Golden Week 2019: 12 Things To Do If You’re Staying In Tokyo

Make the most of this year's very special 10-day holiday!

By The Savvy Team
April 19, 2019
Lifestyle, Out & About

Couldn't book a flight out of Tokyo this Golden Week? You've done yourself a big favor.

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 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’s Golden Week, however, is like no other. May 1 (right in the middle of the holidays) will mark the beginning of the Reiwa Era when Naruhito, the eldest son of the current Emperor Akihito, ascends to the throne as the 126th Emperor of Japan. This will be a special time for the whole of Japan and we’ll be witnessing a number of events and celebrations taking place across the nation. 

 

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The new era in Japan will be called Reiwa from May 1. #reiwa #令和 #newera #japan #history

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Luckily, in addition to a new Emperor, Japan also gets an extra day off, making this year’s Golden Week a whole 10-day vacation, running from April 27 through May 6. However, since this will be Japan’s longest holiday for the year, expect the golden routes to get overpacked, traffic to get horrendous from Tokyo toward central Japan, and hotels, plane tickets and train fees to skyrocket. Staying in Tokyo, therefore, could be a wise decision. The great news is that there’s plenty to do in the city to make the most of your holidays.

Here’s a list of Savvy Tokyo-recommended things to do during Golden Week if you’ll be staying in or near the capital. We promise you won’t be bored! 

1. Tour 95 of Tokyo’s top museums, zoos, and gardens with the ‘Grutto Pass’ 

Though a popular destination for most Tokyoites, the capital’s galleries tend to be relatively calm during travel seasons, especially the less popular ones. The Grutto Pass, which just went on sale this April, is a great deal which offers you a completely free or discounted access to 95 popular museums, zoos, gardens, attractions and other facilities in the Tokyo area. It costs just ¥2,200 per person and is one of the best deals you can get if you’re into art and culture. The pass is valid for two months from purchase, but all you really need is just one Golden Week to cover them all.

Among the 95 facilities are a number of exciting venues such as the National Museum of Nature and Science, which currently has the popular “Mammals 2: Struggle for Life” exhibition on display, the Calligraphy Museum, the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, the Hama-Rikyu Gardens and even Ueno Zoo, home to Japan’s most famous pandas. 

For recommendations on Tokyo’s best museums and exhibitions, see the following articles:

2. Walk on a floral carpet at the Chichibu Shibazakura Festival

Just a bit over an hour from central Tokyo is the Hitsujiyama Park in Chichibu, Saitama, a stunning place that offers an alternative, yet equally mesmerizing hanami experience through its famous shibazakura, or moss phlox. The annual Chichibu Shibazakura Festival (from April 12 through May 6) features some 400,000 fully bloomed moss phlox arranged in various shapes and swirls that stretch over four acres of the Shibazakura Hill, creating a scene right out of a painting. The festival runs gets a little crowded but it’s nothing compared to most golden routes. And while you’re in Saitama, stop by at these places too — you’ll love them all.

3. Watch Drum Tao’s latest show

With over 500 performances in 26 countries across the globe, taiko entertainment troupe Drum Tao have done a great job in promoting Japanese taiko drums overseas, and this spring they’re back here in Tokyo for their latest “Mangekyo” tour, a powerful mix of tradition and modernity. With a permanent location at the cozy Alternative Theater in Yurakucho, the show runs almost daily through June 30. For this third edition of the troupe’s Mangekyo show, Drum Tao has partnered with the creatives at teamLab to offer some extra cool visuals and playful additions to the show. The sound of wadaiko drums, however, is what will leave you most impressed. All seats cost ¥8,500 and can be booked through the troupe’s official website.

4. Go on a day trip from Tokyo

Tokyo is surrounded by so many wonderful places which we who live here tend to underrate thinking that we always have plenty of time to visit — which we don’t. For a step back in time, head to Sawara in Chiba or “Koedo,” the Little Edo in Kawagoe, Saitama. There you can rent a kimono and explore the city’s numerous “power spot” temples and shrines, have a modest onigiri lunch and enjoy the tranquility. Kamakura, Fujisawa, and Odawara are also three great locations for those who’re after some peace and quiet, as well as traditional Japanese culture. For a relaxing day near the ocean, head to Hayama in Kanagawa, a destination you can explore to the fullest using Keikyu Line’s Hayama Excursion Ticket. For a great modern experience full of shopping, sightseeing and ocean views, head to Yokohama. And of course, there’s also Hakone, the perfect getaway for anyone who love onsen, nature and art!

