Another year, another Golden Week come and gone. It always feels like it’s over in a blink, doesn’t it? Whether you spent your Golden Week relaxing, putting in extra time at work, or going on wild adventures, I hope you enjoyed yours to the fullest.
I’d like to share two adventures I had this year– a roadtrip to Fukui, and a bouldering karaoke room!
The 29th 0f April to the 5th of May was my Golden Week this year. I opted to stay in town for the majority of it this time and enjoy the weather–it was gorgeous, going up into the 70s most days, and it was only rainy once! However, I did take a couple of day trips to get out of the city.
My first stop was a place called Amanohashidate (天橋立）, a place up along the Tango Peninsula of Kyoto Prefecture. It takes about 2 to 2.5 hours by bus or train from Kyoto Station.
Despite going up there on a holiday, I was pleasantly surprised to discover very few people were there! I was able to take my time wandering around. You arrive on one end of the land bridge shown above. The walk along it takes about an hour if you stop for pictures, longer if you decide to have a picnic (like I did). On either side of it, you can go up the mountain via cable car or chair lift (or I guess by hiking if you’re into that) to get a better view of the area.
Like many places in Japan, Amanohashidate has souvenir foods and drinks available in their shops available to try. In this case, they offer kuromame (黒豆） or Japanese black bean goods, including… tea. Yeah I will admit I passed on that one. I still think some fruit teas are strange, so can you blame me?
The one odd thing about the whole experience was while riding the chair lifts up one of the mountains. My friends and I were sitting back, enjoying the slow ascent to the top of the mountain, when we realized that the bird chirping we were hearing sounded… repetitive. And very regular. Yes, for whatever reason the local tourist companies had opted to include artificial bird chirps for our chair lift experience.
I will offer a word of advice to those of you who opt to go to Amanohashidate on a hot day and notice the lovely little beaches on the land bridge or around it–yes, it’s beautiful, and yes, you will want to stick your feet in the water. I beg you not to because Here There Be Jellyfish, and they will sting you.
Moving on from that, my next big adventure was something that I’ve been waiting to do for several years: visit Himeji Castle (姫路城) in Hyogo Prefecture.
I arrived in Japan to work at my current job shortly after the castle renovations went underway, and while it was available to visit during that time, some parts of it were off-limits to visitors. I told myself that I would wait to see if I could go when everything was complete. This was the year, and so I kidnapped a friend and off we went to have a look at it.
The outside was impressive in the bright sunlight, and I was told that the appearance is very different from before–the roof tiles were once black, and the castle is now that much lighter in appearance for the renovations.
Now, unlike Amanohashidate, there were indeed crowds to endure for the castle, but we were herded along at a fairly reasonable pace. One downside of Himeji was that while the outside was impressive, the inside was pretty empty. I thought it could use some exhibits, but the most we saw were some signs and a few posters put up that suggested we download an app on our phones to use around the castle that would explain what we were looking at. If anyone goes and tries this app, let me know if it’s any good–we didn’t think it would be worth it.
Now, what was worth it?
The Himeji castle gardens.
The castle itself costs about 1,000 yen to enter; if you opt to pay an additional 40 yen, you also get access to the nearby gardens. They were much less busy, much more green, and there were lots of neat flora to look at. Some fauna, as well, including a duck that kept hiding his face whenever my friend tried to take a picture of him.
Was it worth the wait? I think so. I got to see the castle and gardens in their entirety on a gorgeous day, after all. One word of advice though: do not expect garbage bins anywhere. Not even on the streets leading up to the castle. My friend and I both got bento lunch boxes to-go and had an awful time trying to get rid of them after we’d eaten!
The final “big” thing I did during my Golden Week was to see wisteria flowers in the botanical gardens, but I think that’s worth another post on its own, especially if you’re a flower fan.
If you had a Golden Week, how did you spend it? If you didn’t, how would you spend it?
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!