In Japan, the stretch of holidays from the end of April to the beginning of May is known as “Golden Week”, which is a major holiday period consisting of:
April 29: Showa Day, which commemorates the birthday of former Emperor Hirohito, now referred to primarily by his posthumous name, Emperor Showa
May 3: Constitution Day celebrates the declaration of the 1947 Constitution of Japan
May 4: Greenery Day celebrates nature, when locals take trips to the countryside
May 5: Children’s Day
During this period, offices normally close for a week as the nation celebrates these four holidays. However, this year’s celebration is a little special – April 30 and May 1 will be listed as additional national holidays to mark the expected abdication of the reigning monarch, Emperor Akihito and the subsequent succession of Crown Prince Naruhito.
This makes 2019’s Golden Week a consecutive 10-day holiday period, starting from April 27 (Saturday) to May 6 (Monday). As the nation celebrates this long break, here are some things to look out for if you’re travelling in Japan during this period:
Some attractions offer free entry during Golden Week. especially on May 4 and 5 during during Greenery Day and Children’s Day (specifically for children only) respectively.
If you’re a fan of Japanese gardens, zoos, nature, and parks, visit them on Greenery Day (May 4) when many of them – especially government-run facilities – are open to the public for free. In Tokyo, check out gorgeous gardens like the Edo-era Rikugien Gardens which has a large pond and ancient trees, or the Kyu Furukawa Gardens with its manicured western and Japanese gardens. Free entry also extends to the city’s wildlife attractions like Ueno Zoo and Tokyo Sea Life Park which is famous for its penguins.
On Children’s Day (May 5), children – usually 12 and under – can get free or discounted entry to many attractions, from museums to parks. For example, children under 18 get free entry to Tokyo’s Miraikan Museum (the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) in Tokyo. In Okinawa, children under 15 get free entry to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium between on May 4 and 6, and Kodomo-no-Kuni (Okinawa Zoo) offers free admission to children 12 and under from May 3 to 6.
You can also witness some events and festivals that take place over Golden Week, from samurai re-enactments to flower events and kite battles. During this time,
many homes, parks, shopping arcades, and tourist areas will display colourful koinobori (carp-shaped windsocks) – they are also proudly displayed at homes shopping arcades, and at many Koinobori Festivals held throughout Golden Week .
If you have missed the cherry blossoms in early April, you can still catch later blooming sakura at the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival (April 23 - May 6) in Aomori Prefecture. The backdrop of Hirosaki Castle and the picturesque moat – especially when it’s lit at night – is worth the admission.
From April 29 to May 3, the Yonezawa Uesugi Festival in Yamagata Prefecture features a parade of roughly 1,000 samurai warriors in full armour as they parade through the city’s main street, culminating in a mock battle at the Matsukawa riverside.
From May 3 to May 5, Hiroshima City hosts the annual Flower Festival when the city’s 100m-wide Peace Boulevard is closed to traffic for an entire day for parades, dances, and food stalls. Meanwhile, Hamamatsu (Shizuoka Prefecture) holds its annual Kite Flying Festival that features over 100 kites battling in the skies over the Nakatajima Dunes, with each kite flyer trying to cut their opponent's string solely with friction. In Okinawa, the annual Naha Hari – a large festival featuring dragon boat races, live music, and fireworks –is also celebrated during this holiday period.
Apart from the New Year period, Golden Week is the busiest time of year in Japan when it comes to tourism, since everyone will have a break from school and work.
Travel activity is expected to peak around the beginning and end of the holiday period, when train stations will be packed with commuters, and trains will run at full capacity. If you plan to travel during this time, remember to plan ahead in order to secure your transport – shinkansen (bullet train) bookings are essential during this season.
Correspondingly, accommodation will need to be booked in advance as they can get snapped up quickly, especially those at popular tourist sites. Prices for accommodation may also be higher during this time due to the peak season.
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