Like all Japanese students, we had time off school for Golden Week, the biggest holiday weekend in Japan. Like all gaijin (foreigners) wanting to make the most of their time, Raquel from Spain and I decided to hit up Kyoto, Nara and Osaka. Only some of the biggest tourist attractions in Japan, during the busiest tourism week of the year. What could go wrong?
What is Golden Week
Golden Week starts on April 29, a national holiday that was celebrated as the birthday of Emperor Showa. Since Showa died in 1989, it’s now celebrated as Greenery day. It’s also my birthday! Yay!
Because there’s a parade of holidays after that — May 1 is May Day, May 3 is Constitution Day, May 5 is Children’s Day — most companies just shut down and let their employees have the week off.
Fun Fact: ‘Golden Week’ was first coined by movie companies, since the holiday was a ‘golden’ opportunity to go see a movie.
Finding a place to stay during Golden Week
My first and only advice to you is to book early. If you don’t, you may be stuck with your last choice, far outside town, or with nothing at all. We stayed at Bakpak Gion Hostel in Kyoto’s Gion district. We didn’t book until two weeks before and I think we got the last spots available. From Kyoto, we did day trips to Nara and Arashiyama.
In Osaka we had a hard time finding things at first but ended up finding a spot at Hotel Taiyo. It was a bit outside the main drag, but better than nothing.
Expect the Golden Week crowds
At some point, you learn to get over the crowds and just go with the flow. It’s the only way to survive if you’re going to visited some of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations during the busiest holiday time.
Try and bond over waiting times
You’ll have some golden moments to chat up locals in the crowd who are also waiting to get into the same Temple/Deer Park/etc.
People in Japan tend to be super friendly towards foreigners and want to practice speaking English with you. I always feel sympathetic for non-English white tourists who inevitably get hit up for an English conversation. I saw this happen to a bunch of German tourists at Nara. It’s all good cross-cultural fun.
Enjoy the clothes
Because Golden Week is such a big holiday, a lot of women dress up in Kimono while doing errands, visiting with family and going to temples.
It’s all worth it in the end
If you’ve got a good attitude and a healthy constitution, visiting tourist destinations during Golden Week is super fun, as you’re sharing a beautiful experience with a huge group of people.
Don’t forget your water, umbrellas, and to have fun.