Golden Week in Japan: A Quick Guide

golden week in japan

The Japanese are known for their hard-working attitude and dedicated approach to their professional lives. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy any downtime. One of the best periods of the year to relax and unwind for Japanese citizens falls during Golden Week which occurs between the end of April and early May.

If you will be visiting Japan in 2021 it’s important to plan your trip appropriately around this peak travel period as hotels, trains and buses can get very busy. It is also important to ensure you have the correct visa for Japan.

To coincide with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the Japanese government will introduce a new eVisa to streamline the process of entering the country. Travelers will be able to apply online for the Japan eVisa and, once approved, the visa is sent via email.

In the following article, you’ll learn what celebrations make up Golden Week and how it could affect a trip to Japan during this period. You’ll also see that despite the crowds of holidaymakers, that a trip to Japan during this time is still worthwhile.

Why is Golden Week Called Golden Week?

Golden Week (or GW as it’s often known in the country) got its name from the number of holidays that fall during the period. It’s quite simply a golden opportunity for workers to get some well-deserved rest and relaxation.

What Happens During Golden Week?

During this period many workers take advantage of the numerous public holidays and take paid leave. In a few cases, companies close down for some of the days between the formal festivals to give their staff a well-earned rest.

In 2021 the biggest block of holidays will fall between May 3nd to May 5th. During this time Japanese citizens will be able to enjoy a 5-day weekend, with intercity travel expected to peak on approximately May 1st. The official celebrations that make up Golden Week are:

April 29th: Shōwa Day

In Japan, the reigning Emperor’s birthday is a public holiday. The birthday of Emperor Hirohito, who reigned during the Shōwa period (1926–1989), has remained a holiday and is celebrated on April 29th, Shōwa Day (Showa no hi).

May 3rd: Constitution Day

Constitution Day (Kenpo kinenbi) celebrates the enactment of the 1947 Constitution of Japan. It is considered to be a day to reflect on the history of the country and the meaning of democracy. It’s a great opportunity to visit the National Diet which opens its doors to the public.

May 4th: Greenery Day

Greenery Day (Midori no hi) originates from the celebration of the Emperor Shōwa’s birthday. In recognition of this Emperor’s love for plants, this holiday is a day to be thankful for nature.

May 5th: Children’s Day

The final event of the Golden Week, Children’s Day (Kodomo no hi), celebrates children and their happiness. On this day families fly carp-shaped windsocks on sticks representing the legend that a carp which swims upstream becomes a dragon and enters heaven.

Visiting Japan During Golden Week

Japan during Golden Weekcan be a very busy time. The Japanese travel network is especially pushed, with traffic jams being common. It’s a good idea to make any hotel or train ticket reservations well in advance of your trip to the country and to give yourself a bit more time flexibility if traveling by road.

The number of festivities during this time also falls close to the arrival of cherry blossom season, which occurs in spring between mid-March and early April. This is perhaps even busier than Golden Week as Japanese tourists and tourists from overseas alike come to take part in traditional Hanami (cherry blossom observation).

Where to Visit in Golden Week

Whilst a lot of the biggest tourist attractions can be extra busy during this period, there’s still lots that can be seen during Golden Week. Many of the shrines around the country will put on special festivals. There will also be numerous special music and entertainment events put on in the cities to celebrate the festivities.

Japan is also a great country to enjoy the great outdoors. Golden week is, therefore, an excellent time to experience the many parks and gardens that the nation has to offer. If you’re feeling extra adventurous you could also take advantage of the winter sports scene, which will still be in season during this time in the country’s more mountainous regions.

Is Kyoto busy during Golden Week?

Generally speaking, Kyoto does see a large influx of tourists from around Japan during Golden Week. If visiting during that time, like in many other parts of Japan, it’s important to make sure you make any train or bus seat or hotel reservations well in advance.

However, whilst Kyoto is certainly a tourist hotspot in itself, the city will only experience very high volumes of tourists in certain areas. This affects some of the most popular attractions, although other parts of the city will remain quite accessible. Some of the places with the biggest influxes of tourists during Golden Week will be:

  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple
  • Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine
  • Nishiki Market
  • Ginkaku-ji Temple
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple
  • Ryoan-ji Temple rock garden
  • Nijo-jo Castle

Golden Week is one of the best times all year to see the Japanese population take a break from it all and enjoy some relaxation time. If you’re going to visit Japan in 2021, remember getting the right visa is about to get more accessible with the introduction of the Japanese eVisa. Simply check online which visa requirements apply to your nationality and get ready to travel easily.