Japan is booked up on golden week and prices skyrocket. Trains and highways are hopelessly busy. Attractions, shopping and restaurants are crowded (with potentially long lines).
There are ways to beat the crowds and high prices of golden week. There's also a good argument for joining the crowds. A few ideas to help you plan your week.
1. International travelInternational travel from Narita and other major Japanese airports isn't as busy as you might expect on golden week. Prices to popular, short range destinations rise significantly (e.g. Korea, Guam, Saipan, Hawaii). Long range destinations (e.g. New York, Rio de Janeiro) rise less dramatically (as a rule of thumb).
2. Take the trainTrains are busy during golden week but they tend to run on schedule. Highways are hopelessly busy and major traffic jams are common. Day trips are an economical option.
3. Golden week eventsGolden week is filled with events and festivals. Most areas have something going on. In Tokyo, check out the Spring Grand Festival at Meiji Shrine.
4 Organize a BBQBBQ parties are Japan's favorite fair weather party (after hanami). It can be difficult to organize parties on golden week when everyone has plans. However, your friends who stay in town will be grateful you organized something.
5. Geek outEveryone feels like they have to accomplish something on golden week. Sometimes it's just more fun to geek out — play that video game you've heard so much about (and waste the week away).
6. Go to the beachCold weather surfers are out in force for golden week (full wetsuit required). For the less adventurous — clam digging on the beach is recommended (it's a favorite GW past time in Japan).
7. NightlifePeople generally feel like having fun on golden week. Bars and clubs are busy.
8. OnsenWhen in Japan do as the Japanese. The majority of domestic travelers head to onsen destinations for golden week. Ryokan and hotels with onsen are the first accommodations booked up. Consider a day trip to onsen towns such as Hakone or Atami. Otherwise, you can always check out your local sento.
9. See a movieThe name "golden week" was coined by a Japanese movie industry executive — it's the busiest time of the year at Japanese movie theaters. If you're interested in Japanese movies — blockbusters are often released this week.
10. Take a classJapanese language skills not where they should be? Always wanted to learn a Japanese martial art? Most private schools are open on golden week.
11. Go skiing or snowboardingMany Japanese ski resorts manage to say open for golden week. The snow is obviously wet (slush) this time of year but the weather is great. Gassan (Yamagata prefecture) gets so much snow that it's not open in winter (inaccessible). Their season starts in April and runs as late as July.
12. Visit a love hotelWith conventional lodgings booked up — it's the perfect time to try a love hotel. Be aware that love hotels are also busy on golden week in many areas.
13. Go to the parkGolden week is timed with some of Japan's best weather. It's a great time for a walk in the park or a picnic.
14. Visit familyThere isn't much of a tradition of visiting family during golden week. This is reserved for the obon summer holiday. However, it's a good time of year for foreign residents of Japan to return home. If you have family in Japan — all the better. Golden week weather is often perfect for family outings.
15. Temples and ShrinesFamous temples and shrines are busy on golden week. With 85,994 temples in Japan — there are many hidden gems to be found.
16. Go to a ConcertConcert halls big and small have packed schedules on golden week.
17. Urban ExploringGrab your camera and get on your mama chari — explore your town.
18. Family DaysIt's a custom in Japan for attractions to offer free admission during golden week (or for one day during golden week). These events are usually called "family days". For example, Ueno Zoo in Tokyo has a free day. As the name suggests, these days are popular with families with children.
19. Children's FestivalMost of the golden week holidays are government holidays that people don't celebrate (e.g. Constitution Day). The exception is Kodomo no Hi (Children's Day on May 5th). If you have kids you should celebrate it.
20. Follow the crowdsMost locals who stay in town do one of three things: visit attractions (e.g. theme parks), dine with friends or go shopping. If you don't mind crowds and waiting in line — join them. Department stores hold special events to attract crowds (such as travel themed festivals for those who couldn't join the travel craze).