Golden Week is one of the most popular times to travel in Japan. And while this may sound great for a second, what it actually means is crowds, sky-high prices for hotels, and even more crowds.
If you live and work in Japan, this might be your best (or only) opportunity to travel. However, if you can travel any time other than Golden Week, we recommend doing that instead. During Golden Week, it can be hard to get plane, train, and bus tickets, as many will be sold out in advance. For any service that uses surge pricing — hotels, for example, but also budget staples like overnight buses — expect maximum prices. Plus, you can expect huge crowds at almost every tourist spot.
This doesn’t mean we don’t have tips for you. Of course we have tips for you! Read on for suggestions on how to save money and beat the crowds, plus ideas for what to do during Golden Week in Tokyo — or further afield.
What exactly is Golden Week?
Golden Week is made up of four national holidays that all fall within a week in late April and early May. This is what makes it “golden,” but it’s also a time of year when the weather is as consistantly nice as it gets in Japan.
Golden Week public holidays
- April 29 (Shōwa Day, commemorating the birthday of Emperor Shōwa, who reigned from 1926 to 1989)
- May 3 (Constitution Memorial Day)
- May 4 (Greenery Day)
- May 5 (Children’s Day)
Depending on the year, there may be additional holidays: If a holiday falls on a Sunday, the day off is observed on the next Monday. Additionally, there is a special rule in Japan that if any regular day is sandwiched between two national holidays, that day also becomes a holiday — great right?
Some years, the days fall in a particularly advantageous way and everyone gets really excited. Golden Week 2019, for example, is legendary because the arrangement of weekends and extra holidays — including the one-time additional holiday on May 1 (commemorating the ascension of Emperor Naruhito) — delivered an unprecedented 10-day Golden Week.
Golden Week in 2023
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for 2023. This year, there are just three weekday public holidays — Wednesday, May 3 to Friday, May 5 — and no luck with additional days. It’s not a terrible Golden Week though: Add on the weekend and that’s five days off total. Take off May 1 and 2, and you get a whole week off plus the weekends on either end.
Why is Golden Week so crowded?
Golden Week sounds like a great time to take a vacation, right? Salaried employees can use a judicious combination of public holidays, weekends, and paid holidays for a solid week or more of vacation time. And since everyone else is mostly on holiday too, you’re not leaving coworkers with a heavier load or clients in the lurch.
It also means that everyone winds up traveling at the same time — hence the crowds and opportunistic price hikes.
Golden Week travel tips
If you are committed to traveling during Golden Week, here are some tips for keeping stress to a minimum.
- Book ahead: Lock in your accommdation and transport as far in advance as you can. If you’re taking the train, pay the extra yen for reserved seats.
- Get off the beaten path: Hotspots like Kyoto, Osaka, Sapporo, and Okinawa are usually the busiest. Instead, consider visiting less well-known areas. A camping trip could be an affordable option if you have your own gear already.
- Go overseas: If you’re going to be paying a lot for flights anyway, why not head abroad? At least then you might not be battling as many crowds when sightseeing. Nearby destinations in Asia like Seoul and Hong Kong are good options to consider.
- Join a tour: Some companies run special tours during Golden Week. This is a great way to squeeze in some travel without having to worry about securing tickets.
How to avoid the crowds during Golden Week
The best way to enjoy Golden Week in Japan is to stay right where you are!
And since we’re Tokyo Cheapo, this means Tokyo. True, major Tokyo attractions will be crowded with domestic tourists from around Japan; however, more local spots should be quieter than usual. Tokyo can be a great place to be during Golden Week — at the very least there will be less people on the subway.
Golden Week in Tokyo
Golden Week is the perfect time for small Tokyo adventures. Even if you’re a long-term resident, there’s probably a neighborhood or a scene you’ve been meaning to check out.
Or you can use the holidays as an excuse to try something you haven’t done before. For example, you can try visiting your neighborhood sentō (bathhouse), or spending the night at a capsule hotel.
If you’re looking for neighborhoods to check out, we’ve got some suggestions for you.
Get the Kyoto experience without the cost and travel, with these five Tokyo spots with Kyoto vibes.
