Golden Week - that period of many holidays in Japan - is upon us! For some, the long holiday period started on April 29 (Tuesday) and will stretch through Sunday, May 11. A "hearty" few even took April 28th off, giving them 16 days of vacation time with only 7 days of actual vacation days used. Many companies close for part of Golden Week and many for the whole period.
Ask your Japanese friends what the actual holidays are though and chances are many of them won't be able to tell you. They just know that there are four holiday during this period. The actual holidays are:
April 29th - Showa Day
Birthday of the former Emperor.
May 3rd - Constitution Day (Kenpo Kinenbi)
Japan's new post war constitution was put into effect on this day in 1947.
May 4th - Greenery Day (Midori no hi)
Japan has a few of these holidays that are supposedly dedicated to nature (including Umi no hi - ocean day and a new one that will start in 2015 in August, Yama no hi - mountain day).
May 5th - Children's Day (Kodomo no hi)
To honor the children and hope for their health and future success.
This year May 6th is also a holiday since two of the above days fall on a weekend.
It used to be that Tokyo was deserted during GW, but these days the shops are open, trains are still busy, and many people are out and about enjoying the spring weather. Still, traffic is lighter and people are in a holiday mood, so it's a good time to be here in the Big Mikan (as Tokyo is sometimes known).
Traveling around Japan is not quite as much fun during GW. Trains are crowded, tourist spots are jammed, the roads incur massive traffic jams (I've seen jams that are over 30 miles long), and the hotels and onsen (hot springs) increase their prices, assuming you can even get a reservation. Traveling to and from Japan is just as bad. The news reports this year - as every year - tell us of the massive crowds at the airports and on the Shinkansen. And, of course, air fares are usually higher than normal.
So, if you do come to Japan during this period expect nice spring weather, crowds wherever you go, and watch for the festivals around the shrines with their food stalls that will give you a chance to try some of Japan's stall foods like yakisoba (fried noodles), tako-yaki (baked balls of dough with octopus bits), chocolate covered bananas, crepes, grilled sausages, and much more. Spend some time hanging out in Harajuku (see Meiji Shrine) and Yoyogi Park (food stalls, young people in interesting costumes), Shibuya, the Ginza (shop till you drop), or jump on the Chuo or Inokashira train lines and head to Kichijoji and it's great park, Inokashira-koen.
No matter how you enjoy your time in Tokyo have a great Golden Week.