Exploring Japan: Golden Week back to normal!

Exploring Japan: Golden Week back to normal!

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

If you’ve spent time in Japan pre-COVID-19, you know that Golden Week is a busy time when cities clear out and airports, train stations and tourist traps are all abuzz. It’s the time of year that presents “golden” opportunities to travel Japan – or stick close to home and trade the crowds and mayhem for the solitude of an emptied city.

Much like spring break in the States, the week is usually a time where most Japanese schools, government offices and businesses close to mark 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 the regular weekend make up of one of the longest holiday periods of the year. And this year, Golden Week runs from April 29 to May 7.

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.

In 2020 and 2021, the holiday week was completely different. Trips were canceled and the Japanese government asked people to stay home to avoid the spread of COVID-19. In 2022, Golden Week returned without restrictions and 2023 will be the second year that residents will enjoy the long holiday without restrictions again.

Some of the most famous festivals returning this year are the Hamamatsu-Matsuri in Shizuoka (May 3-5); Kurayami-Matsuri in Tokyo (Apr 30-May 6); Naha Hari in Okinawa (May 3-5); Hakata Dontaku in Fukuoka (May 3-4); Hirosaki Sakura Matsuri in Aomori (Apr 21 – May 5); and Odawara Hojo Godai Matsuri in Kanagawa (May 3).

While Golden Week is usually the busiest time of year for tourist spots, museums and shopping centers, transportation and accommodations are expected to be 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 hometowns 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 3 and 4 (outbound) and May 4 and 5 (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 here.

What are the Golden Week holidays?

  • Showa Day (April 29) commemorates the Showa Era and is the birthday of former Emperor Showa.
  • Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpo-kinenbi) (May 3) honors Japan’s constitution which came into force on this day in 1947.
  • Greenery Day (Midori-no-hi) (May 4) is dedicated to the environment and nature.
  • Children’s Day (Kodomo-no-hi) (May 5) 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.

Showa Day - Ex-emperor’s birthday is still celebrated during Golden Week

Like the birthday of Japan’s current Emperor Naruhito, which is celebrated on Feb. 23, the birthday of his grandfather, Emperor Hirohito, is celebrated on Apr. 29. Hirohito reigned before, after and — most notably—during World War II. After his death in 1989, he was renamed Emperor Showa, and Japan’s parliament kept his birthday as a national holiday.

Hirohito’s birthday, along with Constitution Memorial Day (May 3), Greenery Day (May 4) and Children’s Day (May 5), form the string of holidays that comprise Golden Week.

The Showa Era is the longest and most dramatic reign of an emperor in Japan’s history. Emperor Showa was the longest living emperor. He died at age 87 after reigning for 63 years. In fact, the Showa Era literally covers some of modern Japan’s brightest and darkest hours.

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