You may have heard of something called Golden Week before but are not certain what it is exactly. Well I am here today to explain what Golden Week is and traveling in Japan during Golden Week.
Golden Week 2016 is from April 29 (today) to May 8, 2016.
Golden Week refers to the period from the end of April through the first week of May and four national holidays occur during this week.
Depending on what days the holidays fall on, this leads to approximately a week off for most people in Japan and is the longest vacation period for Japanese workers. This year, the full period totals a whopping ten days! These are the holidays during Golden Week:
Showa Day (showa no hi; 昭和の日）
April 29 (Friday)
The birthday of the former emperor, Showa Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989.
Constitution Memorial Day (kenpou kinenbi; 憲法記念日）
May 3 (Tuesday)
Japan’s new postwar constitution was put into effect on May 3, 1947.
Greenery Day (midori no hi; みどりの日）
May 4 (Wednesday)
This holiday used to be celebrated on April 29 until 2006 but then it was moved to May 4. May 4 used to just be a holiday by default because Japan has a law where if a day falls between two national holidays, that day also becomes a holiday.
On this day, nature and the environment are appreciated and celebrated.
Children’s Day (kodomo no hi; こどもの日）
May 5 (Thursday)
Hina Matsuri (March 3) is the holiday for girls and Children’s Day (May 5, also known as the Boy’s Festival) is the holiday for boys. Families will usually display koinobori, brightly colored flags in the shape of a carp, one for each son (or child) to represent the struggle of growing up and becoming a man.
Travel in Japan during Golden Week
As you can see, there are some regular weekdays in between the national holidays. Some companies will give their employees the whole period off while some only give the national holidays off. Many Japanese just take off those other days in order to get the full vacation.
Thus, this time of year is the busiest for travel in Japan. Honestly, I would not recommend you to visit Japan during this time as everywhere will be pretty crazy and crowded. Trains, buses and the airport will have more people than usual and hotels and rental cars have to be booked months in advance. They will also be more expensive. Although many Japanese do travel overseas during this time, there are many more who stay in the country.
However, if you will be staying in Tokyo, it may be okay since many Japanese who live in Tokyo travel to other parts of Japan during this time.
Many offices such as banks may be closed during this time so make sure you have enough cash before getting to the city.
Golden Week occurs every year but Silver Week is a rare accumulation of holidays that occurs about once every 5 years in September. When Respect for the Aged Day, the Autumn Equinox, the default holiday between those days and a weekend are all consecutive, it becomes a five day holiday. The last Silver Week happened last year in 2015 and the next four will occur in 2026, 2032, 2037 and 2043.
Finally, here is some trivia as a closing note. In case you are curious about how this week of holidays came to be known as “Golden Week”, it all started in 1951 with the Japanese film, Jiyuu Gakkou. These national holidays had came to be just three years earlier in 1948 with the National Holiday Laws. Because so many people had free time during this week, many went to go see this movie, leading to the highest ticket sales of the year. In Japanese radio, the prime time slots with the highest number of listeners are referred to as “golden time” so the film studio started calling the week, “Golden Week” which eventually caught on with the rest of the country.