Golden Week In Tokyo: 10 Things To Do If You’re Stuck In The City
A Guide To A Well Planned Holiday
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, the first part of Golden Week starts on April 28 through April 30, and the second takes place from May 3 through May 6. If you’re lucky, taking May 1 and 2 off will grant you a full nine days off.
However, since this is one of the longest holidays in Japan, the golden routes get overpacked, traffic is horrendous from Tokyo toward central Japan, and hotels, plane tickets and train fees skyrocket to cash in on the travel frenzy. Staying in Tokyo, therefore, could be a wise decision. The good 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.
1. Buy ‘Grutto Pass’ and tour Tokyo’s top museums
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 (until the end of January 2019) is a great deal which offers you free or discounted access to 92 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.
For recommendations on Tokyo’s best museums, see the following articles:
- 10 Essential Museums To Visit In Tokyo
- A Guide To Tokyo’s Top Historical Museums
- 4 Reasons to Visit The Hokusai Museum In Tokyo
- Tokyo’s Best Photography Museums and Galleries
2. Learn something new at a cultural class
If you have an interest in Japanese culture or are just on the lookout for a way to pick up a few new skills and maybe make a few new friends, it’s worth considering signing up for an extracurricular educational class or two. This article guides you through some of Tokyo’s currently hottest classes, from Noh to weaving and candy making, while this goes into the more traditional ones, from ikebana to pottery. If you’re into cooking, this page has all the info on English-friendly classes in the capital.
3. Embrace the art of ‘Forest Bathing’
Shinrin-yoku, which literally translates to ‘forest bath,’ is the Japanese practice of ‘bathing’ oneself in nature with the intention of receiving therapeutic benefits. In other words, taking a few hours out of your busy life, heading to a densely forested area and letting the trees do the rest. 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!
4. Walk on a floral carpet at the Chichibu Shibazakura Festival
Head to Hitsujiyama Park in Chichibu for an alternative, yet equally mesmerizing hanami experience: shibazakura, or moss phlox. The annual Chichibu Shibazakura Festival features some 400,000 fully bloomed moss phlox arranged in various shapes and swirls that stretch over four acres of the Shibazakura Hill in Saitama, creating a scene right out of a painting. The festival runs until May 6 this year and while it gets a little crowded, 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.
5. Get your Zen fix at temple yoga
Tokyo is full of creative gyms and sports events to keep you mentally and physically in shape but nothing we’ve experienced so far is as relaxing as a quick yoga session at a centuries-old temple. No need to go all the way to Kyoto for this — Gohyaku-Rakan Temple in Meguro offers an hour-long temple yoga session on some Wednesdays and Saturdays and anyone is welcome there even if they lack the Nihongo. During this Golden Week, you can drop by on Apr 28, May 2 and May 5. See details here. If you’re wondering what’s it like, see our resident fitness wonder woman Maxine’s experience here.
6. 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 (see our recommendations here). 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 an early morning.
7. Step back in time in Sawara© Photo by JNTO
A trip to the small town of Sawara in Chiba Prefecture will have you transported back to an era of Edo-style elegance and prosperity. Located about an hour and a half from central Tokyo by train or car, Sawara is a beautiful place that still remains a secret to many tourists. Enjoy a full day of peace and quiet as you ride a boat along its famous canal, shop for nostalgic goods and tour the area’s local shrines. Find out more about the city here.
8. Catch up on reading at a quiet book cafe
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 one our recommended quiet book cafes.
For a list of recommended books on Japan, see the following articles:
9. Explore Yokohama
Take Kobe’s splendid port lights, Tokyo’s stylish shopping complexes, Osaka’s nonchalance and Hakodate’s mix of tradition and modernity, stir it all together in a spacious pot, sprinkle in some sea breeze and you’ll get a city that has it all — Yokohama. While the area gets enough tourists, it is large enough to give you space to explore and relax. This article lists the top must-see spots in the area. While there, also stop by at the latest shopping complex Marine & Walk, which also offers yoga and other cool events open to the public.
10. Get your J-drama fix on Netflix
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. Here is a list of our recommended Japanese dramas that are currently available and popular on Netflix. Now, grab some popcorn, switch off your phone and go into a state of Netflix hibernation.
*This article was first published in April 2017 and updated in April 2018.