Travel

My Golden Week 2013 – A Short Review

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. smilie
People also often asked me if it’s crowded during Golden Week. Here you’ll find the answers!

 

Golden Week 2013 – A short review

Golden Week 2013

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!

Golden Week 2013

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!

Golden Week 2013

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:

Golden Week 2013

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.

Golden Week 2013

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!

Golden Week 2013

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.

Golden Week 2013

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!

 

Golden Week 2013

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.

Golden Week 2013

My next stop was a cat shrine in Asakusa: Imado Shrine.

 

Golden Week 2013

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!

Golden Week 2013

I enjoyed the garden there the most – something I haven’t visited before!

 

Golden Week 2013

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! smilie

Golden Week 2013

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!

 

Golden Week 2013

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!

Golden Week 2013

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. smilie

I hate the fact that they only sell packs of 5 eggs. What are singles like me gonna do with all of them?

 

Golden Week 2013

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!

Golden Week 2013

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!

Golden Week 2013

And because I still had some time, I decided to re-visit my beloved Chureito Pagoda in Yoshida, near Kawaguchiko in Yamanashi Prefecture.

 

Golden Week 2013

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.

Golden Week 2013

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.

 

Golden Week 2013

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!

Golden Week 2013

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!

 

Golden Week 2013 Golden Week 2013

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.

Golden Week 2013

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! smilie

 

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?

38 Comments

  • Looks like you had a great Golden Week and certainly put my Golden Week at home to shame :) I usually try not to travel during this time of year in Japan because of all the crowds and would rather wait for a quieter time, but if you only have holidays during Golden Week there is not much you can do.

    • Weatherwise it was certainly better than last year in Tohoku when an early typhoon hit!
      If I had a lot of vacation time, then I would probably stay home during Golden Week – or if I’m super busy with other things.

  • Your wisteria pictures on Facebook made me pick up one yesterday :) I doubt I’ll have a wisteria garden anytime, soon, but hey.

    I don’t think I’ve traveled during Golden Week. I did travel during O-bon and the New Year period though. O-Bon was still okay, but the day before New Year was terrible. The trains were absolutely PACKED!

    • Wow! I’d love to see photos once there’s something to see!
      I’ve never really seen any wisteria in Europe. Do we usually have them?

      O-bon is usually not that bad. Around New Year it can be quite bad as we both saw in Okinawa! ;)
      Golden Week is usually the worst of them all.

      • Now that you mention it I remember how the airport in Okinawa was packed. I was lucky to find an empty counter though so we didn’t have to wait too long to check in at least :D

        I don’t think I’ve seen any wisteria in public parks around here, but I suspect they have them in the botanical gardens or on some palace grounds… no idea. For some reason visiting sights in my home country ranks very low, even though I’m amazed when I see pictures of them (and proud as well, lol).

        • It depends on where you go, but certain places are crowded around the end of the year.

          That’s what I thought. I wish we had more beautiful flowers in Europe all over the place like here in Japan.

  • Fantastic entry, all these pictures could be on post cards. :D

    I’d rather avoid travelling for Golden Week, but Tokyo being Tokyo there are soo many tourists swarming the city, it’s annoying to be here as well. We tried to circumvent it by going to Hakone, and that somewhat helped, even though the highways were crammed.

    • Wow, thank you so much! ^_^

      I think that’s the problem. Staying in a place like Tokyo when so many people are coming there, doesn’t sound like the best idea. I’m sure it would have been quiet, if I stayed home, but also super boring.
      The trains were also so full on my way to Hakone, that I had to stand the whole time! :(

    • No worries. I kind of screwed up my last vacation and I had 16 days of rainstorm (out of 16) when I visited Okinawa last winter, so I really needed my GW vacation to be a blast! ;)

  • All of pictures are truly amazing 10 of 10!

