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If you travel in Japan during the springtime, your trip may overlap with a string of public holidays known as Golden Week. This is the peak season for traveling around the country so it is best to plan wisely in order to avoid the crowds.
Golden Week is a period of consecutive public holidays at the end of April and the beginning of May that comes each year, lasting anywhere from a few days to as long as a ten-day period. In 2019, Golden Week officially begins on Monday, April 29 and ends Monday, May 6.
These holidays combined with the warm spring weather means that travel in Japan peaks during this period. This makes last-minute bookings for accommodation and transportation difficult, so it is important to plan your destinations accordingly to make the most out of your trip.
We have made a list of seven lesser-known but not less exciting spots in and around Tokyo where you can beat the crowds and still have a great time in Japan during Golden Week.
The Showa Kinen National Government Park is an expansive 180 hectares, or 444-acre national park with flower fields, a traditional Japanese garden, and other facilities including a giant pool. Several different types of flowers bloom in the springtime in April and May, from yellow and pink tulips to vibrant blue Nemophila.
Located on the outskirts of Tokyo, you can reach this spot in about an hour from Tokyo Station. Take a day trip here and breathe in the fresh air and beauty of the park.
If you are looking for nature during Golden Week, hiking Mount Takao or Mount Mitake, both located in the western part of Tokyo would be a great choice. Because Mount Takao tends to extremely crowded at this time of the year, we recommend looking no further than Mount Mitake, which is located in the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park.
Mount Mitake is 929 meters in elevation and is a popular hike, but is less crowded than other spots. Historically, the mountain was an area of spiritual importance, and Musashi Mitake Jinja, an ancient shrine, is located on the summit.
The hike itself is suitable for a variety of fitness levels and can be done in about three hours. You'll encounter amazing waterfalls and beautiful stone structures on the way. Part of the journey up the mountain involves riding in a cable car.
Not all areas of Tokyo are crowded, even during the holidays. If you want to explore the city during Golden Week, we recommend the neighborhoods of Shimokitazawa, Suginami, and Nakano.
Shimokitazawa is an artsy neighborhood housing many galleries, cafes, and vintage shops. This area has been a subcultural center since the 1970s and still maintains a young and funky atmosphere.
Accessible via a short train ride on the Keio Inokashira Line, this is a great destination for relaxing with a cup of coffee or tea, looking at art, and shopping for unique items.
Another area that is most surely pleasant to visit during Golden Week is Suginami in Tokyo.
Within Suginami ward, we recommend Asagaya and Koenji, two charming towns with expansive shopping streets with vendors offering local groceries, food, and gifts. These neighborhoods are located on the JR Chuo Line, just past Shinjuku.
A third option is the Nakano area. In recent years, Nakano has gained popularity as a shopping spot for otaku, or geeky, items, but the area is still not as known to visitors as Akihabara or Ikebukuro.
Once you arrive at Nakano Station, head to Nakano Broadway, a large shopping complex housing numerous stores, selling everything from manga and anime character goods to clothing and accessories. For more entertainment, be sure to stop into one of the numerous arcade centers for a classic Japanese gaming experience.
Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city, is located just thirty minutes down the coast from Tokyo, in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Yokohama has a lot to offer visitors during Golden Week, including great shopping and entertainment without Tokyo crowds, coupled with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.
For a day-trip, we especially recommend checking out the Minato Mirai District, where you can visit the historic Red Brick Warehouse for shopping, walk in Yamashita Park, and see the gorgeous cityscape at night from the iconic Landmark Tower and the Cosmo World Ferris wheel.
Located in Saitama Prefecture, just thirty minutes away from central Tokyo, Kawagoe, is a Japanese city known for its historical Edo era district and shrine dedicated to love and relationships. Kawagoe was a prominent castle town during this era (around 1603 to 1868) and numerous traditional Japanese-style warehouse buildings still remain and are used today. As you walk down the historical shopping street you will find freshly-made traditional Japanese sweets and unique souvenirs.
Another draw to Kawagoe is Hikawa Shrine, known as a power spot for romance and relationships. While at the shrine, be sure to grab a red snapper-shaped omikuji, which will inform you of your fortune in romance, career, health, and other areas of your life. Before you leave, you can also purchase a special red pencil charm as a souvenir, which is supposed to bring you closer to encountering a soulmate when you write with it.
Oku-Nikko and Edo Wonderland are two destinations we recommend visiting near Nikko, in Tochigi Prefecture.
While Nikko is a popular tourist spot, Oku-Nikko, just a bus stop away from the Tobu Nikko Station, receives fewer visitors in comparison. Historically, the area used to be a retreat spot for royalty and boasts Meiji era architecture, a beautiful lake, and waterfalls.
Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura, or Edo Wonderland, is a cultural theme park that recreates a historical Japanese atmosphere through allowing its visitors to become residents of Edo (pre-modern Tokyo). Walk around the park wearing kimono, practice throwing shuriken, and watch an Edo-style parade on the town square. This interactive, fun experience is a must for anyone interested in Japanese history.
The Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki Prefecture boasts beautiful flowers year-round and is particularly famous for its blooming Nemophilia flower fields in the spring.
In 2018, this season is late April to early May, overlapping with Golden Week, making this area a must-visit. The park itself is expansive, with over 350 hectares, or about 865 acres, abundant with flowers and nature, perfect for a day-trip from the Tokyo area.
Coming to Japan during Golden Week, especially to the Tokyo area, means dealing with crowds and potential travel complications. By keeping this in mind and choosing your travel destinations carefully, you can make the most of your time and have an exciting and memorable trip in Japan during the spring season.