April 29 – May 7, 2017
Golden Week is a series of Japanese holidays that occur close together from the end of April through the beginning of May. Many people take off an additional day or two so they have an entire week of vacation. In our orientation to Japan, we were warned this holiday week would cause horrible crowds and awful traffic everywhere. I was dreading this week last year as most Americans stay home, but staying at home is just not something we do well. Throughout our first year, I’d made a list of off the beaten path places for Will and I to visit, and we had a great time exploring and largely avoided any crowds (blog post from last year is linked below). I concluded that Golden Week was over-hyped as long as one avoids tourist destinations. This year I was a bit braver, and we explored further from home and more well known locations. I was also motivated by the glorious weather which was probably the best week of weather all year. I almost wonder if some of these Japanese holidays were purposely put in that week because both years have proved to be absolutely perfect for outdoor enjoyment.
April 29th is Showa Day and the official start to Golden Week. This marks the day that the post-war constitution went into effect. On Saturday, Will and I walked to a neighborhood park that was hosting a Friendship Day event with the nearby US military housing base. Will got to sit in the Japanese fire truck and make boats out of milk cartoons. There was live entertainment including music, drumming and acrobatics. Will mostly spent the afternoon running around with local children as well as American friends. He also got to run and play with his favorite babysitter Miss Eli.
Sunday, we had Will’s birthday party since we were in Okinawa on his actual birthday. I didn’t want to host a true party, so we had a get together with friends at Zushi Beach. I only brought cookies partially due to the logistics of training and walking to the beach as well as the fact that Will doesn’t really like cake. We also asked friends to not bring presents but a couple bought things that are fun at the beach like bubbles and sand toys. Will loved the Spider Man mask from Sloan, and my friend Suzanne was overly generous and bought him a boogie board. We had a great turnout as many of our friends came by at some point during the day. Will of course had a blast, and Mike and I had a good time socializing and having the drinks with friends on a beautiful beach day. The beach was busier than normal for the off season but by no means crowded.
Since many of Mike’s employees are Japanese, his command gave everyone a day off this week. When I learned that Mike had Monday off, I got Miss Eli to watch Will. Mike, our friend Shannon and I went up to Yokohama. We had lunch at a Thai restaurant then headed over to the Yokohama Fruhlings Beer Festival, an authentic German Beer Festival right in Yokohama. This was smaller than Yokohamas’s Oktoberfest but still had a lot of imported German beer, food and bands. A German friend that lives here also says this is a legit event. It was crowded but the lines were minimal mid-afternoon, and we were able to get a seat in the beer tent. I left early to get Will, but Mike and Shannon had more fun and stayed out later then they probably should’ve on a Monday night.
Tuesday was technically not a holiday so Will had school, and I chose to get some things done around the house and run errands. On Wednesday, we’d made plans with my friend Suzanne, her daughter Ava, and another friend Nadine. Suzanne wanted to start the day at one of her favorite parks in Tokyo, Showa Kinen Park, and then check out a Koinobori Festival. Since Wednesday was an actual holiday and the first day of three consecutive holidays, we did wonder if we were crazy to attempt this. Her GPS kept rerouting us through tiny little neighborhoods as we zigzaged through Yokohama up and into Tokyo. Suzanne is much braver than I, and she expertly navigated very narrow streets getting us to Tokyo in two hours but without really hitting any traffic. Parking was plentiful and the park was enormous so easily absorbed the crowds. The only exception were its magnificent playgrounds. They were so crowded you could barely see the structures under them. We lost Eva almost immediately, and I was grateful that Will had a Batman outfit on complete with a mask Suzanne had given him at their house that morning making him much easier to spot. Ava was wearing a Snow White costume but in between the slides, moon bounce, water play and climbing equipment it took awhile to find her. We fed the kids then decided to explore more of the park and avoid the chaos of the playground. After touring a Japanese garden, we found a second playground which was even cooler than the first and possibly more crowded. We let the kids play for a little but it was quite stressful keeping up with them because it was so busy. It really is a lovely park and we had a great time. There are multiple gardens, a lake with paddle boats, and a water play area (that will be open in summer). I would love to come back here on another day because this was a truly fabulous park with amazing playgrounds. Despite the limited time at the playground, we actually spent more time in the park then we intended probably because it is so large. It really is a place you could easily spend the whole day.