    But the cats…… :bleh: :bleh: :bleh: :bleh: :bleh: :bleh: :bleh:
    never seen more than 3 adult cats sleeping together <3

  • the cats are so adorable!! :fan: you have really nice photos indeed. btw, thank you for sharing your travel experience during golden week. i’ve been contemplating to go there in late april-early may 2014 but i’ll rather change my dates. can’t handle huge crowds! :ehehe:

    • Husna, you are very welcome! :D
      You don’t have to change the dates too drastically. Just 1-2 days after Golden Week would be fine, too.
      I hope you’ll enjoy your spring vacation in Japan this year! ^__^

  • Hi!
    I have been enjoying your blog for quite sometime. I don’t know what I like more, the great photos or interesting read.
    I am commenting on this old post because of your mentioning the Taiko drum museum. Thank you for the great tip. Actually, after years of loving Japan from afar, this spring I will be going there for the first time. :D I will be in Tokyo for just a for few days, but now I put the taiko museum on my “to do list”. I love these drums and if, as you said it, I can play them a little …. YAY!
    Hanami + drums + million other things = perfect vacation
    I will be rereading your other old posts for the inspiration and, at the same time, looking forward to your new ones!

    • Hi vesnamichelle! ^_____^

      Thank you so much. I’m glad you are enjoying my blog so much and if it’s inspiration for others, then that’s the greatest compliment. :D
      I hope you’ll have an awesome vacation. Enjoy Tokyo, the taiko drums and cherry blossoms. ^___^

  • I’m glad I have found your blog. I hope to go to Japan later this year. Your blog seems to show things that I haven’t heard about anywhere else, and it has useful information in too. Thank you!

    • Thanks so much, Jenny.
      I’m so happy to hear that, because that’s basically the main reason why I write this blog!
      To show people places of Japan they’ve never seen before! ;)

  • Hi! I love your blogs and pictures! My family (husband, 2 sons and my mother in law) is coming to Japan during the golden week! Been googling about it and i feel so much blessed to come across your blogspot! So informative! Sad to say, i am too late. I think we’ve been booked already to fly manila to narita on april 29. Then osaka to manila may 6! Is it really crazy to travel during this week? Please be kind to advice. Btw, we are on a packaged tour. And i really wish i can do something on childrens day especially so that my sons are with us.. Thank you in advance! Keep blogging!

    • Hi, I’m really glad to hear that you like my blog! ^___^

      If you’ve already booked everything, then that’s great! It’s sometimes really hard to find available rooms during Golden Week, especially when you’re not travelling alone.
      It can be crowded at certain spots. It really depends on where you are going. I’d say, don’t worry too much and just enjoy your packaged tour! ^____^
      If you’re free on May 5th, then maybe you can find a theme park that your children will enjoy? There are plenty in Japan, especially in the bigger cities.

  • Hi, your beautiful photos have inspired me to go to the shiba-zakura festival! I hope that I can also get to see such a nice, clear view of Mt Fuji when I’m there :3

    Coincidentally, I will also be visiting during Golden Week. May I know if it will be hard to get reservations on the train to Kawaguchiko during this period? I plan to go on the morning of 30th April.

    Thank you!

    • Actually you don’t need reserved seat when traveling to Kawaguchiko at all. I also went there without any reservation. :)
      If you use the Shinkansen you CAN get a seat reservation, but it’s more expensive (unless you have the Railpass) and you’ll be less flexible in your schedule.

      There’s also a highway bus if you leave from Shinjuku. In that case you’d need a reservation.
      I chose to travel by train, because I waited for a clear day to go, so I didn’t want ot make any reservation in advance! ;)

  • Hi!

    I just read your post about going to Tokyo during Golden Week! It’s one of my dreams to visit Japan and I’m so happy I’ll be going to Tokyo this year! My visit will be on April 25 to 30 which is during Golden Week as well!

    Do you have any tips on where to go and what to see in Tokyo during Golden Week that’s not too crowded with visitors?

    Any advice would be very helpful!

    Thank you so much!

    • In addition to my question, is it worth it to visit the Shibazakura Festival between April 25 to 30? I want to avoid the weekend/Golden Week crowd, but I’m worried the flowers aren’t in bloom yet during those days.

      Thanks Again!

      • It should be ok, but I would highly recommend that you just go there spontaneously and keep checking the official website for some “live photos”. That’s the best way to determine whether it’s worth going. The weather isn’t predictable and sometimes the flowers will bloom earlier or later than expected. You then can just do a spontaneous day trip from Tokyo.
        No problem at all. :)

    • When I was in Tokyo during Golden Week I didn’t have the feeling that it was more crowded than usually. Tokyo is always crowded anyway.
      If crowds are what you’re worried about, avoid the popular tourist spots such as Asakusa and spring festivals, but you’ll also miss part of the fun then.
      Also, if you just want to get out and away from people there are several awesome day trips from Tokyo!

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