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What is Golden Week?

By Sydney Seekford
Updated: February 27, 2024

Have you ever heard of Japan’s Golden Week? Also called Ogon Shukan, Golden Week refers to the special time of year when we all get off work and have a minute to relax over the holidays.

Thought I was talking about the New Year's holiday? Try again!

While the New Year's period sees many Tokyoites heading back to the hills to spend time with family, Golden Week’s four national holidays are the most popular time of year for company workers to go for a real vacation. Hotels, airlines, and transportation become difficult to book, and tourist areas are notoriously crowded this time of year, but what’s all the excitement about?

When is Golden Week in Japan?

Golden Week in Japan occurs at the very end of April and into the first week of May:

  • April 29: Showa Day (Showa no hi)
  • May 3: Constitution Day (Kenpo kinenbi)
  • May 4: Greenery Day (Midori no hi)
  • May 5: Children's Day (Kodomo no hi)

Some companies may give their employees vacation days in between, too, but many Japanese people will also choose to take their assigned vacation days during this time.

When any of these holidays fall on a Sunday, by law, observance jumps to the following Monday. For 2024, this means that Children’s Day will be observed on May 6th, extending the holiday for an extra 24 hours (yay!). 

How was Golden Week invented?

In July 1948, the Japanese Government declared nine official annual holidays. It just happened to be that some of these clustered around the end of April and the beginning of May. Days off work encouraged leisure activities, and brands hopped on right away promoting tourism and entertainment.

In the modern-day, “corporate” or “consumer” holidays aren’t much of a rarity. Take, for example, Black Friday, which is named for the profits raked in as consumers make the most of limited-edition offers to treat themselves or get their Christmas gifts sorted. Golden Week got its name in the same way!

For Japan, it was the broadcast industry that gave Golden Week its current moniker. The successive week of holidays is named after the Japanese equivalent of prime time. Called “golden hour,” citizens tuned into the radio and drove up listenership. In 1951, movie audiences during the first week of May surpassed even New Year's or Obon levels, leading Daiei films to call this time of year the “Golden Week,” echoing the radio term.

Funnily enough, we celebrate Black Friday in Japan now, too!

What holidays make up Golden Week?

April 29: Showa Day (Showa no Hi)

A Japanese flag flapping in the wind on Showa Day.

The term “Showa” brings to mind city pop, retro-anime, and Japan’s bubble economy. Showa Day was first celebrated on April 29 to commemorate Emperor Showa’s birthday, a holiday which shifts depending on who the emperor is. Emperor Showa had such a long-lasting effect on the transformation of Japan that we decided to memorialize him with a permanent holiday, as well.

After Emperor Showa’s death in 1989, April 29 became Greenery Day, instead, so as to not disrupt the original holiday pattern. The date was then shifted back again to April 29 in 2007 as a memorial day, and Greenery Day was permanently added to the calendar on May 4.

The pattern follows as such: Emperor’s Birthday > Greenery Day > Memorial Day.

However, through all these transitions, April 29 marked the first day of Golden Week.

May 3: Constitution Day (Kenpo Kinenbi)

People celebrating and bringing their beers together to cheers.

Constitution Day marks the date that Japan’s Post-WWII constitution came into law in 1947. Sometimes called the “Peace Constitution,” this document was drafted after Japan’s surrender to reformat its ruling system in the tradition of Western governance. The Emperor’s influence was reduced to figurehead status, and policies emphasizing personal liberties and pacifism came to characterize this new system.

Originally, the observation of Constitution Day was proposed for November 3, which was already a holiday and coincided with the emperor’s official recognition of the document. Fortunately, however, it was instead determined that May 3 should be the recognized date and we all got an extra holiday on the calendar.

Constitution Day is a government holiday, meaning that services such as banks and administrative offices are more affected than daily life. That said, some facilities that are usually closed off to guests offer tours or special seminars on this day. The National Diet Building in Chiyoda opens its doors for walking tours on May 3, and it’s common to see newspapers running topical articles. 

May 4: Greenery Day (Midori no Hi)

Hands holding a heart made of moss.

You can probably tell that Emperor Showa is one of the main figures of Golden Week. His love of nature and gardens is said to have inspired the establishment of Greenery Day, which is a day when botanical gardens, zoos, and aquariums offer free entry and families spend time out in nature. 

Visitors to Tokyo now have an excuse to explore the Tama zoological museums and research forest, visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Medicinal Botanical Garden, or just hang out around one of the city’s great parks.

