How To Plan A Trip For Golden Week in Japan: 4 Options

by Ashley Houston

Looking to break away from the classroom during your spring study abroad program? Even though it’s considered Japan’s busiest travel period, Golden Week allows for the perfect opportunity to explore new areas of Japan or Asia. 

Ryukyu Mura, or Ryukyu Village, is a must see. It is a recreation of a village from the Ryukyu Kingdom and is an amazing, historical example of Okinawan culture.
Ryukyu Mura, or Ryukyu Village, is a must see. It is a recreation of a village from the Ryukyu Kingdom and is an amazing, historical example of Okinawan culture. Photo Courtesy of Ashley Houston

Golden Week in Japan celebrates a combination of several public holidays at the end of April and early May. While the holidays don't guarantee Japanese workers an entire week away, many take paid time off. As such, prices skyrocket and lodging and flights get booked well in advance. That said, the number one and most important tip is to plan ahead for any Golden Week adventures!

Option #1: Stay Where You Are

Opt for trains and planes during this week. Highways are notorious for being at a standstill, so while buses might be the most affordable, they can take all day. Trains will guarantee you’re on time even though they’re packed.

If you live in a big city like Tokyo, staying in town can be more of a drag as you may find yourself waiting in long lines for any activity, from shopping to dining out.

If you’re stuck staying in town:

  • Hope for a late cherry blossom season so you can relax in a local park and join friends for a picnic or BBQ.
  • Hit up the local theater. Many of the biggest blockbusters of the year are released during Golden Week.  
  • Rock out at a concert. There are tons scheduled for this week, so keep your eyes and ears open to find out what’s planned in your area.
  • See some animals! The Ueno Zoo in Tokyo has a free admission day during Golden Week every year.
  • If you can’t beat the crowds, join ‘em. Visit the festivals in Yoyogi Park or nearby at the Meiji Shrine (both in Tokyo).

    Option #2: Travel To A New Area in Japan for the Week

    If you are in the Kansai region and have seen your fair share of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, it can be a good idea to head west to some of the less traveled locations. Try this sample itinerary to the islands of Kyushu and Okinawa to maximize your travel:  

    Ishigaki Island, Okinawa

    Days 1 & 2: Take a plane or train to Beppu, known for it’s hot springs (the eight hells, sand and mud ones too), Takasakiyama Monkey Park, and the Oita Marine Palace. Don’t spend any money or time on Beppu Tower.

    Day 3: This could be followed by a stint in Fukuoka. Travel there by train and visit the traditional Dazaifu area, stroll along the Yanagawa River, see a Hawks baseball game, and ride the Ferris Wheel at Sky Dream Fukuoka. Make sure to try the Hakata ramen while you’re there as well! The Fukuoka Sky Tower gives a nice view of the area.

    Day 4: From here, a quick flight to Nagasaki will allow you to visit the Peace Park (less crowded and accessed than Hiroshima). While in town, also take the trip up to Inasa Mountain lookout and Huis Ten Bosch (Dutchland) if you want to feel like you’re in Holland! 

    Day 5: Now that you’ve made it so far south, hop on a speedy flight to Okinawa and let the exploration ensue. A bus ride to Okinawa World and the Aquarium are worth the trip. Ryukyu Mura is a must as it provides a cultural and historical take on the area. Sample Okinawa’s goya and learn why some of the world’s longest living folks are from this region.

    Option #3: Plan a Short-Term Getaway

    Golden Week can be a great time to find a spot off the beaten path or an area unknown to short-term tourists. A couple days away or even a day trip are economical options if a full week excursion isn’t in your budget. Here are couple ideas: 

    Check out the Beach. Shirahama Beach in Wakayama Prefecture is 5 to 7 hour bus or 2.5 hour train ride away from Osaka. This seaside area offers a variety of entertainment and interests. As a resort town for locals, visitors can bask on the beach (with white sand imported from Australia), engulf themselves in a hot spring, or visit Adventure World (complete with zoo, amusement park, safari, and marine world). If you have extra money, consider a stay at a ryokan, a Japanese Inn, and get the traditional experience. 

    Visit an Onsen. Hakone, Gunma, Kumamoto, Atami, and Beppu are hot spots, literally, for a relaxing dip in the thermal hot springs. Plan a day trip to soak yourself into a state of bliss away from the crowds!

    Hit the slopes! With over 500 ski resorts, Japan won’t leave you wanting for powder. Ski season can go as late as early April, so why not head north to the Hokkaido or Tohoku regions for some serious shredding? A day trip from Tokyo, Nagano can also yield a fun day in the snow.

      Busy street full of pedestrians in Tokyo, Japan

        Option #4: Leave the Country

        Depending on where you are based for your study abroad program in Japan, you might be motivated to see a different country altogether. You always have the option to escape the mayhem and price surges all together and travel to nearby South Korea, Guam, or Thailand. 

        In the end, there is no wrong choice.

        Wherever you choose to spend your Golden Week (at home, nearby, or abroad), make sure to take time to enjoy the variety of spring adventures that Japan and it’s surrounding nations have to offer during your study abroad program in Japan!