10 Things To Do In Golden Week (That Won’t Leave You Stuck In Queues)

A Guide To A Socially Distanced Holiday

By The Savvy Team
April 26, 2021
Lifestyle, Out & About

Golden Week is nothing but a time that challenges your beat-the-crowd skills.

As we wave goodbye to the fleeting sakura season, it’s time to start looking forward to another favorite time of the year: the Golden Week. These series of national Japanese holidays falling from late April to early May are what many Japanese salarymen live for and the cause of a massive travel exodus both within and out of Japan. This year, the first part of Golden Week starts on April 29 and the second takes place from May 3 through May 5. And if you’re lucky and brave enough, taking April 30 and May 6 and 7 off will grant you a full 11 days off.

But wait ‘till you get excited. Since this is one of the longest holidays in Japan, the golden routes get overpacked, traffic is horrendous from Tokyo toward central Japan, hotels, plane tickets and train fees skyrocket to cash in on the travel frenzies. However, if you plan well and visit the off-the-beaten tracks Tokyo and its suburbs pride themselves for, you’ll certainly make the best out of your holiday while keeping socially distanced away from corona!

Here is a list of Savvy Tokyo-recommended off-the-beaten-track spots and things to do in the wide Kanto area during this Golden Week:

1. Explore Hidden Shinagawa On Foot

A hub for all businessmen and offices, this place is usually all about work, work and work, but it gets as quiet as a forest during holidays (as long as you stay away from the station). Home to the Prince Hotel complexes, many apartment blocks and a number of hidden temples, which have a place in the story of the development of Japan, Shinagawa is a secret gem that can only be fully explored when no one is around.

2. Visit Tokyo’s Top Historical Museums

© Photo by Shitamachi Museum

In a city as busy, complex and constantly evolving as Tokyo, time spent here is often focused on exploring its inspiring contemporary culture and amazing cuisine. But Tokyo is also home to a network of engaging museums that can help you shed light on the capital (and Japan’s) rich past. For this Golden Week, discover one of the many immersive replicas of traditional Tokyoite homes and workplaces, learn about fascinating Samurai culture, or gaze at traditional woodcuts in some of the city’s most interesting historic venues.

3. Camp in Hakone

Most hotel rooms are booked? No problem, try Lake Ashi Camping Village in Hakone. Have some good quality BBQ, sleep at a cabin, rent a bicycle and enjoy a completely new view of the gorgeous Hakone area and Lake Ashi. Perfect for a city getaway, this camping trip is guaranteed to refresh your mind, body and soul for work. 

Address: 164 Motohakone, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo, Kanagawa

4. Get Inspired At A Gallery In Tokyo

Home to many top-notch museums, Tokyo is the perfect place for contemporary art and culture lovers. Though a popular destination for most Tokyoites, these galleries tend to be relatively calm during travel seasons, especially the less popular ones. From Bunkamura in Shibuya to the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Gallery in Minato and a number of photo museums, the linked article guides you into some of the best (and less crowded) galleries in Tokyo.

5. Get Local At One Of Tokyo’s Ethnic Neighborhoods

Though Chinatown in Yokohama might get a bit packed over the holidays, Johnson town in Saitama certainly won’t. A visit to Kagurazaka, Japan’s “Little Paris” and a plunge into the Indian culture in Japan are always nice options, so go ahead and see Japan’s many communities and neighborhoods from a different perspective. A great choice for world travelers who have been dying for another overseas trip all year. 

6. Enjoy a Quiet Reading Afternoon

Most Tokyoites tour bookstores after work or during weekends, but foreign books get pretty lonely during the holidays. Explore Savvy-Tokyo’s recommended foreign-language bookstores, buy yourself one or two paperbacks and spend a day reading at a cafe enjoying the tranquility.  

7. Go On A Road Trip

Shinkansen, buses and flights are overbooked and overpriced during the Golden Week, but some roads that don’t lead to Japan’s Golden Routes, are not. We highly recommend going up north or toward East Japan, rather than toward Nagano, Yamanashi and Nagoya, because these roads will leave stuck in traffic throughout the entire vacation. A member of the Savvy Team did a road trip to Hokkaido during a major holiday season and for the whole 24 hours it took, there was not a single traffic jam occurrence. Here is one road trip to Kanazawa, a beautiful and yet not fully discovered area, and one in Hakone.

8. Get Crafty In Ibaraki

We’re at risk to anger Ibaraki, the lovely Tokyo neighboring prefecture, but we must admit that it’s not anyone’s number one destination when it comes to leisure. Good news, though, because this only means less crowds and more opps for a great adventure. Ibaraki is not only rich in green spaces, but it also offers a great experience at the Kasama Geijutsu no Mori Park (Craft Hills). Here you can try making your own pottery and other crafts, as well as enjoy a lot of great local food. A hidden gem just an hour and a half away from Tokyo.

9. Explore Hidden Harajuku

Takeshita Street will be fully packed to the point you hate it, but “Ura Hara,” or the backstreets of Harajuku, won’t, so this is a perfect way to explore the area and see it in a new light. You can get a quick palm reading by the famed Harajuku Haha fortuneteller, stop by at the Design Festa Gallery and have a cup of hot coffee and tea at the British Indian Cafe in one day.

10. Take A Bath At A Tokyo-Style Spa

Most popular onsen resorts are fully booked by now, but if you still insist on going natural over the break, try one of the city’s best onsen-style spa resorts. Some of those are mostly known by locals, so don’t worry about large crowds, especially if you visit at odd hours, such as midday or early mornings.

What are your plans for this Golden Week? Share them with us in the comments!

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