It’s going to be one of the most awaited weeks of the year here in Japan next week: a special holiday week called Golden Week (ゴルデンウィーク). Sounds attractive, doesn’t it? You shouldn’t be fooled by the name though – Golden Week is actually one of the worst times to visit Japan. Before explaining the reason, let me tell you what the Golden Week actually is.

Golden Week is a collection of holidays celebrated every year from the end of April to the beginning of May. During Golden Week, four national holidays are celebrated within one week and depending on the placement of the weekends, most Japanese people will have around one week holiday during this week. The 4 national holidays are as follows:

Showa Day (昭和の日), April 29
This day is for honoring the Emperor Showa Hirohito, who was the emperor of Japan from 1926 until 1989. This day was originally celebrated as the Emperor’s birthday but the name was altered to Greenery Day (みどりの日) in 1989. Showa Day is relatively new name for the celebration, having been celebrated from 2007.

Constitution Memorial Day (憲法記念日), May 3
This day the new postwar 1947 Constitution of Japan is celebrated.

Greenery Day (みどりの日), May 4
This day actually used to be a non-holiday to begin with but since Japan has a rule that converts any day between 2 holidays into a holiday, May 4 became a holiday as well. Until 2007, it had no special name and it was just called Citizen’s Holiday (国民の休日) but since 2007, it has been called Greenery Day. The official purpose of the day is to appreciate nature and acknowledge the wartime emperor’s love for nature.

Children’s Day (こどもの日), May 5
Even though it’s called Children’s Day, this day is actually mostly for boys. It used to be called Boy’s Day but has officially been a day for all children for around half a century already. Despite this, it’s still considered as a celebration for boys whereas girls are celebrated on Hinamatsuri in March.

Even though all these days have their own special meanings, most of them actually don’t have any special meaning to most Japanese people nowadays. Constitution Memorial Day is sometimes chosen as a day for discussing democracy and other political matters but this only matters to those who are very interested in politics. Showa Day and Greenery Day don’t really have any special meaning to most Japanese and asking around my friends, many didn’t even remember the names of all the holiday on Golden Week. Children’s Day is probably the only commonly known and actually celebrated holiday of these four and it can easily be recognized by carp-shaped koinobori (鯉のぼり) flags raised around Japan by families who have children.

That being said, what most Japanese find important about Golden Week is not the meaning of the holidays celebrated but the length of one’s holiday. Depending on the year and how the weekends are placed in the calendar, some people might have a holiday of 9 days at most as some companies set the days between 29th April and 3rd May as holidays as well. I’m one of those lucky ones getting May 1st and 2nd free as well.

So, how am I going to spend this 9 day holiday which is a real luxury for most of the Japanese people? I’m going to stay home. Why? Because everyone else will travel.

A line in Nikko World Heritage, Japan
A beautiful straight line in Nikko, a very popular spot around 2 hours from Tokyo. This line was formed on an ordinary weekday in Summer.

Golden Week is one of the Japan’s three busiest holiday seasons. The other busy seasons are New Year and Obon week in August (or in July in some regions). These seasons are the seasons of the year when booking a hotel a few months in advance might be too late and an attempt to buy train tickets a few weeks before the trip might not end up well. If you wish to travel by a car, you might want to take a look at the news about traffic jams before leaving and use some real weird alternative routes no one else would think of. It’s the season when everyone travels – everyone expect the ones working in hotels, train companies, travel agencies, shops and restaurants.

A crowd of people in Asakusa during New Year Holiday
This picture was taken in Asakusa during New Year holiday. I doubt it’s as crowded in Golden Week but in New Year’s, I was told at Kaminarimon gate that it would take at least one hour to get to the temple. I didn’t line up.

Reading this far you probably understand why I would suggest you to avoid Golden Week. It’s the Golden week of traffic jams, booked up hotels, 150% booked bullet trains and incredibly crowded tourist spots. If you come to Japan for people-watching, it might be a nice time for that but it’s definitely not a good timing to come for anyone who wants to save money or time, or survive with the least amount of stress possible. If you have heard that big cities are empty during Golden week, you have either been lied to or the one telling this to you has a very weird perception of an empty city.

Sushi at conveyor belt sushi restaurant (kaitenzushi)
Conveyor belt sushi restaurants are especially popular among Japanese families which makes them very crowded during Golden Week. I ate these ones on a normal weekday and I still had to line up for half an hour so just imagine how long the waiting time is when everyone is on a holiday…
Ueno Zoo in Tokyo
If you go to Ueno Zoo during Golden Week, you will probably have even harder time in actually spotting the pandas. This picture was taken on an ordinary weekend.

To sum it up, if you ever visit Japan, avoid the end of April and the start of May as well as you can. If you end up in Japan during this period after all, escape to a place no one else would go and stay there until the end of the holidays. Or just take it slow, walk around the city and relax – that’s what I’m going to do.

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