Golden Week (abbreviated as GW) is one of the most anticipated times of the year in Japan, apart from New Years and Obon in August. It is a weeklong holiday and usually starts at the end of April and extends through the beginning of May.
The holidays is usually given in the form of a week off in schools and companies, but sometimes workers have to take days of their annual off-work dates.
It is extremely crowdy during GW – extreme emphasis on the “crowdy”.
All planes and trains are booked, and transport is usually very expensive during this time of year.
Some people recommend to not travel during GW, but I think it’s nice to get out and do something exciting once in a while. So here is my list of 10 places I would have liked to visit this year during GW 2016:
Nikko (Nikko, Tochigi)
One of the most popular destinations throughout the year (ie not only Golden Week), Nikko is a place where many tourists visit.
Labeled as a World Heritage site, this is a beautiful place to visit if you are a keen culture and Buddhism fan.
I recommend the Rinnogi Temple – which is a complex of many different temples in one place. A well-known monk introduced Buddhism to this area of Japan as early as the 8th century. In fact, there are many Buddhist monks there to this day who look after all the temples.
Nikko features not only old temples and Heritage sites, but also many Japanese traditional gardens with beautiful bridges, gardens and ponds.
Kiyomizu Dera (Kiyomizu Dera, Kyoto)
Also known as the “Clear Water Temple”, Kiyomizu Dera is a must to visit if you ever come across Kyoto (even apart from GW).
Established in the late 8th century, this Temple complex was founded way before Kyoto was the capital of Japan – not even mentioning Tokyo.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was recently rebuilt – it seems that every time you visit, something is under construction to make it more appealing.
The main point of the Temple complex is of course it’s famous Kiyomizu Wooden Stage, which hangs about 13-14m off the hillside and offers a spectacular view to its visitors (not really recommended for people who are scared of heights). This view is published on many different brochures featuring Kyoto and is beautiful during the different seasons.
Apart from the wooden stage, Kiyomizu Dera offers a complex of many different traditional Japanese buildings that remained unchanged and date back to the Shogun times as well.
Another famous couple attraction is the love rock – a person has to walk from one rock to another with their eyes shut, and will find love soon (or strengthen their current love) by doing so.
The place features beautiful pagodas and good walking trails.
Sanjusangendo (Sanjusangendo, Kyoto)
This is a sacred place that many people visit because of its beauty and unique atmosphere. Sanjusangendo, is considered one of Japan’s longest wooden structures. The temple that was established in the early 12th century contains 1001 statues of the Goddess of Mercy, Kanon. It also features many other old Japanese folklore gods.
Another famous event occurring in the area is the New Year’s archery contest, which is a popular and vivid tourist attraction at the start of January.
Overall Sanjusangendo is a really interesting place to visit – good for walks or to find out more about Japanese history, folklore and culture.
Zao Fox village (Zao Fox Village, Miyagi)
This gaining popularity village is a must to go for nature and animal fans! The Zao Fox Village also known as Kitsune Mura (Kitsune Village) is a place where you can see a different variety of foxes roaming freely and play/pet them as you wish.
Inspired by Japanese myths and folklore, this village focuses on providing tourists the ultimate time of their lives by playing with these wild but cute furry animals.
Surrounding trees give of a wild open space feeling as the foxes roam wild.
It is really a “petting zoo” village!
Uphill, there is also a fox shrine (only one of many throughout Japan), and the little houses where the foxes sleep.
If these kinds of animal activities capture your interest, you can also check out many numerous animal cafés in Tokyo as well as the famous cat Island – Tashirojima.
Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan (Located in Yamanashi)
Nishiyama Onsen Kaiunkan is a really famous hot spring hotel located in the prefecture of Yamanashi.
It was founded in 705 AD and is considered to be the world’s most oldest hotel, and remains to be one of the oldest companies in operation to this day.
It is said that the onsen (Japanese hot springs) was passed down by 52 generations of the same family!
Apart from the relaxing and purifying onsen, you can check into the hotel and go climb Mt.Fuji the same/next day! Some say it is amazing when you come back from the trail and bathe in the hot springs.
