The Nightmare of Travel in Japan during Golden Week

TokyoGaijin enjoying some time with his lifelike robot boomeroid

This Golden Week is one to remember. Not just because it’s the changing of Emperors (a once in a lifetime event). Not just because it’s a change in eras from Heisei to Reiwa (again, a once in a lifetime event). Well… probably because of these events, and this becoming the longest Golden Week in modern history (usually 5 days but artificially inflated to around 10 days because of the aforementioned events), GW2019 is bound to set an all-time record in tourism. For the first time since the Great Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in March of 2011, Japanese domestic tourism is geared to blast all kinds of record numbers and boost this country’s ailing economy. I hope, personally, so much that we can avoid jacking up sales tax to the horrific 10% range.

What does this mean for you, outside of Japan, who have no plans to come here anyway? Well, pretty much nothing, but an interesting story if you’re into Japan and want to know what life is like here. If you were planning to come to Japan during Golden Week, good luck. You’ll have a blast but you’ll be experiencing everything Japan has to offer at a 200% inflated price range.

For example, a normal room for one at an APA Hotel in some part of Tokyo outside of Shinjuku or Shibuya will cost you around JPY 4,500 (around $40-45 US) a night, on a normal day. Pick any day outside of Golden Week and that’ll be the average price. It won’t include any meals, and your room will be no larger than a jail cell with a single bed, a 60-plus inch 4K TV, a small desk for your portable workstation, just enough room to navigate around, and a full sized bathroom and shower combo. Great for a single person on business, as APA Hotel chains are known as premiere business hotels.

That same room, with no meals, will cost you a good JPY 35,000 (About $350) a night. Want a meal? JPY 50,000 range ($500).

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, good luck trying to get a room. Golden Week reservations are usually booked out a year in advance at most major hotels. Not just the aforementioned APA Hotel chains, but if you’re looking for a Hilton, Hyatt, ANA, Shangri La, or any other four-to-five-star hotels with room prices in the thousands of US dollars a night during GW, good luck to you.

Penguins come out to play at Yokohama’s Sea Paradise Theme Park in Hakkeijima, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

One day during this year’s extremely busy Golden Week (having 10 days off from work (paid, thank you, company)), I decided to deactivate the PassionBot for the day and take the flesh and blood family out to Sea Paradise Theme Park in Yokohama (kind of like Sea World in the states, but…. well, actually, it IS pretty much Sea World, sans Shamoo). My number one complaint about the whole experience: the only animals I could find were the backs of foreigners, covered (literally) wall-to-wall, end to end. To give you an idea of how many people were crammed into this thing: my son decided to drag us to the stadium for the dolphin show (great idea on his part). We went in, 30 minutes before, and already, the stadium was half full. We were able to find some good seats, and the moment we sat down, the stadium filled up. The 3pm show started on time, but it was standing room only, plus thousands on either side of the stadium who were unlucky enough to not be able to get a seat, completely full.

Other than that, navigating the various exhibits in the aquarium was a nightmare. For a family of four, it was impossible to move about. I had to cause many international incidents (and probably started war with India and China, mostly, and I’m not being discriminatory in saying that, I promise you) just to be able to move forward one single meter. It was so bad, I thought someone was taking revenge against me by kicking the back of my son’s stroller. They weren’t – they were being pushed into it.

Did I mention the $80 price tag to get in? ($30/adult x 2, $20 for my oldest in 1st grade, my 7 month-old was free).

It was a nightmare to get through, but we did. In the end, we had a great time… after leaving the park and going into Chinatown for dinner. We were lured into a corner Chinese restaurant where the staff was very good and the food was excellent. Easily blew $70 on a full feast which included shrimp chili over chips, dan dan noodles, wanton ramen, 2 orders of soup dumplings, steamed and fried potstickers, along with 4 rolls of authentic Peking Duck. We walked away with bellies full and relieved of a frustrating day which should have been awesome.

It wasn’t and I felt bad for my oldest, because he really wanted to have a good time. He felt my frustration and his mother’s, so we made the most of it for his sake.

What is the point and moral to this story?

Avoid Japan, at all costs, if you plan on coming here for Golden Week. There’ll be a line out the door… to leave your hotel! If you insist, the best places to go will be center city Tokyo, because everyone who lives and works there will be elsewhere vacationing. Just don’t try to leave town – you’ll feel the wrath of traveling Japanese, everywhere, who are attempting to do the exact same thing.

But by all means, come to Japan and experience this awesome country, first hand!

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