Japan has a total of 16 national holidays a year. There are three major holiday seasons where clusters of those national holidays land within a seven-day period of each other. This means transportation will be packed with people traveling all over Japan and abroad. The goal is to avoid traveling on the heavy days and reserve your hotels well in advance. Because not only are inbound foreign tourists traveling, Japanese locals will be in the mix of travelers.
Golden Week is comprised of 4 national holidays within a seven-day period starting at the end of April. Showa Day is on April 29th and honors Emperor Showa also known as Hirohito. Then from May 3rd to 5th are national holidays, which are Constitution Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day. The peak travel times are usually May 3rd with people leaving major urban areas and May 5th or 6th returning back to the city. Around this time many hotels would have higher rates or would be fully booked. It is best to plan ahead and reserve your hotels way in advance if your travel dates land around these days.
Obon is a time to honor your ancestors and is annually held in mid-August. From August 13th to 15th Obon is observed and many Japanese people make their way back to their family home. This tradition stems from Buddhist customs. At this time people visit their family graves to clean them. Usually the travel season for Obon lasts from August 11th to 19th. Even though the 13th to 15th are not listed as public holidays, companies allow their employees to take time off for this occasion. Festivals and the Bon Odori (Bon Dance) are also held during this time, which adds to the amount of people traveling.
New Year’s in Japan is a time for many traditions. The culture is that from December 29th to January 3rd many businesses will be closed. It is around this time that people start returning to their hometowns to celebrate the coming new year. The first three days in January are busy with people doing their Hatsumode or first shrine visit of the year. At some of the more popular shrines and temples, there would be long queues of people waiting to make their first visit. During this time, it is advisable to not go to those establishments unless you are willing to wait. Also keep an eye out for updated schedules for buses and trains, which have the holiday timetables. All banks will be closed from December 31st to January 3rd so be sure to have enough cash to last you.
Silver Week does not happen every year, but every 5 or 6 years. It is when Respect for the Aged, Autumnal Equinox, and Citizen’s Holiday land consecutively. Respect for the Aged Day is held on the 3rd Monday of September and the Autumnal Equinox in on the 23rd. Citizen’s Holiday comes from Japanese law that gives an extra day off if there is a normal day in between two public holidays. Silver Week occurs when you get September 21st to 23rd off. It is best to pay attention to when these holidays align properly.