Booked to go to Tokyo in Golden Week? Don’t Panic

Don’t go to Japan in Golden Week – say, every article, website and person who lives in Japan ever. So, imagine my horror when last year I realised I’d managed to do exactly that. Considering how many times I’ve been to Tokyo, how much time I spend reading about Tokyo or planning trips to Tokyo, it’s a bit odd that I managed to slip up – but, I was blinded by a bargain. Only once I had my flight did I realise, I’d booked to go in Golden Week…

This is how crowded I expected everything to be in Tokyo during Golden Week

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which mean I earn a small commission if you use them to book. This does not cost you any extra.

What the Heck is Golden Week?

Now, chances are you’re reading this because you know what Golden Week is, but in case you don’t, here’s the details.

Golden Week is the time in Japan where pretty much the whole country takes their holidays.

Golden Week happens between April 29th and May 6th and during this time there are four public holidays – April 29, May 3rd, May 4th and May 5th. Many factories shut down for the whole period and the fact that they can get a week, or even ten days, off while taking hardly any holiday means that many other people also down tools and go exploring in Japan or overseas.

What this means is that businesses close, hotels and trains around the country get booked out and the crowds in super busy places like Kyoto grow massively.

I admit, at this point I panicked.

The 8th floor of the Shinjuku Gracery Hotel in Tokyo is home to a giant roaring Godzilla head - here's how to visit it (without booking a room).
I’m not sure if I’m more scared of the monster or Kendall in this picture.

My original plan for the trip had been to spend a few days in Tokyo then go down to Kyushu island in the south of Japan. A quick google on hotel rooms down there saw me rapidly rethink things. I decided I’d stay in Tokyo for Golden Week – I love the place and had heaps to research for the blog.

Best decision ever…

While most of Japan sees an influx of local tourists during Golden Week, Tokyo has the opposite – people leave the city and as such, it was the quietest I’d seen it a lot of the time. Look, I even managed to sit in the road in the middle of Ginza (it was closed to traffic, I’m not a total numpty!)

Not so bad….

Pretty much everything I wanted to see was open when I wanted to see it, bars and restaurants are still open during Golden Week so I didn’t starve and, I had an awesome time.

Hence the fact that my advice if you’ve booked to go to Tokyo during Golden Week is Don’t Panic. It’s all going to be completely fine.

But saying that here are a few bits of advice I think might help.

12 Tips for an Awesome Tokyo Trip During Golden Week.

1.Plan in Advance: Golden Week is not a time to be spontaneous – especially with big things like your accommodation. Have your hotel sorted.

2. Double Check Opening Hours: One thing I did notice during Golden Week, is that opening hours get erratic.

Places is that normally close on a Monday, suddenly decide that Monday is a great day to open (even though it’s a bank holiday) and that Wednesday is the best day to lie in instead – for no apparent reason.

For example, you’ll walk past a cute little curry shop every night on the way back to your hotel, but when you decide to head there one evening when you’re tired, it’s suddenly closed for Golden Week.

Yes, we know you’ve walked past us open 20 times but, we’re closed now. Sorry.

So if there’s somewhere you really want to go, either go in then when you see it open or, go in and check if it’s closing at any point over the next few days rather than leaving it to chance.

If you’re planning in advance or worried about language, a lot of places put their Golden Week opening hours on their website. Those websites may not be in English though so Google Translate is your friend – although I do find that using it online offers far more coherent translations than the app version.

3. Embrace the Madness: The good thing about Golden Week is that you’ll stumble across all manner of special happenings in the city.

The closed road in my pic above in Ginza is one example of this, but there was an even more amazing one to come.

I was wandering around Ginza with a couple I’d met on a Food Tour and we came across a matsuri – a ceremony where people carry a shrine through the streets with a lot of shouting and bouncing.

The male of the couple was a huge bloke named Thor and as soon as the guys carrying the shrine saw him, they grabbed him and shoved him underneath.

Giggling, his wife and I got our cameras, out until we realised they were now coming to get us. Cue the three of us dancing through the streets carrying a shrine float – it was incredible!

There was a lot of jumping – hence the fuzzy photo

4. Be Flexible: This is a bit of an offshoot of the above as small things can be different in Golden Week. For example, the first afternoon I arrived in Tokyo, I met up with a friend, Jonelle, and we went off for lunch.

We were going to a Shabu-Shabu place in Ginza she wanted to take me to – but when we got there, we found they had a special Golden Week menu and the dish she had wanted me to try wasn’t on it.

Things change during Golden Week, expect it, be prepared and don’t let it ruin your fun and all will be good.

5. Go to Less Touristy Places: This might not be super feasible if it’s your first trip to Tokyo as you’re going to want to see iconic sights like Senso-ji or Takeshita Street in Harajuku – but so is everyone else that’s there on their holiday from other parts of the country.

If you can take a break to see some cool, but less obvious areas you’ll get away from the crowds at least some of the time.

