golden week in japan at inokashira park

Golden Week in Japan is packed with colourful festivities and rich traditions. (Photo from: PhotoAC)

Golden Week is just around the corner! For the uninitiated, Golden Week is one of the longest holidays of the year, with many locals looking forward to taking some time off work and travelling around the country.

Golden Week happens from late April to early May, covering four major holidays – Showa Day (29th April), Constitution Memorial Day (3rd May), Greenery Day (4th May) and Children’s Day (5th May). While it can get crowded, this is also a great time to travel to Japan. The weather is lovely and this is an exciting period where Japan springs to life with festivities and celebrations.

If you are overwhelmed by the itinerary planning, here are some recommendations on the best things to experience during Golden Week.

Immerse in Japan’s rich traditions by attending some festivals

Dive into culture and make the most of your Golden Week vacation by experiencing some of the many festivals taking place this week. 

Head to Niigata prefecture for the vibrant Kamo Koinobori Festival and celebrate Children’s Day with the locals. The annual Kamo Koinobori Festival began in 1989 to revitalise the area, becoming one of Japan's most anticipated celebrations featuring local food trucks and flea markets to enhance the lively atmosphere.

Crowds visit Kamo city from early April to mid-May to soak in the extraordinary sight of approximately 500 colourful carp streamers fluttering cheerily along the Kamo River. These colourful Koinobori (carp) streamers – symbolising attributes that parents wish for in their children, akin to the strength and perseverance of carp fish as they swim upstream – are a common sight in many parts of Japan during Children’s Day. 

Another exciting event that you have to experience is the Hakata Dontaku Festival in Fukuoka prefecture. Attracting more than two million people from Japan and abroad, this hugely popular festival is an extravaganza not to be missed!

hakata donkatu festival

The Hakata Dontaku Festival has origins that date back to a traditional folk event in the 12th century. (Photo from: © Fukuoka Prefecture Tourism Association)

For two days on May 3rd and 4th every year, participants of all ages dress up in colourful traditional costumes and parade around the town of Hakata. The festival also features dance performances, buses decked out in eye-catching decorations, and a lively marching band. One of the festival’s highlights is the Hakata Matsubayashi parade, which reenacts the original parade that took place in 1179 and marks the beginning of the Dontaku Parade.

Besides the street parades, different stage areas are also set up across the city – each hosting a variety of performances along with food and game stalls. 

Get off the beaten track with a day trip

If the celebrations of Golden Week are draining your social battery, escape the crowds by taking a day trip to a lesser-known and quieter city. Kobe, a port city in Hyogo prefecture, is a perfect day trip destination.

kobe city from the sea

Kobe has several ferry terminals that connect to Osaka, Shikoku, Fukuoka and more. (Photo from: PhotoAC)

Accessible by land, sea, and air, Kobe is just a short journey away from Osaka and Kyoto. It has amazing food, a buzzing jazz music scene, an eclectic mix of Japanese and Western influences, and plenty of activities to entertain culture-curious travellers.

While it is Japan's seventh-largest city, the atmosphere here is more laid-back. Take a leisurely stroll through the historical district of Kitano-cho and admire the well-preserved 19th-century Western townscape. Listen to some live jazz performances in one of the city’s numerous jazz bars. Enjoy a romantic waterfront view at Kobe Harborland, a popular shopping and entertainment hub for families. 

kobe beef

There are over 80 certified restaurants serving authentic Kobe Beef in Kobe city.

Before you leave, it is a must to indulge in an exquisite meal of buttery-rich premium Kobe Beef in its hometown!

Enjoy free admission on Greenery Day

Travellers visiting Japan during Golden Week are in for a treat on Greenery Day (also known as Midori no hi), which falls on 4th May. This national holiday encourages people to appreciate and get closer to nature, with many botanical gardens across Japan open to the public for free.

Tokyo has many free public parks, such as Inokashira Park which offers plenty of recreational facilities. (Photo from: ©Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau)

If you are in Tokyo, celebrate Greenery Day by visiting a Japanese park, or take advantage of the free admission on this day. Some places that offer free entry include the beautiful Japanese-landscaped Rikugien Gardens, photography hotspot Hama-rikyu Gardens, and popular tourist attractions such as Tokyo Sea Life Park, Ueno Zoological Gardens and Inokashira Park Zoo.

Quick tips to survive the crowds during Golden Week

While Golden Week is an exciting season packed with festivities, it is also important to note that it is one of the busiest travel periods in Japan. Expect throngs of people, long waiting times for popular attractions and restaurants, and hotel prices to surge.

However, fret not. We have some quick tips on how you can make the most out of your Golden Week travel experience. Reserve your hotels and train tickets early, book ticketed activities online if possible, dine at off-the-grid local restaurants and plan your itinerary around the middle of Golden Week to avoid the travel rush. 

With meticulous planning, you can enjoy a stress-free Golden Week holiday and discover the wonderful charms of this amazing country.