Happy Thanksgiving to all… since I haven’t written an article in a while, and since it’s one of our major holidays here in the US, I figured I would offer you some insight as to Japan’s major travel holidays. Of course, with Japan being a relatively small country size-wise, there is a dramatic rush of travel during their major holiday periods. This yields the same kind of results that you’d expect to find during holiday travel rushes in the U.S.: congested highways, crowded buses and trains, and long check-in lines at the airport.
Here is a brief list of Japan’s three major holiday periods. During these periods, airlines, hotels and trains tend to be booked out well in advance, and some hotels – especially the traditional ryokan lodging – will increase their rates. If you do decide to visit Japan during one of these three time periods, then you must travel with patience… either book all of your transit ahead of schedule (for example, with a Rail Pass, try to make seat reservations as soon as possible), or consider staying within one major city cluster, such as Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, without moving to another location.
Then again, on the other hand, traveling during these periods also carries a sense of charm and pride for the Japanese… and you, if you feel so inclined to make the plunge to make the most of your travel during the Japanese holidays.
The first major holiday period is coming up rather quickly: New Year’s. On New Year’s Day, the Japanese greet the new year – and pray for it – by visiting shinto shrines and buddhist temples throughout the day. There can be notoriously long lines at some shrines and temples – among which include Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. The period from December 31st into January 1st is the only time during the entire year that local trains run all night. Granted, they are not at frequent intervals, but they are frequent enough to carry the Japanese people to their New Year’s engagements. And to cap it all off (or should I say, to begin it), it is believed that you will have good luck if you can stay up to watch the first sunrise of the New Year. A dramatic place to see the first sunrise is Mount Fuji… either on the ground facing Mount Fuji… or in the air. This year Japan Airlines is operating special charter flights from Tokyo for people who wish to see the first sunrise from up in the sky.
The second major holiday period is Golden Week, which is a week or so worth of several Japanese holidays that have been clustered together to form a nice, long vacation. Golden Week occurs from late April into early May.
The final major holiday period is the Obon, the time when people travel to to pay homage and tribute to their ancestors – the spirits of which are believed to pay visits to the Japanese. In most parts of Japan, Obon occurs during August 13-15 and surrounding days. However, some Japanese interpret the solar calendar instead of the lunar calendar, and celebrate Obon from July 13-15 and surrounding days.
New Year’s, Golden Week, and Obon. Three times of the year to avoid, if you want to avoid overcrowding on transit and if you want to avoid paying higher fees for lodging. Then again, if you’re willing to “plunge forward” (a famous Wikitravel phrase) and experience more of the Japanese culture, then do so. Perhaps you’ll be able to appreciate Japan in ways you wouldn’t expect at other times of the year.