From there we headed back south to Sagimihara for their Koinobori Festival. Koinobori are carp-shaped wind flags that are the symbol for Children’s Day which is celebrated on May 5th (yes, as we always wished for as children there is such thing as Children’s Day). In the weeks leading up to Children’s Day, carp flags are hung at homes to represent the family and throughout town to remind us to celebrate children’s happiness, promote their health and respect their unique personalities. Sagimihara boasts 1200 kites flying high over the river. We walked down to the river, and the children immediately began throwing rocks into the water. They were having a ball until Ava accidentally nailed Will in the back of the head with a rock. He began wailing, and I could see a knot begin to form on his head. Luckily, he recovered sooner than expected. We didn’t realize that the festival was closing up by six, and many vendors began cleaning up a five. We raced back to the food booths to get something to eat before we were out of options. I don’t know if it was because we arrived late in the day but this small festival was sparsely attended. We also got lucky because traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared, and we only had to stop in a few places on the way home. All in all it was a really fun day.
Thursday morning, I’d planned our monthly kid friendly book club. The last time we tried doing it at someone’s house on a Japanese holiday, it was chaos because all the preschoolers were home from school. So this time we decided to do it at Umino Park, a local beach. We met at the beach, discussed the book and had a picnic while the kids played in the sand. My plan was to take Will to Sea Paradise, an aquarium, right by the park for the afternoon. I figured it would be crowded but since we have an annual membership it wouldn’t matter if we decided it was unpleasant and left. Unfortunately, Will was not minding well at the beach and after threatening him that if he couldn’t get his act together we would have to go home, he once again didn’t listen. So we both were punished by having to leave book club early and spend the day at home.
I have heard that Tokyo is a great place to go during Golden Week as most people leave the city (I do advise checking to see that what you want to visit will be open). Lindsay and her kids were staying up in Tokyo for a few days so we decided to meet them. The train was not crowded as we made our way to Tokyo and to a park by the New Sanno hotel where we found Lindsey. The children played then we slowly meandered our way over to Roppongi. We walked by a large firehouse and the kids were kindly invited to sit in the firetruck. Our destination was Tokyo Midtown to see their Koinobori display. Besides lots of kites, there was also a giant carp flag tent at least 30 feet long. The boys loved running through it and did so multiple times before playing the playground there. It was busy but probably not more so than any weekend day. It was an uneventful but successful and enjoyable outing with friends.
On Saturday, Will played with our neighbor Oki as it was a bit too windy to go to the beach which had been our plan. On Sunday, we decided to do a hike I’d learned about and is within walking distance of our house. It had been on my list for awhile but I finally gotten the necessary information to help us find the trailhead and had heard that the trail itself was better marked then it was a year ago. It took about 20 minutes from our house to the trailhead and hiked up about another hour to the top of Mount Fugo (I believe this is the name—all the signs were in Kanji). The trail was great, but I think the boys were more tired than we realized until we’d already begun the hike. Will is usually a great hiker but asked to be picked up about a third of the way on the trail and soon fell asleep on Mike’s back. He woke up at the top where we had a picnic and recharged. We should’ve opted to go back down the way we came. I hadn’t gotten clear directions and thought if we continued on the trail we would come out in a good spot in Hayama. We continued on the trail which suddenly got very narrow and very steep. We thought about turning back but didn’t want to go back up. After a while we could hear the sound of children so we knew we were near civilization. However, the trail was overgrown as we went under trees and through thick brush at times. Fortunately there were ropes in places as spots were very steep. Feeling drained, we descended into a park in Hayama, but it was over a 20 minute walk to the nearest bus station. Mike decided to just walk all the way home which google maps said would take about an hour. I decided Will and I would hop on the bus. Once we got to the bus stop, I discovered there wasn’t another one for over 20 minutes. I knew Sakurayama Park was another ten minutes away so we walked there. Will wanted to play at the playground but I was getting tired and not looking forward to walking him the rest of the way home. I convinced Mike to come pick us up so Will could play longer. Lucky for me he agreed, and we finished the weekend with buying a case of wine at our local grocery store’s Golden Week sale.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this year’s Golden Week.
I got to spend a lot of time with good friends and get out and have fun in Japan. I would recommend any of these outings for Golden Week with the exception of Showa Kinen Park. The park itself was fine and there was ample parking. However, it’s not a place that’s easy to train to and I can’t say recommend going the route we used to avoid traffic. I do highly recommend visiting this park at another time when you can really utilize the awesome playgrounds. In general, I would not plan a trip to visit Japan during this time period as I recommend avoiding the most notable sites, but for those that live here there is no reason not to get out and have some fun!
Helpful links and more photos below…
- What we did last year for Golden Week: Surviving Golden Week
- Golden Week at Showa Kinen Park Video: https://youtu.be/XDi8aUSs2J4
- Showa Kinen Park Info: http://www.showakinen-koen.jp/guide-english/schedule-english/
- Hiking trailhead (photo of sign to follow below): https://goo.gl/maps/jCCLjrsBiqu