Hang out in Shitamachi
Shitamachi refers to the “downtown” areas of Tokyo. It literally refers to the low ground around the Sumida River, but also tends to mean neighbourhoods that were traditionally considered working-class.
These districts can still look and feel more traditional than, say, glitzy Roppongi. They are also great for souvenir shopping, since Shitamachi neighborhoods have long been home to craftspeople and merchants.
Tokyo Shitamachi neighborhoods
Some places to check out include:
- Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi — collectively known as Yanesen
Areas like these often have temples and shrines (like stunning Nezu Shrine), making them great places to explore on foot.
Check out suburban Tokyo
You might also want to consider suburban Tokyo: the neighborhoods along the Chūō Line — such asNakano, Asagaya, and Kichijōji — all have their own scenes. They also have shopping streets where you might find some bargains, and some excellent dining options.
Kichijōji is also home to the large Inokashira Park, in case you want to enjoy some greenery.
Tokyo’s hipster neighborhoods of Daikanyama, Jiyūgaoka, and Shimokitazawa are also worth checking out for fashion, art, and cafés.
Golden Week events in Tokyo
Luckily, there’s no shortage of things to do in Tokyo during Golden Week. For one, there are plenty of events for you to get acquainted with Japanese culture — and other cultures, too.
Golden Week events 2023
- April 15–May 5: Wisteria Festival
- April 22–May 7: Tokyo Rainbow Pride
- April 30–May 3: Meiji Shrine Spring Grand Festival
- April 30–May 6: Kurayami Festival
- May 2–3: Ōme Grand Festival
- May 3–4: Cambodia Festival
You can also see some spring colors by visiting some of the other flower festivals in or around Tokyo. Lovely weather and lovely blossoms make for a good combination.
For more things to do during Golden Week, visit our events guide.
But if you really want to go someplace beyond Tokyo…
Take a day trip nearby
There’s still no guarantee that these places won’t be crowded. But there’s still a good chance that they won’t be as crowded as, say, Kyoto or Osaka. Expect some crowds at flower festival sites, though.
Here are our top picks for low-key destinations nearby:
- Saitama Prefecture: Chichibu and Kawagoe
- Ibaraki Precfecture: The Ushiku Daibutsu
- Chiba Prefecture: Nokogiriyama, Sawara, and Narita (But avoid Tokyo Disney!)
You could also try you luck visiting the following prefectures. However, these are generally pretty popular day trip destinations from Tokyo and will be more crowded than the suggestions above.
- Kanagawa Prefecture: Enoshima, Kamakura, Isehara, Hakone, and Yokohama
- Gunma Prefecture: Kusatsu
- Tochigi Prefecture: Nikkō
- Yamanashi Prefecture: Kawaguchiko
We have a great list of 25 top day trips, plus five bullet train trips — if you fancy trying out the famed train (although they will be busy).
If you’re looking for something outdoorsy, try some of our top hikes around Tokyo.
Frequently asked questions
Is it a bad idea to travel to Japan during Golden Week?
If you’d like to travel to Japan from overseas, we recommend avoiding Golden Week if you can. The inflated prices and large crowds make visiting popular attractions challenging, and honestly less fun. Simply moving your trip to the week before or after Golden Week will be enough to avoid the worst of it.
How busy is Tokyo during Golden Week?
Since many residents travel to other destinations during Golden Week, it’s likely to be less crowded than places like Kyoto, Osaka, and Okinawa. That being said, specific popular attractions in Tokyo like Tokyo Disney will be horrendously busy.
Is Golden Week expensive?
Plane and bus tickets, as well as hotel prices, rise a lot during Golden Week. Train and Shinkansen tickets also go up, but by a fixed amount (about ¥200 to ¥400 depending on the train operator). Tickets for attractions are generally the same price as usual.
Will shops and attractions close during Golden Week?
In popular areas most shops and attractions will remain open — they want to cash in on all the tourists, afterall. However, in countryside areas and less touristy places, you may find businesses close for an extended period.
Also, many public institutions, like post offices and city offices will close for the holidays, along with company offices and banks. Smaller private businesses like your local hairdresser or doctor’s office may also choose to close.
This post was originally published in 2015. Last updated in April 2023, by Maria Danuco.