Golden Week ゴールデンウィーク
Golden Week is Japan's main holiday period, made up of four closely placed national holidays, starting on April 29 and lasting a week to 10 days, depending on which days the dates fall on.
Golden Week is the longest period most Japanese get off work, so transport and entertainment facilities are swamped with millions of travelers and visitors, and airfares and accommodation prices are at their highest.
The Four Golden Week Holidays
The four national holidays that form Golden Week are Showa Day (April 29), Constitution Day (May 3), Green Day (May 4), and Children's Day (May 5).
Although there is a 3-day gap between Showa Day (April 29) and Constitution Day (May 3), the vast majority of companies close during that time and let their (full-time) employees take those gap days off as well.
Depending on what days the dates fall on, this can mean an uninterrupted holiday period of at least seven days, or, if the dates fall on optimal days, up to 10 days.
History of Golden Week
The term "Golden Week" originated in the era of the silver screen, in 1951, just before TV came to Japan and movies were still the main entertainment. The string of April/May national holidays that make up Golden Week had been established by law just three years before, in 1948. In 1951, Daiei Films' hit movie, Jiyu Gakko ("School of Freedom") saw better box office results in the first week of May than even at New Year or O-Bon: an industry first. Daiei Films' president took the phrase "golden time," used for peak radio listener times, and coined the phrase "Golden Week" to describe this new peak consumption period of the year.
Golden Week 2018
Golden Week 2018 allows workers 9 consecutive days off. April 29 (Showa Day) is a Sunday and May 5 (Children's Day) a Saturday, meaning a break from Saturday April 28 to Sunday May 6.
Golden Week 2019
Japanese workers are in luck in 2019 because although May 5 (Children's Day) falls on a Sunday, it is effectively on Monday, as, by law, a national holiday falling on Sunday is compensated for by making Monday a holiday (called the furikae kyujitsu or "compensatory holiday" system). April 29 (Showa Day) also falls on a Monday, meaning the full Monday-to-Monday 8-day period is supplemented at the start by the Saturday and Sunday of April 27 & 28, for the Golden Week jackpot of a full 10 days.
Travel During Golden Week
The extreme congestion of transportation and entertainment facilities, and the peaktime prices charged by hotels and rental car companies make Japan a very crowded, expensive and hard-to-book place for Golden Week.
The peak of the cherry blossom season is in late April and early March, one month before Golden Week. The rainy season - or tsuyu starts about a month after Golden Week, in early June, and lasts till mid-July. Therefore, timing a spring visit to coincide with the cherry blossom season, or visiting just after Golden Week ends, is advisable.
However, if you do find yourself in Japan during Golden Week, one sight you can look forward to is the colorful carp streamers (koinobori) flying from bamboo poles: a traditional decoration for the final holiday of the week, Children's Day.