Further afield, foodies love Kobe’s Nunobiki Herb Garden, which is complemented by stunning waterfall and ropeway views. The Toyama Tulip Festival usually wraps up the last few days of blooms just in time for Midori no Hi, making Golden Week a perfect opportunity to visit Hokuriku as they welcome some warmer weather. 

An hour south of the Tulips, travelers will find Kenrokuen in Kanazawa (aptly, Japan’s City of Gold), one of the country's three great gardens. The other two are Kairakuen in Mito, Ibaraki, and Korakuen in Okayama.

Of course, there’s always the option of celebrating Greenery Day literally, with a seasonal Japanese tea ceremony and some bright green matcha.

May 5: Children’s Day (Kodomo no Hi)

Carp streamers against a blue sky on Children's Day.

Children’s Day, as May 5 was designated in 1948, is actually a holdover from the lunisolar calendar’s gosekku (five annual ceremonies that used to be held at the Japanese imperial court) and marks a traditional holiday called Tango no Sekku. Its counterpart, Hina Matsuri (Girl’s Day) is celebrated on March 3.

Children’s Day, the national holiday, extends to all kids, but the traditional Tango no Sekku festivities were reserved for boys, specifically young would-be samurai. The foods and practices enjoyed on Children’s Day still reflect the cultural history of Tango no Sekku as it was in the Kamakura period (although some records state it has been celebrated since the Nara period!).

In Kanto, families eat kashiwa mochi, simple red-bean daifuku wrapped in oak leaves (don’t eat the oak leaf) that is said to bring good fortune in succession. In Kansai, chimaki (sticky rice steamed in bamboo leaves) is more common, a holdover from the ceremonial Chinese dish, Zong Zi.

Carp streamers are an iconic Children’s Day sight outside of homes and out in fields. These flags represent the vigor of young carp swimming upstream, but the Kodomo no Hi menu also features some lucky fish. Like most celebratory occasions, there’s the auspicious red of tai and shrimp dishes. Eating fish whose name changes as they grow, like buri/hamachi, and bamboo shoots guarantees a successful future for growing boys. Finally, there’s katsuo, the fish used to make dashi and dancing, ephemeral katsuobushi, whose name sounds like “winning man.”

How to maximize your time in Japan during Golden Week

  • Reserve early — since many Japanese people will also be vacationing, this isn’t the time of year to pop your head into a popular ramen shop and expect to get a seat. Reserve trains, lodging, and restaurants as early as possible.
  • Explore off-the-beaten-track areas — Golden Week is the perfect time of year to explore on foot or in a rental car that can grant easy access to less trafficked areas. You’re far more likely to discover something special and secret if you’re willing to venture off the map and go for a stroll.
  • Get comfortable in crowds — if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! One great aspect of the Golden Week rush is that it suddenly becomes pretty easy to scope out the best restaurants and experiences without relying on a guide. Odds are good that you’ll find something worthwhile anywhere you see a line of Japanese folks out the door, as long as you’re prepared to wait.

With the general festive atmosphere, Golden Week gives visitors a chance to experience neighborhood-level holidays, complete with ramune vendors selling out of coolers and locals hanging out in grimy — but authentic — izakaya. If you feel brave, there’s no better time to build some connections than over a beer and some yakitori during Golden Week.

What is Golden Week? FAQs

What is Golden Week in Japan?

Golden Week is a series of four holidays closely spaced together and observed at the end of April and beginning of May in Japan. The four holidays are Showa Day (April 29), Constitution Day (May 3), Greenery Day (May 4), and Children's Day (May 5).

Are places closed during Golden Week in Japan?

Shops, restaurants and sightseeing attractions are usually open during Golden Week, but supermarkets, post offices, and banks or ATMs are often closed during this time. It’s always best to plan ahead for Golden Week, from reservations to checking opening times for anywhere you want to visit.

Is Golden Week busy in Japan?

Golden Week is by far the busiest time to visit Japan, which is why many people recommend avoiding this time if you’re planning a trip. Sightseeing spots and restaurants are likely to be busier than usual, and travel prices may also increase due to demand.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Sydney Seekford
Sydney fell in love with lesser-known Japan after seeing Ferris wheels sticking out of the landscape while her bullet train flew by. Since that time, this farming-fashionista has been cultivating vegetables and community in the mountains of Ishikawa. Her dream is to support tourism in inaka Japan by bringing regional rarities to the world and highlighting local businesses.
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