What's Golden Week in Japan?

Golden Week in Japan is a string of consecutive holidays in the spring which makes it an extremely popular time for travel and sightseeing. Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi.
Golden Week in Japan is a string of consecutive holidays in the spring which makes it an extremely popular time for travel and sightseeing. Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi.

What's Golden Week in Japan?

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

Ever wonder why cities clear out and airports, train stations and tourist traps are all abuzz from late April to early May? It’s a time of year that presents “golden” opportunities to travel Japan – or stick close to home and trade the solitude of an emptied city for the crowds and mayhem.

In Japan the last week of April to the first week of May is “Golden Week” – a string of four consecutive holidays, Showa Day (April 29), Constitution Memorial Day (May 3), Greenery Day (May 4) and Children’s Day (May 5). These national holidays along with regular weekends make up one of the longest holiday periods in the year. This year, Golden Week is from April 29 to May 5.

Showa Day commemorates the Showa Era and is the birthday of former Emperor Showa. Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpo-kinenbi) honors Japan’s constitution which came into force on this day in 1947.

Greenery Day (Midori-no-hi) is dedicated to the environment and nature, while Children’s Day (Kodomo-no-hi) celebrates Boy’s Festival (Tango no Sekku).  Parents wish health and future success of their sons by hanging up Koinobori (carp streamers), a symbol of effort and success, outside houses and by displaying Musha Ningyo (samurai dolls) in their houses.

The week gets its name from broadcasting jargon, a “golden time,” which is the equivalent of primetime. Since this period is usually blessed with good weather and moderate temperature, many large festivals take place all around the nation, helping to make Golden Week to be an extremely popular time for travel and sightseeing.

Some of the more famous festivals include Hamamatsu-Matsuri, in Shizuoka; Kurayami-Matsuri, in Tokyo; Naha Hari, in Okinawa; Hakata Dontaku, in Fukuoka; Hirosaki Sakura Matsuri, in Aomori; and Odawara Hojo Godai Matsuri in Kanagawa. Transportation and accommodations are often fully booked throughout this time, despite traditionally high Golden Week rates.

Road travelers beware!

Since Golden Week is one of the most crowded and expensive times to travel, staying within the city may be the best bet. But for those determined to take a road trip – drivers beware.

Heavy traffic is common, both on expressways and general roads, as a result of people traveling to their home towns or tourists attractions. This is especially true on expressways around big cities.

According to Japan Traffic Information Center, heavy traffic is expected to peak on various expressways around big cities on May 4 (outbound) and May 6 (inbound). For general roads, heavy traffic is expected to peak throughout the weekend.

The heaviest traffic for a general road will be Chita Road in Aichi Prefecture; Route 135 and Manaduru Road in Shizuoka Prefecture which accesses the Izu Peninsula. These roads are known to have traffic jams that stretch more than 6 miles long every year during Golden Week.

So, if you are planning to travel during Golden Week, you had better to reserve accommodations and transportation before the beginning of the period and check the traffic information as frequently as possible.
Road Bureau traffic updates are available online.

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