How many of us have had this happen. You get into your destination city, and your first day out, you’re ready to make your way to that small cafe or family-run restaurant on your list of must-try places. You find your way there, appetite at the ready, only to see that it’s closed! But I checked the hours, it should be open at this time on a Monday. And only later do you realize after wandering a bit and seeing that several places in the area have darkened their windows, it’s a national holiday. It’s hard to be attuned to the holidays in a country you’ve never lived, but national holidays can have a huge impact on your travel plans in Japan. National holidays can mean limited hours for stores and restaurants, and it can also mean skyrocketing prices for domestic travel, as locals are taking advantage of the time off and either going home to family or traveling themselves.
For those coming to Japan during spring of 2019, there is an exceptional Golden Week on its way that could make the season even busier than usual. Accordingly, we’ve put together some tips on how to navigate booking and moving during this time.
The following is the most up-to-date information on Japanese National Holidays for the coming year. Even outside of Golden Week, it’s good to know that preparing accommodation on any of these 3 day weekends could prove more expensive and harder to book closer to the date.
National Holidays in Japan, 2019
|January 1st (Tues)||New Years Day||Gantan （元日）|
|January 14th (Mon)||Coming of Age Day||Seijin no Hi（成人の日）|
|February 11th (Mon)||National Foundation Day||Kenkokukinen no Hi (建国記念の日)|
|March 21st (Thurs)||Spring Equinox||Shunbun no Hi (春分の日)|
|April 29th (Mon)||Showa Day||Showa no Hi（昭和の日）|
|May 1st (Wed)||SPECIAL HOLIDAY|
|May 3rd (Fri)||Constitution Day||Kenpo Kinenbi（憲法記念日）|
|May 4th (Sat)||Green Day||Midori no Hi (みどりの日)|
|May 5th (Sun)||Children’s Day||Kodomo no Hi (こどもの日)|
|May 6th (Mon||Substitute Holiday (when holidays fall on weekends)||Furikai Kyujitsu (振替休日)|
|July 15th (Mon)||Marine Day||Umi no Hi（海の日）|
|August 11th (Sun)||Mountain Day||Yama no Hi （山の日）|
|August 12th (Mon)||Substitute Holiday (when holidays fall on weekends)||Furikai Kyujitsu (振替休日)|
|September 16th (Mon)||Respect for the Aged Day||Keiro no Hi （敬老の日）|
|September 23rd (Mon)||Autumn Equinox||Shubun no Hi (秋分の日)|
|October 14th (Mon)||Sports DayTaiiku no Hi||（体育の日）|
|October 22nd (Tues)||Coronation Ceremony for the New Emperor||
Sokuireiseiden’nogi no okonawa reru hi (即位礼正殿の儀の行われる日)
|November 11th (Sun)||Culture Day||Bunka no Hi (文化の日）|
|November 12th (Mon)||Substitute Holiday (when holidays fall on weekends)||Furikai Kyujitsu (振替休日)|
|November 23rd (Sat)||Thanksgiving||Kinrokansha no Hi (勤労感謝の日)|
|December 23rd (Mon)||The Emperor’s Birthday||Tennou Tanjoubi (天皇誕生日)|
Golden Week 2019: The 10 Day Holiday Explained and Tips for Travel
Picture Credit: https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Japan-to-finalize-emperor-s-abdication-date-after-talks-next-week
Including the weekends, beginning Friday April 27th and ending Monday May 6th, Golden Week will continue for 10 days.
As some of you might know, 84 year old Emperor Akihoto will be stepping down from the throne for health-related reasons on April 30th 2019. He will be the first emperor in 200 years to do so, and accordingly, discussion within the government about how it would be carried out took quite some time. The Emperor in 2016 gave a televised speech, during which he disclosed his feelings of difficulty in fulfilling his duties and effectively requested abdication. In late 2017, a special meeting was organized whereby a government and royal panel met and confirmed the date of the Emperor’s early retirement. As the periods of the Japanese calendar follow the service of the individual emperors, his retirement will also put an end to the Heisei Era. As part of this landmark decision, it was determined that two special national holidays would be given in 2019 to show appreciation for the service of the current emperor, and to celebrate the coming of the new. And as marked in our calendar here, those two days will fall on May 1st and October 2nd, the one extra day in May making the Golden Week a full 10 days. So how should you prepare for travel in light of this historical moment?
You can count on the vast majority of employees at major companies to take advantage of the time off. So if you plan to make reservations for hotels, hostels, ryokans, or any other type of accommodation, consider booking now. Families and working people will most likely be filling the hotels and ryokans, but remember, students also have this time off from school, so budget accommodations like hostels are likely to fill up quickly as well. See our article on booking hotels and ryokans in English here.
Transportation During Golden Week
At the beginning and tail-end of Golden Week, the prices of flights increase dramatically.
We did a quick search using Googleflights to see just how much the prices had already jumped for this period. Currently, the least expensive flight available for a round-trip flight from Tokyo to Osaka set to leave on April 27th (the first Saturday of the holiday) and return on May 6th (the last day), is already going for 65,000円、a little over 600 USD. Just to give you an idea of relative cost, throughout November and December (before the New Year Holiday) you can find a round trip flight from Tokyo to Osaka, leaving Friday night and returning Sunday night for around 15,000円、approximately 130USD. The price increase is almost 4.5-fold! This should be some incentive to secure tickets as soon as possible. For those still flexible with their plans, the Google Flights calendar search function is a great way to compare flight costs across different dates.
Luckily for travelers on using the JR Pass, Shinkansen prices remain stable and passholders can ride as usual. However, the amount of traffic for the Shinkansen will increase exponentially during Golden Week, and for those getting non-assigned seats (jiyuu-seki) it is almost guaranteed that you will not be able to sit. If the Shinkansen reaches capacity, as it sometimes does during this busy season, you might also end up waiting in the station.
So here are a few simple ways to avoid hitting peak traffic: When possible, avoid travelling on the night of April 26th (Friday) the day of April 27th (Saturday) as well as May 5th and May 6th (Sunday and Monday). If you have absolutely no choice, then avoid high traffic hours during mid-morning and evening. For update information on delays and other emergencies, see the notification system for Central Japan Railway Company. All information here is available in English.
Buses are always a less expensive alternative for getting around Japan. But when booking during Golden Week, be especially careful when choosing your time. Any bus that departs around 8:00am or around 4:00pm is likely to get caught in traffic. It might not be the most fun getting up to catch a 6:00am bus, but it’s certainly better than sitting in traffic for an additional 3 hours or so. Visit Kosoku Bus for online bus bookings (information is available in English). On the day of travel, see the official site of Central Nippon Expressway for up to date road conditions and traffic alerts. While this site is only currently available in Japanese, there is a user guide available in English to make it user friendly.
Don’t let the challenge of planning discourage you!
Being in Japan during this literally once-in-a-lifetime Golden Week will give you a peek into this moment of great change for Japanese society, which in and of itself is an amazing opportunity. Just make sure that if you will be here, you’re planning smart. Be ready to book everything as soon as possible and avoid the travel traffic peaks.