (City + gion)
    28 apr : Kyoto (Arashimaya)
    29 apr : Kyoto –> Hakone or Kyoto –> Nagoya (Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology) —> Hakone
    30 apr : Hakone
    1 May : Hakone –> Tokyo
    2 May : Tokyo
    3 May : Depart Tokyo

    My biggest concern will be on the 29 April. We have JR Pass (Ordinary) and we are planning to take the 6-7 am shinkanshen from Kyoto. We must check in at ou hotel in hakone at 4.30 pm latest.

    Will it be “okay” for us to travel or its best not to be done at all ? Will it be a goiod idea to just do Tokyo –> Hakone or Tokyo –> Nagoya –> Hakone ??

    I mean we will not be having any luggage except for our small backpacks and I am used to the packed train during rush hour to work in Singapore.

    Thank you

    • Hi Florence,

      I don’t think you have to worry about taking the train.
      I’ve never had problems taking the trains during Golden Week. Buses are a different story, though.

      To be honest, I would just go where you want to go without worrying too much.
      Hakone is very spacious, so even if it’s crowded it’s usually okay. Just be prepared to stand in line for ropeways or boat tours there.

      Enjoy your trip. :)

  • Hi!

    I’m so glad I stumbled across this website as I was planning a trip to Sapporo to see the cherry blossoms in late april. I’m going to postpone it to early May after GW passes after reading this site! I hate crowds and lining up forever!

    I’d like to know if it will still be very crowded and busy at the airport and public transport to the city etc if I plan to fly into Sapporo on May 5th? It seems GW is longer this week until May 7th so I’m not sure if I should fly in on May 5th, 6th, or 7th, it would be great if you could give me a bit of advice? My dates are flexible and luckily the cherry blossom forecast seems to be full bloom is May 4th. Advice would be much appreciated!

    • I wouldn’t be too worried about public transportation being crowded. That might be the case indeed.
      But I think the real problem is when the actual location is crowded.
      On the other hand, if you postpone it too much, then you might miss the cherry blossoms in full bloom and I don’t know if it’s worth it.

      I’ve deliberately ran into crowds previously just because it was the only option for me to see certain “scenarios”. Yes, it was insanely crowded, but it was worth it. :)

      I haven’t paid attention to this year’s cherry blossom front, but I’d check carefully and then book accordingly.
      Sapporo is probably the most popular destination in Hokkaido, so I expect more crowds there than in other regions of Hokkaido. ;)

  • Sorry I wanted to add that I could even fly in on May 8th if the other dates are still going to be packed with travelers coming back home from overseas. What do you think?

  • Dear Hiya,I have bought JR pass. Will I be able to use when travel from Kanazawa to Wakayama. As many said is good to travel by bus.
    Pls advise, thanks

    • There are trains and buses you can use with the JR pass and there are some that you can’t.
      You can easily check this when you either google for “JR Railpass” or investigate on sites like “Hyperida.com”.

  • I will in japan 5-15 may with toddler next year.please give me advice the best place we go at 5-6.is it at tokyo?if we want go to disneyland too, is it ok at 7 or 8? A week after GW is all things become normal again?Thanks ahead.

    • Hello,
      Yes, after Golden Week it’s MUCH better. Disneyland is always crowded, but especially during the weekends and high season (such as Golden Week).
      Just be prepared to stand in line for many, many hours.

      Especially May 3-6 might be crowded in 2018, so I’d try to avoid going to the major tourist attractions on those days.

  • Hi,
    We have booked our trip to Japan from 29 april to 11 May 2018. Now I see that is in The Golden Week.
    We are planning to visit all tourist places on 29 april And 30 April. We have Hop on Hop of tickets. Is this a Good idea For these days?

    • Hi Rosie,

      Well, you don’t have any other choice anyways. ;)
      It’s not impossible to travel during Golden Week, it’s just crowded.
      If you’ve booked everyting already, then even less to worry about.

      If this is your first time in Japan, you’ll probably only visit touristy spots – and those tend to be crowded.
      Just plan a bit more time for each sight and you should be fine.

      Enjoy your trip! :)

  • Hello!

    We will be in Osaka on April 28-May 1, and Tokyo on May 2-5. We are flying to Tokyo on May 2. I didn’t realize it was Japan’s Golden Week when I booked tickets :(

    Since April 29 falls on a Sunday, I’m assuming that April 30 will be a holiday too, right? I’m thinking that people will go on vacation on April 28-30 and May 3-6, having only May 1 & 2 as regular days. But I think most people will also take those days off. :( My original plan was to go to Kyoto on April 30 and Universal Studios on May 1. But I got discouraged in going to USJ because of the crowd, so now I’m thinking of skipping it and going to Kyoto on May 1 instead. Do you think this is a good idea? Is there a chance of having a lesser crowd in Kyoto on May 1? :(

    This will be our first time in Japan by the way.

    Thanks in advance!

    • I’m having the same problem as u! I’m arriving on 27th, and leaving on 2nd May. I’m not too sure which day to put my uSJ and Kyoto itinerary now. =(

    • Kyoto is always crowded, so that’s hard to tell, to be honest.
      But you can handle Kyoto even if it’s crowded. A super crowded USJ is such a hassle!

  • Hi, i really need an advise. I booked my flights and definitely a no cancellation. I just found out that it falls perfectly on the Golden Week. I’m arriving Osaka on 27th Apr morning and leaving on 2nd May. I’m planning to go Kyoto and stay a night and maybe day trip to Nara the next day. My tentative itinerary as below. I’m not sure how should I adjust the itinerary, coz I’m guessing any day would be jam packed with people everywhere. I don’t think we will be taking rides in USJ, my toddler is not qualified for the minimum height for the rides, so will be strolling around inside USJ only. Would you be able to help me see how can I shift the itinerary?

    27th, Fri Apr – Osaka
    28th, Sat – Universal Studio Japan
    29th, Sun – Kyoto
    30th, Mon – Kyoto then maybe to Nara or back to Osaka
    1, Tues – Osaka
    2, Wed – Osaka and back to home country

    • Hi Emeryn,

      Maybe to avoid the crowds you could visit USJ on the first instead?
      There’s no guarantee that it won’t be crowded, but the weekends (not matter if GW or not) are ALWAYS to be avoided for theme parks and the likes. :)

      Kyoto is always crowded. And you can do Kyoto even if it’s crowded. As long as you have booked your hotels and everything, no need to worry too much. Enjoy your stay. ^^