5. Go hiking or ‘Forest Bathing’

Use this long vacation to leave the city behind and embrace nature. Contrary to what many say, Tokyo is not only concrete and tall buildings — in fact, it is surrounded by some great small mountains, hiking spots and forests where we can enjoy a city detox to the fullest. You can, of course, start with Mt. Takao, a beautiful and popular trek, but, if you’re looking to beat the crowds and truly lose yourself in nature, try these four “off the beaten track” hiking spots, as well.

And if you just want to walk around in nature, the recent shinrin-yoku (literally, “forest bathing”) trend is the perfect deal for you. While Tokyo has a number of great forests and parks, this article has a quick list of the five best spots near Tokyo to perfectly indulge in shinrin-yoku. Recharge during the break and get back to work after the Golden Week fresh as a green leaf!

6. Paint and drink wine with friends at ArtBar Tokyo

Located in Daikanyama, ArtBar Tokyo is all about drinking, snacking, chatting with friends, and making new ones all while also exploring your creative side. The venue hosts daily art classes where guests of all painting abilities can come along and learn from a painting master (in English or Japanese) and enjoy a nice glass of wine. If you don’t drink, or have kids, there are also special mommy and me classes on offer too. One class costs ¥5,000 including all materials, drinks and snacks and you get to take your masterpiece back home! During Golden Week you can try your hands on Pop Up Portraits (Apr 28), Monet’s Water Lillies (Apr 29), Koi Nobori for Children’s Day and more. Check the full schedule here.

7. Catch up on reading at a quiet book cafe 

Reading just for pleasure tends to be one of those things we put aside more often than we should. But there’s something exceptionally peaceful in finding a quiet book cafe, buying yourself a warm cup of hot latte and just getting lost in your book for hours — and long holidays are the perfect time for this! Use our guide to Tokyo’s best quiet book cafes, where you can spend hours doing nothing but reading. And if you’re a mom of a small baby you have to take along, these baby-friendly cafes are also peaceful and quiet — you’ll just need to make sure your little one falls asleep faster!

If you’re wondering what to read, here are a few recommendations: 

8. Explore light and futurism at teamLab Borderless

No doubt you’ve seen it on Instagram a million times already and chances are high that you’ve already been there, but if you haven’t, use this long holiday to finally go! Opened last June, enigmatic Japanese art collective teamLab has been wowing audiences with their immersive digital art exhibits at this very first permanent home to their art that is simply beyond impressive. TeamLab Borderless in Odaiba goes beyond anything the team has ever done before and it’s one of those places that you really need to see to believe. It might get a bit crowded over the holidays, so try booking as soon as you can!

9. Spend some time for yourself at a beauty salon 

New era, new look. Or whatever — you don’t really need a reason to treat yourself, but you need time, which you may not always have. Use this break to schedule that long needed visit to the hair salon, get your nails done, go to a spa, or get that wax done, finally! Use these Savvy-exclusive discounts for hair and beauty salons to get the best of both worlds — high-quality results at a good price! And if you’re currently expecting, here is also a list of our personally recommended maternity massages and treatments in Tokyo. Enjoy!

10. Spend a day at the newly opened Moominvalley Park in Saitama

The Moominvalley Park, Japan’s first theme park dedicated to Tove Jansson’s adorable characters, finally opened its doors this March at the Metsa facility in Saitama’s Hanno city and has been a popular place for both local and foreign tourists ever since. The park caters to all ages with multiple attractions and exhibitions perfect for a family outing, a day out with friends or date spot. An easy train ride from central Tokyo, it’s a great location full of adventures, cute food and a lot of open space, unlike most amusement parks in the capital. Find out all about Moominvalley Park here.

11. See a traditional performance at Kabuki Ginza

Another recommended cultural experience for this holiday is watching a kabuki show and there’s not really a better place to see it than Kabuki Ginza, the most elegant home to the nation’s traditional theater. During this Golden Week, the theater will be showing several shows for its May Matinee Program (from 11 a.m.) and Evening Program (from 4:30 p.m.) between May 3 and May 27. Shows include The Revenge of the Soga Brothers starring Nakamura Baishi and The Cranes Symbolizing Longevity with Nakamura Tokizo. Book tickets as early as you can — gladly, kabuki is still a popular pastime in Japan.

12. Get your J-drama and movie fix 

Last but not least, if you want to fully escape the crowds and the city and just curl up under your futon and enjoy doing nothing, then your best partner in crime is Netflix or Amazon Prime. Here is a list of our recommended Japanese dramas with English subtitles on Netflix as well as some reality shows and documentaries that will help you see many different sides of Japan (Rea(l)love is a must-see!!!). And, of course, there’s also KonMari, which will also inspire you to launch a massive clean up of your house — which may actually be a great thing!

And as to movies, we’ve got many favorites to recommend, but let’s start with those listed in the following articles: 

Have a wonderful Golden Week whatever you choose to do!