As some of you might have noticed I was away for some time, that’s because I was traveling during Golden Week.
While I went to explore Tohoku and Hokkaido and the beautiful cherry blossoms there in 2012, my vacation this time wasn’t as spectacular, but I still want to share it with you.
I hope that some of you can find inspiration for their own Japan vacation.
People also often asked me if it’s crowded during Golden Week. Here you’ll find the answers!
Golden Week 2013 – A short review
As I’ve just achieved my goal of visiting all 47 prefectures and because I’ve been to pretty much everywhere in Japan by now, I decided to go to Tokyo this time!
I haven’t really been in Tokyo ever since 2008 as I’ve explored a lot in my early years here already.
On my first day in Tokyo I visited different flower festivals at shrines. At first I went to the “Fuji Matsuri” (wisteria festival) at Kameido Shrine and later to the “Tsutsuji Matsuri” (azalea festival) at Nezu Shrine which you can see in the photo above.
Tokyo has some really nice spots off the beaten path, you just need to know where to go!
I still had some time in the evening, so I went to the Imperial Palace near Tokyo Station.
You might be surprised to hear that a castle explorer like me has not been there until now!
Photo: Miyakejima as seen from Mikurajima.
I only spent one day in Tokyo. At night I was already in a ferry and on my way to a small island called “Mikurajima“.
It’s a night ferry that will take about 8-9h from Tokyo. I arrived on Mikura Island around 6am in the morning. It’s a long ride and certainly nothing for people who get easily seasick like me!
But there was a reason why I wanted to visit this very small island that belongs to the Izu Islands and is part of Tokyo:
I wanted to swim with dolphins!
Nowhere else in Japan you’ll find so many wild dolphins in one spot, not even on Okinawa or the Ogasawara Islands.
There are around 120 wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins around the island. A dolphin-swimming tour will cost around 7000yen and takes about 2h.
If you need to rent any equipment (e.g. a wetsuit), then it gets more expensive.
My personal experience:
I joined a boat tour with around 6 other people. For all of them it was not the first time and some of them seemed really professional, but for me it was the first time even snorkeling in the ocean. They all gave me a lot of good advice and took care of me. On top of that I was the only foreigner.
The boat would stop whenever we spotted dolphins and then all of us jumped into the water. The first two rounds were quite disappointing for me because I was always too slow and by the time I got there the dolphins were gone.
I took some time to get used to it, but finally I saw them from close-up as well! You’re not allowed to touch them and there are other rules you have to obey, but nevertheless it was a great experience.
I rented an underwater camera, but most of the dolphin photos I will post here in the future were probably taken by the more professional members of my group, so please keep that in mind!
The season is from mid-March to mid-November. The water was around 19°C, so it was ok.
However, getting out of the ocean and sitting in the boat with the cool wind around you, made you shiver quite a bit!
The real adventure actually began on the next day:
In order to get from or to Mikurajima you need to take a ferry. There’s no airport!
There’s only one ferry per day and we were woken up very early in the morning by our minshuku lady, telling us the ferry wouldn’t come today because of strong waves and wind. Quite the shock!
In the end we (= a group of 5-6 people) could take a small charter boat to the next island, Miyakejima.
The island has two ports, so it was more likely that the ferry could get access there.
The trip in the small fishing boat was quite the adventure. The waves were so high that the boat was thrown around like a little toy. Yet we all made it safely to the other island!
You might have heard of Miyake Island. It has an active volcano that just erupted around 20 years ago. Just recently the people returned to the island. And only a few weeks before there were some stronger earthquakes around Miyake Island.
Not the “safest” place to be, I guess.
On Miyake Island a van was waiting for us and brought us to a minshuku where we could stay until the ferry (hopefully) would come in the afternoon. After a small breakfast I decided to explore the island a little bit. After all I was sure that I wouldn’t get another chance to do so!
The other “stranded” people all agreed to join me and so we walked around the island. We found a huge pond (see the photo above) among other things.
My highlight, however, was the “pile of cats” I found right in front of our minshuku.
Aren’t they adorable? Maybe I just found another “Cat Island” without knowing it.
Luckily the ferry came in the afternoon and brought us all back to Tokyo where I crashed into my hotel bed.
Please keep in mind that the ferry often can’t come to Mikurajima in case you’re planning to go there!
On my second day in Tokyo I decided to visit Gotokuji, a cat temple that is said to be the origin of Maneki Neko. It’s a MUST for cat lovers! As you can see there were MILLIONS of Maneki Neko figures.
