Travel tips for surviving Japan’s Golden Week
Japan’s Golden Week is almost here and this time, it’s super-sized.
Each year, this nation-wide vacation season is a cause for celebration – but it can be a nightmare if you’re an international visitor. Happening from 29 April – 6 May this year, Golden Week marks a cluster of four national holidays that all happen within a week:
29 April: Showa Day
May 3: Constitution Day
May 4: Midori no hi (Greenery Day)
May 5: Kodomo no hi (Children’s Day)
Even though Children’s Day falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is a holiday due to furikae kyujitsu, or “compensatory holiday”. In addition, Japan’s government has made 30 April and 2 May bridge holidays, in honour of Prince Naruhito’s ascension on May 1.
This makes Golden Week 2019 a full 10-day affair!
What to expect during Golden Week
Transport congestion and crowds around the start and end of Golden Week, as people leave the major cities for other regions on both trains and flights
Traffic jams and increased car rental prices
Full bookings on popular activities
Even more crowds for popular attractions
Peak season prices for accommodation
Tips to surviving Golden Week
If you haven’t booked your holiday and have some flexibility on your dates, consider travelling to Japan in the second week of May, after Golden Week ends. With everyone back at the office and school, the stations and places of interest should be much calmer.
Travelling to Japan in the second half of May means that you’ll get to enjoy the full beauty of wisteria season all over the country! Spring in Hokkaido starts one month behind the rest of Japan, so plan a trip out to catch the amazing cherry blossom season over there!
However, if your travel dates have been set, and fall within the Golden Week period, here are some tips on how you can make the best out of your Golden Week travels.
1. Activate your JR Pass ASAP
Activate your JR Pass the moment you exchange it. With an activated JR Pass, you’ll be able to make seat reservations in advance for the rest of your trip.
Even if you don’t intend on using your JR Pass right away, your JR Pass activation is valid for 30 days prior when you first use it. This ensures that you get a spot on the trains as you travel between regions – especially important if you have a larger group.
All you have to do is head to any JR ticket office, tell them your trip itinerary, and secure your train seats. Use Hyperdia to check your train timings before heading to the JR office, in order to save time.
2. Book car charters or rentals in advance
Car rental and charter prices are likely to climb the closer you get to Golden Week, in anticipation of the high demand. If you can, book your car transport early.
Book your car charter on Klook for special prices and a hassle-free experience
3. Plan your travel in the middle of Golden Week
Rush hour for Golden Week typically happens during the start and the end, so there’s a good chance that you’ll see fewer crowds if you travel during the middle of Golden Week.
4. Include travel buffer time into your trip schedule
Crowds and congestion may end up delaying you unexpectedly. The transport system in Japan is notoriously punctual – even a minute’s delay could cause you to miss your train. Aim to reach your designated train station about 10-15 minutes in advance.
Golden Week Activities Tips
1. Book as many ticketed activities as you can in advance
With this super-sized 10-day vacation period, you can expect theme parks and popular places of attraction to be even more crowded than usual.
If you plan on visiting the theme parks, makes sure you book your Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan tickets early to avoid disappointment! The TKDL Fast Pass and USJ Express Passes will be a lifesaver – get your Fast Pass tips in our Klook Guide to TKDL, and check out our USJ Express Pass Guide for everything you need to know.
Some attractions require timed tickets to be purchased in advance – such as the Kawachi Fujien, which limits the number of visitors allowed to enter each day to view its stunning wisteria. You can try your luck at the ticket machines located in convenience stores, but booking through Klook makes it less confusing and risky.
2. Get to know the great outdoors
Escape the crowds in the city centre, and take a short trip out to the more picturesque parts of Japan! Places like Gunma make for the perfect day trip from Tokyo, and if you can base yourself in quieter suburbs outside the cities, you might be nearer to some good hiking spots.
Here are some hidden attractions in Japan that you can access with your Kintetsu Rail Pass, for a higher chance of less-hectic crowds!
The flower festivals are in full swing during Golden Week, with the famous wisteria blooming alongside the lesser-known azaleas. It’s likely to be crowded, especially at the bigger festivals in Ashikaga Flower Park and Kawachi Fujien, but the gorgeous sights are well worth it. Here are some wisteria flower festivals during this period to check out!
3. Take the chance to see the special Golden Week-only activities
Photo Credit: Nelo Hotsuma on Flickr
Since you’re going to be in Japan during Golden Week, make full use of this opportunity to join in on the Golden Week festivities!
Colourful Koinobori carp streamers start popping up everywhere in celebration of Children’s Day – you can even find special Koinobori festivals in some regions of Japan, like in Gunma. There are also certain festivals like the Meiji Jingu Spring Grand Festival in Tokyo and the Owari Tsushima Wisteria Festival in Nagoya that happen around Golden Week.
Don’t miss out on these once-a-year events!
Where to go during Golden Week
1. Tokyo and its suburbs
Typically, Tokyo sees a mass exodus as its residents leave for other regions of Japan – so you might actually be able to explore the capital with relative ease!
Golden Week is a good time to check out some of Tokyo’s quieter neighborhoods and suburbs – there’s Yokohama for Japan’s biggest Chinatown, the picturesque Inokashira Park in Kichijoji and the tradition-steeped Yakana district for a glimpse into a bygone era.
Image Credit: @tarini30 on Instagram
The Kameido Tenjin Shrine is a must-visit during this time for the gorgeous wisteria, which blooms in late April. Don’t miss out on Kameido Tenjin Wisteria Festival, will be held from 14 April to 6 May.
From April 29 to May 3, the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine see its Spring Grand Festival in honor of Golden Week. Expect dance and traditional martial arts performances during the first half of the festival, with Shinto ceremonies and rituals being held on the last two days. Head here for more details on the festival highlights.
During Golden Week, Tatebayashi City has its annual Koinobori Carp Streamer Village Festival. The colourful streamers will be raised in five locations throughout the city in celebration of Children’s Day, with the carp representing healthy growth and progress for the next generation. Read more about the festival here.
Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons
Home to Mount Fuji. the nature-rich Shizuoka is great for both day trips and stopovers.
Over Golden Week, the Hamamatsu Matsuri takes place in the coastal city from May 3 to May 5. Over this three-day festival, hundreds of huge kites take to the skies over the Nakatajima Dunes for the biggest kite battle of the season. Often manned by professional teams, these kites are flown to symbolise healthy growth for the districts children. After dark, grand parade floats take place during the night on the city streets.
If you love nature and food, a Suruga Bay tea and strawberry day tour makes for the perfect daytime adventure – with splendid views of Mount Fuji, all-you-can-pick strawberries, a seafood buffet lunch and more! Head to Suzuki Orchard when the oranges are in season, for an idyllic fruit farm experience.