Japan is a country obsessed with doing everything in unison and in the same way. Whilst all cultures have their own norms and traditions, in Japan it seems one of these norms is in itself conforming to the standard way of doing things.
So one consequence of this is that everyone goes to the same places, at the same times and does the same things. Luckily, the Cheapo can uses this to their great advantage!
Classic Example – Golden Week
Don’t ever plan a holiday, especially don’t travel during Golden Week (a few consecutive public holidays late April – early May). You’ll have to search the far corners of the earth to find a place more crowded and over subscribed for holiday makers than Japan during Golden Week – prices shoot right up, everything is fully booked and 7 hour traffic jams are common place. This even includes flights out of Japan as people will be making holidays overseas too.
I repeat, DO NOT GO ON HOLIDAY DURING GOLDEN WEEK. Instead do something the week after or before – you’ll find everything is half to a quarter of the price without the multi-hour queues.
The Golden rule – Go in the opposite direction to everyone else
As a general tip, it’s a good idea to find out what is popular and when, so you know precisely when not to do something or go somewhere. You’ll find the contrast between off and on peak extreme in Tokyo and Japan. So examples:
- Summer is seems to be ‘officially’ from mid July (umi no hi) till the last day of August. Go to the Zushi beach (close to Tokyo) on the 29th of August and you won’t be able to see the sand because of all the bodies, wait a few more days and go on the 1st of September and no one else will be there (well almost no one).
- Hakone is a great destination for short trips from Tokyo. Go there late spring or summer and you’ll be waiting in line for hours. Go in January and you’ll have an entire hotel to yourself (like I did – I felt like an emperor having the massive public onsen entirely to myself).
- Ski resorts are overcrowded at weekends, but weekdays they are often blissfully empty
- Cafes are rammed in the afternoons – try getting a seat in Starbucks somewhere like Shibuya after 3pm. Before 12pm you’ll have on trouble at all.
- I read on a forum once of someone visiting a temple in Japan getting caught in a human traffic jam – people kept trying to come in, but people couldn’t leave fast enough. This guy said he was trapped sandwiched in the middle of hundreds of people, all of whom were unable to move for hours! It was probably New Years day, which is the day everyone goes to visit a temple in Japan.
So anywhere in the world off peak is always cheaper, but in Japan the difference can be so extreme that it’s really worth while finding out when off peak is, and doing things then.