My next stop was a cat shrine in Asakusa: Imado Shrine.
As I was already in Asakusa I thought I could re-visit a few sights, so I went to the famous Sensoji Temple.
I’m sure most of you have either heard of it or been there already. I can’t remember well, but I think my last visit was in 2007!
I enjoyed the garden there the most – something I haven’t visited before!
Also in Asakusa there’s a really nice “Taiko Shop and Drum Museum“. As I love taiko drums I had to go there!
The best thing about it was that you could play most of the drums there. As I was the ONLY one there (it seems not many people know about this place?), I had a great time trying out all the different drums. I went all out with the huge taiko drum you see in the background!
Finally, I went to Kappabashi. It’s also in Asakusa and famous for its plastic food. I remember going there in 2007.
Let me tell you one thing: the plastic food in Gujo-Hachiman (Gifu Prefecture) is just as good, but much cheaper! I was really shocked to see how expensive everything was compared to 2007!
As the weather wasn’t so good the next day I spontaneously decided to re-visit Hakone.
I hadn’t been there in a long time and still had an old digital camera back then. It was a good chance to take some high quality photos this time!
I also ate some black eggs. Something you’ll only find in Hakone.
They get their black color from the sulfur of the hot springs there and have quite a unique, but good taste. It is said that eating one egg will prolong your life by 7 years. I ate 3 eggs.
I hate the fact that they only sell packs of 5 eggs. What are singles like me gonna do with all of them?
One of my absolute highlights was the Shiba-Zakura Festival in Kawaguchiko! Something I always wanted to see with my own eyes!
From late April to early June you can enjoy those colorful flowers known as shiba-zakura (芝桜) with Mt. Fuji in the background!
It was so beautiful that I couldn’t believe it! The pink was so bright that it almost hurt my eyes!
From JR Kawaguchiko Station there’s a shuttle bus that leaves around every 30 minutes and brings you to the location in about 40 minutes.
It is definitely possible to do a day trip from Tokyo, so if you happen to be in Tokyo from late April to early June, I highly recommend this!
And because I still had some time, I decided to re-visit my beloved Chureito Pagoda in Yoshida, near Kawaguchiko in Yamanashi Prefecture.
On another day I went to Kawagoe where I have actually never been before!
I tried to find a statue that resembles myself among the 500+ Rakan statues of Kitain Temple.
Kawagoe was packed with people that day. All the popular spots were crowded.
I had to wait a long time to take a photo without too many people in it! Thus I couldn’t enjoy Kawagoe as much as I wanted to.
On the next day I went to Saitama Prefecture yet again (Kawagoe is also in this prefecture). This time my destination was Chichibu where they have another great shiba-zakura park. It’s not as great as the one in Yamanashi, simply because Mt. Fuji is missing, but still very beautiful and closer to travel to if you’re in Tokyo!
Chichibu has more to offer than just that and so I explored the “Festival Hall”, Chichibu Shrine and several smaller temples and shrines. Definitely worth a visit!
On my last day I had to satisfy the castle explorer in me and visited 2 castles in Saitama Prefecture. Both of them aren’t very famous and so I could escape the crowds!
At first I visited Oshi Castle (left photo) in Gyoda City and then Kisai Castle (right photo). Both castles are close to each other, so they can easily be done together.
By coincidence I found out that there was another “Fuji Matsuri” (wisteria festival) near Kisai Castle and so I had a look. I’m glad I went because it was the most beautiful wisteria I’ve ever seen!
And that was my Golden Week vacation this year. You can look forward to detailed posts about each destination in the near future. Make sure to subscribe to my Newsletter, so you won’t miss any future posts!
Travel to Japan during Golden Week: Yes or No?
I was surprised to see so many foreign tourists in and around Tokyo during Golden Week. To be honest I would NEVER deliberately travel to Japan during Golden Week if I had a choice! Accommodation and transportation are more expensive than usual and most interesting spots are PACKED with people so that it’s sometimes hard to fully enjoy them.
This time as well trains were completely full and they had to get out extra buses because not all the people did fit in. That’s how crazy Golden Week can get!
The only reason why I travel during Golden Week is that it’s the time when I have vacation – just like everybody else here in Japan. It’s not something I would recommend.
What’s your personal experience with Golden Week in Japan?
Would you consider coming during that time?
When’s the best time to travel to Japan?