If you’re trying to avoid crowds in Tokyo in Golden Week, try some lesser known areas like the Nezu Shrine

If you’re thinking, um, where…

Try Sugamo – an old traditional area best known as the place seniors love to shop, or go to Shimokitozawa – often called the new Harajuku.

Another great area to explore is Yanaka – the Nezu shrine (above) is like a mini version of Fushimi Inari in Kyoto with row after row of red torii gates and the main shopping street of the area, Yanaka Ginza is a must-stop for anyone who loves cats. Just go and all will be revealed.

6. Hit the Tourist Spots Early: During Golden Week the sun is up at 5am and the earlier you can get out and do things the better.

This picture of Senso-ji was taken about 9am on the last Sunday of Golden Week. Not too busy.

While it’s true that much of Tokyo opens later, you can get to many shrines before 9am – including the big names like Senso-ji or the Meiji Shrine you’ll beat some of the crowds. Tsukiji market and Toyosu Fish Market also open before 8am.

If you’re looking for other suggestions of things to do in the morning in Tokyo, I’ve got a whole list of them here.

7. And Do The Same With Malls: The only time I gave up trying to do something I wanted to do during Golden Week was when I wanted to try and see the tiny statue of Godzilla that used to live near Ginza.

It has been replaced by a much larger one and I wanted to get a pic of the new one which is in the cinema area of the mall opposite – off to the mall I trotted, only to find a queue to get in!

Let’s just say, I still haven’t seen the tiny statue of Godzilla.

I also found the crowds slightly unbearable at Tokyo Character Street, a row of cutesy character shops, under Tokyo station (and they were also pretty big in the row of ramen shops here too). Seems shopping is a BIG Golden Week activity.

Queues for ramen under Tokyo Station in Golden Week

8. Be super careful on the Bank Holidays. Not everyone can take the whole of Golden Week off, some people do have to work but they do get the bank holidays at either end off – and this is when things are likely to be more crowded and more things are likely to be closed so again, plan around this. (See the note below on Golden Week 2019 and how this might affect things.)

9. Book in Advance: Some tickets in Tokyo are incredibly popular at the best of times – try and just rock up without a reservation in Golden Week and you’re either standing in a queue for hours – or, not getting in at all.

The list below takes you to links where you can book tickets or skip the line passes to some of Tokyo’s most popular attractions. I’d really suggest you use them if you’re travelling to Tokyo in Golden Week.

Tokyo Skytree. Depending on how brave you are, you can pick from the 350m views or the 450m high observation deck. Click here to buy Tokyo Skytree tickets in advance.

The Robot Restaurant: It’s a huge Only in Tokyo experience – girls in shiny bikinis ride robotic crabs waving glow sticks. Why would you not want to do this on your trip? But, it does book up fast so click here to book your tickets to the Robot Restaurant in advance.

If you're wondering where to see robots in Tokyo, the Robot Restaurant Shinjuku should be on your list

If you’re not lucky enough to get into to the Robot Restaurant, there are a few others places where you can meet a robot in Tokyo.

Mori Teamlab Digital Art Museum: This innovative museum is blowing people away with its incredible interactive effects – and as such, you need to book early.

On top of that, despite the fact that it’s open from 10-7pm people queue up before opening to get in. If you’re going in Golden Week you might want to get there for 9am just to be sure.

They release tickets for the next month in the middle of the month before (so, April tickets will go on sale mid-March, May tickets in mid-April and so on.) Book tickets to Mori Team lab in advance here.

Eating a Totoro Cream Puff has to be one of the cutest things to do in Tokyo. Here's where to find them.

Studio Ghibli: Eating Totoro Puffs is cute, but if you love Studio Ghibli and want to go to the museum you’ll need to book tickets the day they go on sale which is the 1st day of the month , four months before you want to visit. Unlike the other popular attractions above, there no one place to buy the tickets, it depends on where you live. But this page gives you all your options.

10. Maybe Avoid Disneyland: This was the one thing that Golden Week stuffed up for me on my last trip.

I love Disney, The Boyfriend hates the place and so, I was going to spend a day of this trip hopping between the parks – erm no!

Even when I found out it was Golden Week, I was still going to go as it was the food, shops and other little quirks I wanted to see most, but when someone told me you might queue an hour even for a snack, I decided against it.

Golden Week can see crowds of 50,000+ at Disneyland (compared to a predicted 20,000 on May 7th when it’s all over) and over 30,000 at Disneysea.

If you do have to go during Golden Week check the exact crowds expected on the day you choose on a Disney Crowd Calendar and try and find the quietest day. This great post explains what that is, where one is and how to use it.

Expect things to be super busy, chill out about queuing, and again, book your tickets in advance.

11. Use it as an excuse to slow down: When my friend Kendall arrived to join me on the last weekend of Golden Week, we headed off to Harajuku to play with otters and eat loads of crazy ice creams – and yes, we wanted to see Takeshita Street, Harajuku’s busiest road.

