What makes it golden?
In Japan, where work-life balance is infamously strained, public holidays are a lifesaver for office workers.
How about having a week of national holidays, is that enough reason?
When late April rolls around, a magical constellation of holidays appear on the calendar. Depending on the alignment with week days, these holidays can result in an extra long holiday, providing much needed rest for working people.
What holidays constitute Golden Week? We’ll introduce the national holidays.
Golden Week Holidays
Showa no Hi (Birthday of Emperor Showa)
In Japanese, emperors names post-mortum are changed, and then made to follow the era in which they served. While in English, he is known as Emperor Akihito, in Japanese, he is referred to as Showa Emperor. His birthday falls on this day, and every year a national holiday is held in commemoration.
Kenpo Kinenbi (Constitution Day) May 3rd
In 1947 on this day, Japan ratified its postwar constitution. The institution is commemorated with this national holiday.
Midori no Hi (Green Day) May 4th
A day for celebrating nature and all things green!
Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day–Boy’s Day) May 5th
In Japan, separate children’s holidays are given, one for boys and one for girls, to pray for their growth and well-being. Girls’ Day, Hina Matsuri, takes place in March, while Kodomo no Hi falls during Golden Week. A highlight of this time of year, is the Koi Nobori, large streaming kites shaped like koi that are hung from homes, in parks and other public spaces.
The 2019 Golden Week Holiday
2019 was a special year with the historical abdication of the emperor and resulted in an extra long Golden Week, 10 full days off.
How did it happen?
First, May 1st was designated a one-time national holiday to honor the emperor prior to his abdication. And in doing so, a sort of domino-effect came into place with the holidays due to a very specific Japanese law. The law states that a weekday falling between two national holidays automatically becomes a national holiday. May 1st being declared a holiday let to April 30th and May 2nd also being declared holidays. Talk about luck!
The 2020 Golden Week Holiday
Unfortunately, things won’t be quite as long for the 2020 Golden Week.
Showa no Hi
|Work 🙁||Work 🙁||Weekend! 🙂||Weekend! 🙂|
Midoro no Hi
Kodomo no Hi
Sub-holiday for Kenpo Kinenbi
Still, locals will be taking their holidays, and from May 1st to May 6th is expected to be the travel peak.
If you’re coming from abroad to Japan, it’s important to keep a few things in mind as this is one of the biggest travel peaks for Japanese residents.
Tips for Traveling in Japan During Golden Week
1. Reserve your Shinkansen Seats, Especially on Peak Days
Going outbound from Tokyo, the peak travel day is expected to be Saturday May 1st. Apart from the New Years Holidays, this is one of the busiest travel days of the year. If you’re planning to move from Tokyo to anywhere outside the city, you can expect to be crammed in the Shinkansen, with standing room only a common phenomena. IN order to avoid this, make sure to purchase a reserved seat ticket (in Japanese, shiteiseki). It will cost you a few thousand yen more, but the comfort and avoiding fighting for a seat is totally worth it. Note, you should reserve these as far in advance as possible.
The same is true if you are going Inbound to Tokyo on May 5th or May 6th. These two days will see the rush of everyone returning in time for the work week to begin.
2. Avoid Flying
While during the normal season, you might pay anywhere from $100-300 USD for a roundtrip ticket from Tokyo to Osaka, during Golden Week, you can expect to pay something more along the lines of $500-600 USD. (Yikes!) In addition, the airports will be super crowded, as well as the trains to get there, and the highways if you happen to be taking a bus.
3. Book Hotels and Accommodation NOW
In addition to the crazy prices, availability of rooms during Golden Week is a challenge you can expect to run into. Start thinking about your possible list of AirBnbs or other accommodation options now, and book as soon as possible. Closer to the week itself, options will be limited and prices will continue to increase.
4. Use Budget Options to Balance the Increased Prices
Certain chain hotels and hostels will offer Golden Week promotions for early birds. Try to make the best use of these to balance the cost of your overall trip. If there are specific places you have your eye set on for the stay, consider these your splurge options and save in other places where you can.
Another good options for those trying to save on transportation, is to take a night bus. You can avoid peak traffic and pay far less than you would for a Shinkansen ticket, not to mention you can save a night’s accommodation.
5. Consider Staying in Tokyo
Finally, for those who plan to be in Japan for a couple of weeks, we really recommend you actually stay in Tokyo for the Golden Week. Why? The city will be empty! Unfortunately, this does mean that certain stores and restaurants will be closed (think mainly those of the small mom-and-pop’s variety) but you will be able to enjoy the city at a much more leisurely pace, with less crowds and no rush-hour commute to battle.