It is really quiet and the place is really clean and crisp. It is an excellent relax vacation to go by yourself or with family!
Yokai Street (Ichijo-dori, Kyoto)
The Yokai Street also known as the Monster street, is a really well known alley or dori in Kyoto. (Yokai means Monster in Japanese). Just as the name suggests, the area got famous because of many monsters and yokai legends and folklore.
The area isn’t promoted for tourists, so you wouldn’t usually find crowds in the place making a perfect GW destination.
Ichijo-dori doesn’t want visitors to forget old Japanese folklore so they sell and “promote” many ghost goods as the businesses are “haunted” by these charming monsters.
Families run all of the shops and they are customer-friendly & wiling to help out.
You get an amazing “local” feeling that’s keeping street shopping alive.
Yakushima Island (Yakushima, Kagoshima)
Yakushima Island – an island famous for being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The relatively small area of Yakushima is covered with ancient cedar trees, wildlife and nature.
Tourists don’t really visit – as transport and language may seem a bit difficult, but if you bring a dictionary to communicate with the local people its fine.
There aren’t a lot of people who live on the island – its mostly occupied by wildlife. However there are many gardens and some museums around (apart from the forest).
As Yakushima is a subtropical island, the air is really crisp and clean – but it rains frequently so coats and umbrellas are a must to bring.
Out of the things you can do (apart from hiking in the cedar trees), you can walk along waterfalls, go to a beach and even scuba dive.
The wildlife is really varied as well – monkeys, deer and giant turtles can be seen frequently.
Iriya (Iriya, Tokyo)
Moving on to Tokyo, I find this small town a fascinating and interesting place to visit in Tokyo. Iriya, a small city located in Ueno, has many different cute and interesting cafés worth visiting. The main goal of the local people living there is to preserve objects and traditions for the future generations to come. The general architecture is really interesting and unique.
In July, they have a morning glory festival that is visited by many people living in Tokyo.
The peaceful and quiet traditional Japanese atmosphere is lovely to take a walk in.
There are many interesting workshops and themed cafés you can visit with family and friends making it a fun day out.
Kawagoe (Kawagoe, Saitama)
Kawagoe, also known as Little Edo, is a town which kept its tradition and atmosphere of the Edo Period to this day.
It is definitely famous for the Kawagoe Festival held annually in October, but there is so much more you can do apart from festivals and special events.
Going though Kawagoe, the first thing you would notice is the old traditional homes and buildings preserved and rebuilt to this day. The streets do not look like modern Tokyo – in fact they look just the opposite.
A famous attraction is the candy isle – with more than 40 traditional candy shops which passed down the same candy flavor for generations, you can bulk buy and eat cheap and delicious candy.
Obviously there are many traditional temples and gardens, which host the beauty of Kawagoe. The symbol of the town – the Bell Tower, can be seen from nearly every street and is beautifully illuminated at night.
If you are looking for a contrast to the bustling Tokyo, why not give Kawagoe a chance?
Meiji Shrine Grand Spring Festival (Meiji Shrine, Meiji Jingumae)
The Meiji Shrine Grand Spring Festival overlaps with Golden Week, and is an event I would recommend attending if you have spare time.
The Grand Festival is a series of Shinto Ceremonies, and is one of the most visited tourist/local attractions visited during GW each year. The shrine is also bulk-visited during New Years for the annual first prayer.
The Meiji shrine is one of the most well known shrines throughout the whole of Japan – dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, this is an excellent place to relax and take a walk as forests surround the area (in contrast to the busy Tokyo where the Shrine is situated).
The Grand Spring Festival, is as the name suggests, a festival held to celebrate the coming of spring.
Apart from the GW events, the shrine also hosts a Chrysanthemum contest and beautiful flowers are exhibited annually.
It is an interesting event to visit so check out the website below for the times for the different ceremonies.
Golden Week is without doubt one of the most crowded weeks in Japan – many people: locals and tourists travel throughout the country, as it is one of the most anticipated holiday seasons of the year.
Personally, instead of avoiding the crowds – I would embrace them. It gives a sense of community and anticipation watching these annual events or going to places with others. You never know –you might be able to make some new friends during your trip.