For most foreign travelers, the last week of April and first week of May are nothing more than an ideal time to travel in Japan. The kiss of early spring and late spring; the sayonara of the sakura. and a hello to azaleas, irises and the tsuyu (plum rains) that will soon herald the summer.
For those of us who’ve lived in Japan, however, these dates can instill panic: They comprise the busiest domestic travel period in Japan, and the high prices, low train and hotel availability and insane crowds that entails.
Thankfully, it’s entirely possible to travel during Golden Week in Japan, with minimal disruptions and maximum enjoyment. Well, at least if you follow the advice I’m about to give.
What is Golden Week in Japan?
If you’ve never taken part in Golden Week travel, you probably don’t understand the scale of it. Virtually everyone in Japan is on holiday between roughly the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May—well, except for people who work in tourism and hospitality. As a result, most of Japan’s top tourist destinations are filled to the brim with domestic travelers.
It’s an understatement to say that things can get crowded. This manifests itself in various ways, from high prices for hotels and domestic flights, to the need for VPN data encryption to account for the sheer number of people using Wi-Fi networks throughout the country. Thankfully, if you’re smart about the way you plan your trip, you can travel relatively normally during the Golden Week period.
How to Travel in Japan During Golden Week (as a Foreigner)
Be aware of dates
Japan’s Golden Week is assembled around a variety of adjacent holidays, starting with Showa Day and ending with Children’s Day. While these always take place on April 29 and May 5, respectively, the arrangement of these days will determine whether the preceding or following weekends can be considered part of Golden Week.
Book hotels early
If you do plan to travel during Golden Week in Japan, it’s essential to book hotels as early as possible, ideally by the end of February. Past this point, availability will be low and prices will be high, to the extent that it doesn’t make sense to travel in many parts of Japan.
(And transport, too)
The same best practices go for transportation, whether you travel around Japan by train, or go via domestic flights. I recommend booking flights at the time you book accommodation (and that you book train tickets online well in advance) to avoid being disappointed.
Stay in big cities
It might sound counterintuitive, but focusing on Japan’s largest cities is a great way to avoid crowds and minimize disruption when you travel during Golden Week in Japan. The reason? Big city dwellers tend to travel to smaller cities and towns (and into nature) during these holidays, leaving places like Tokyo and Osaka comparatively quiet.
Lean into it
Tens of millions of people will be traveling across Japan during Golden Week, and while you can minimize the impact of this huge migration on your travels, you can’t completely avoid it. The best way to make sure you enjoy your Golden Week trip is to lean into it, and to accept less enjoyable aspects right alongside the great ones.
When is Golden Week in 2024? What About 2025?
In 2024, Golden Week officially begins on Monday, April 29, which is Showa Day. However, as is the case in all other years, the preceding weekend is also included in the Golden Week holiday. As a result, you can expect things to start getting busy from the evening of Friday, April 26. It will stay this way until Sunday, May 5, which is Children’s Day. This holiday is famous for the colorful carp streamers strung all over Japan in honor of it.
If your Golden Week travel will take place in 2025, meanwhile, you can plan on the dates being the same, but the dates of the week being different. Since Showa Day will be on a Tuesday, the preceding weekend might not be as busy as it will be in 2024. On the other hand, travel activity will likely peak around Saturday, May 3, 2025, since this will be the culmination of a four-day holiday period.
Other FAQ About Travel During Golden Week in Japan
Is it OK to travel during Golden Week in Japan?
It’s OK to travel during Golden Week in Japan, so long as you book accommodation, flights and trains early enough to ensure availability, and to make sure you don’t need to pay an obscene price. You’ll also need to accept that most destinations in the country will be at least as crowded as they’d be during cherry blossom or autumn color season.
Are things closed in Japan during Golden Week?
Some shops and restaurants will close during Golden Week, so that their owners and employees can take off and enjoy the holiday. Because this is highly dependent upon the individual business, I encourage you to contact a given business directly to see whether they will be open during Golden Week.
How do you avoid crowds in Golden Week?
There are many ways to avoid crowds during Golden Week. In the larger picture, it’s a good idea to travel in larger cities like Tokyo and Osaka during busy weekend periods, such as the last weekend of April and first weekend of May. On a more granular level, visiting popular tourist attractions early in the morning or after night has fallen can minimize the level of disruption you experience.
The Bottom Line
Can you travel during Golden Week in Japan? The short answer is a simple “yes.” The long answer? Doing so requires foresight, pre-planning and mindfulness. You need to be aware of the precise dates of Golden Week for the year you plan to be in Japan, and deliberate about how you organize your trip. Ironically, being in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka during the busiest parts of Golden Week is the best way to minimize disruptions. Want to plan an amazing journey around Japan in late April or early May, without having to worry about the particulars of the holidays? Commission a custom Japan itinerary today!