I’m going to put the TL;DR right here at the top of this article: you can’t really. Just grit your teeth and bear it as best you can.
Okay, back to actually talking about this.
Golden Week is a series of holidays in Japan and other Asian countries that fall very closely together, so often the government just writes off an entire week in spring as one big holiday and calls it a day. Generally this falls around the end of April/start of May, perfect weather for sightseeing.
And you and everybody else in Japan knows this.
Prices for transportation go up, shops put everything on sale, and everybody buckles down for the first big wave of sightseers for the year, especially in Kansai.
So! If you’re in a place that’s popular for tourism this Golden Week, here are some tips to help you survive it.
- Get out of town. Whether you’re staying with a friend in the countryside, visiting another country entirely, or just heading out on a day trip, this can make the difference in your sanity. If you live in a big city like Osaka, heading off to a small suburban area for the day or looking up smaller, not-as-famous temples and shrines to visit would be a good choice.
- Avoid all brand-name shops and cafes. You know the ones I’m talking about; the ones that you’ll see in every country, that often provide free wi-fi to those in need. While they are lovely and helpful to the weary traveler, that is exactly why you should avoid them or, at best, order anything you want to go. Finding seats in these places will be next to impossible unless you’ve already followed the advice of step number 1. Take Golden Week as your chance to branch out and find cafes and restaurants that you don’t normally check out. You might find somewhere new to become a regular at!
- Hide. While not recommended overly (see my point about the weather being awesome) this can really help you deal with the crazy crowds in town. Stay inside for a day; order delivery food, invite someone over, watch a movie, nap, whatever.
- Practice your murder face. This is also good for everyday use. In my experience, while people in Osaka and Kobe know how to walk, people in Kyoto do not. They never walk, they meander. Usually they pick up speed just enough to get in front of you, then spread out and refuse to let you pass while they walk as slowly as possible. Grr. Anyway, latent “sidewalk rage” aside, learn how to square your shoulders, duck your head, and scowl as if you’ve been denied coffee. While it might not affect the meanderers in front of you, it will make a difference in the ones coming from the other direction and they will get out of your way. Unless they are sightseers doing the same thing. Then, y’know.
- Get out early. If you have to go out, get out first thing in the morning. Yes, sleeping in is lovely, but if you want to get to wherever you’re going before everybody else does, enduring an early day can make the difference between enjoying your destination and wanting to kick other people in the shins.
- Try to get in the spirit of things. It’s a holiday; we’re all out to enjoy the weather, we’re all out to see things we don’t normally get to. Crowds will happen. Go to your brand name store, buy an overpriced snack or drink, meander along the streets with your earbuds in, and give the harried clerks at the stores a little patience.
My plans to handle this Golden Week are a mix of the above; I’m going out of town for a couple of daytrips, I’m hiding for one or two days, and I’m told my murder face is on point.
Good luck to everyone else in surviving (and hopefully enjoying) your Golden Week holiday!