It was a zoo – admittedly, it’s packed on a Sunday too – but, as we shuffled along behind hundreds of other people realising it gave us the perfect time to peer in upstairs windows that normally get ignored for all the shiny bright things on the ground level.

If you do get stuck in a queue of people, use it as an excuse to look up – you never know what you might spot.

12. Book Trains as Early as You Can: If you do decide to head out of Tokyo for a day trip or longer during Golden Week, then it’s essential to book your bullet train tickets as early as possible.

It's a good idea to book your trains in Golden Week in Tokyo

I was standing in a queue to activate my rail pass one evening listening to a family of four trying to get Kyoto the next day – they had to go on two different trains, three hours apart as there was nothing left for them to travel together. There are trains at least every half an hour between Tokyo and Kyoto – that’s how busy it gets.

The tiny problem with this plan is that most tourists travelling by train in Japan are using the Japan Rail Pass which gives free seat reservations and generally you can’t use this until you’re in the country.

However, there is not an option to book some shinkansen seats on a Japan Rail Pass up to 30 days in advance. It’s not all areas, and the main touristy sites like Kyoto and Osaka aren’t yet included, but if you’re going somewhere a bit more off the beaten track it might help you out. Here’s where to find out how to book shinkansen reservations in advance on your Japan Rail Pass

If you are travelling to an area that doesn’t yet allow forward booking, that still doesn’t mean you have to leave things to the last minute – once you enter Japan you can activate your Japan rail pass up to 30 days before you travel and start making train reservations as soon as it’s done.

While I appreciate you might not want to spend the first day of your trip to Tokyo booking trains, if you’re travelling during Golden Week it will be time well spent.

If you haven’t booked your Japan Rail Pass yet, click here to check out prices or order one in advance.

Why all of this is even more important in 2019

Golden Week in 2019 is even longer as the Emperor of Japan is abdicating on April the 30th so that’s been added to the holiday list; as has May 2nd for reasons that would only happen in Japan which see any day that falls between two public holidays also become a holiday.

The result is from Saturday April 27th to Monday May 6th, Japan is effectively on holiday!

How this is going to play out with crowds and opening hours remains to be seen, particularly in Tokyo where there could be some special events surrounding the abdication, but the advice about planning in advance and checking opening hours is likely to be even more important in Golden Week 2109.

So there you have it, my guide to Tokyo during Golden Week. Hopefully, you’ve realised it’s all going to be okay – with a little bit of planning. Now, have an awesome time.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which mean I earn a small commission if you use them to book. This does not cost you any extra.

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If you’re feeling happy about your trip now, why not share this post on social media so other people can be reassured too!

Booked to visit Tokyo in Golden Week - so did I last year and it wasn't as bad as everyone told me it would be. Check out what I discovered and some tips that might help your trip too. Click to read it now or save it to your Japan board for later. #tokyo #tokyotrip #goldenweek #tokyotravel

4 Comments

  1. Mathew

    Thanks for your great article, just wondering if you could advise me. My vacation includes golden week, I’m traveling solo and just wondering if the trains would be booked out later in the evening? I’m quite happy to take any train but just concerned about reaching my destination.

    1: Leave Tokyo on 25th April between 11:00 and 16:00 and arrive at Odawara Station in Hakone.
    2: Leave Odawara Station in Hakone on 28th April between 11:00 and 16:00 and arrive at Kyoto Station.
    3: Leave Kyoto Station on 3rd May between 11:00 and 16:00 and arrive at Tokyo Station.

    Any help would be great :-), thanks Mathew.

    Reply
    1. Helen from Differentville (Post author)

      It’s hard to tell, but there will always be an unreserved carriage you can travel in. For that you just get to the platform and join the queue for the unreserved seats and get on. However, my advice would be to go to the JR booking office at whatever station is nearest you the day you arrive and arrange your travel that day. You don’t have to be at the station you’re travelling from so you can book say, the Hakone to Kyoto sector from Tokyo. It will just reduce the hassle and with just one seat needed you should have no problems. If you have found the HYPERDIA app/website yet then head there as it will tell you the exact times of trains and you can pick your ideal one to aim for at the booking office, then just see what happens.

      Reply
  2. Janice

    How about toyosu market and Tsukiji Market? Is it still worthwhile to go? It’s my first time in Tokyo and already made a mistake to going to Disneysea yesterday.

    Reply
    1. Helen from Differentville (Post author)

      I went to Tsukiji outer market last year and it was about as busy as normal…. go early and it will help. I think the tour I went on started about 8.30. Toyosu wasn’t open at the new site last Golden Week so I can’t give a good answer on that, but it hasn’t been as popular from what I can make out. Check the calendar as opening hours might vary over Golden Week. I can’t find an offical site for them but this has a suggested one https://foodtoursjapan.com/tokyo/toyosu-fish-market/#openinghours

      Reply

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