Golden week is the longest public holiday in Japan (April 28 to May 6, 2018), and many residents make a trip abroad, or to a tourist area like Kyoto over the break. Trains and airports can be crowded, and the traffic into any area worth a visit is going to be heavy at best, standstill at worst. Need a hotel? If you have not booked well in advance you are probably not going to get one during Golden Week.
To sum up, it seems like everyone goes somewhere over Golden Week, but if you are not interested or able to leave Nagoya, there are still a wide variety of activities to keep yourself entertained during the Golden Week Holiday period.
Showa Day, April 29 (Sun)
Originally Emperor’s Day, until the death of Emperor Hirohito, Showa Day (named after Hirohito’s posthumous title) kicks off the week long vacation. This is the perfect time to visit Atsuta Jingu, one of Japan’s three most important shrines.
Some 1,900 years ago the legendary sword, ‘Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi’, with which the god Susanoo slayed an eight-headed serpent, was enshrined as one of the three items of the Imperial Regalia of Japan at Atsuta-jingu. Unfortunately only the Emperor and a few select priests are permitted access to these fabled treasures, so you cannot see the sword itself, but set within sun-dappled cedar groves there are still many reasons to visit this magnificent shrine.
Where: 1 Chome-1-1 Jingū, Atsuta-ku (map)
In the evening, as it is Showa Day, I recommend that you try out Hanbey, a Showa era-themed restaurant in the Nagoya Station area. With the walls festooned with movie paraphernalia from the time, and 1960s ‘enka’ music blasting out overhead, it’s difficult not to think that you have been swept back in time. The food isn’t wonderful, but it is cheap, lively and a whole load of fun. Be sure to ask for the English menu. The translations are so hilarious that it’s difficult to believe that it’s not done with a tongue firmly wedged in a Showa cheek.
Where: Meieki Gourmet Plaza 4F, Meieki 3 Chome 15-18, Nakamura-ku (map)
Constitutional Memorial Day, May 3 (Thu)
Constitutional Memorial Day is a day which is set aside to recognize the coming into effect of the current Japanese constitution on this day in 1947. This would be a good opportunity to head to the historical seat of Aichi power, Nagoya Castle.
the construction of Nagoya-jo as a replacement to the Yanagi-no-maru castle began under the orders of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1610. It’s location along the Tokaido road was of such high importance to both protect trade and resist any potential attacks rising from Osaka, that it is rumoured that the castle’s chief architect Nakai Masakiyo was killed to ensure he would not relinquish any of the castle’s security secrets.
Unfortunately the building, along with the famous Kinshachi, or golden dolphins (ironically intended as a talisman to prevent fires), was razed to the ground by an American air raid on May 14, 1945, but it was reconstructed in concrete in the late 1950s. Now, for ¥500, you can join the 10,000 daily visitors to the castle and wander the grounds, inspect the museum housed within the reconstructed building or overlook the cityscape from a viewing deck.
All through Golden Week the castle will see special events, including performances of Samurai, traditional archery and staged battles.
Where: 1-1 Honmaru, Naka Ward (map)
If you want to see where real power came from, hop on a Meitetsu train and head for Okazaki Castle. Okazaki-jo is the birthplace of the aforementioned Tokugawa Ieyasu, who united the country, and for 250 years his family shaped Japan into what it was to become. Though the castle on the Oto River is a 20th century recreation, it is still picturesque. Inside is an interesting museum, and from the top you can see a great view of the surrounding area.
Where:Aichi-ken, Okazaki-shi, Kōseichō (map)
Greenery Day, May 4
As you may guess, Greenery Day is a day to celebrate Japan’s nature. Staying in the city you can visit one of Nagoya’s many great parks.
If you are feeling fit and want to go a little further afield, the Magome to Tsumago trail in the Kiso Valley is a beautiful trek along a well maintained section of the old Nakasendo trail that once connected Tokyo with Kyoto.
At 8km, the trail is a relatively comfortable walk through the countryside, and the towns at either end are delightful spots with that old-style Japanese feel. Magome, beautifully restored with a broad stone walkway lined with carefully tended foliage, is a particular treat. Along the route there are bus stops for if you tire easily.
If your greenery preference is of the foody kind, why not take Greenery Day as an opportunity to try out one of the many fantastic vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Nagoya.
Children’s Day, May 5
Again a quite self-explanatory holiday, Children’s Day is a day to spend with the kids (or, to behave like one, should you so wish). This makes it a perfect opportunity to check out the new Legoland.
Legoland is a theme park tailored to families with young children (aged 2 through 12). Attractions include a number of rides and roller coasters, but great emphasis is placed on suitability for younger children; meaning they tend towards tepid rather than towards the extremes sought by other parks. Legoland is fun for the whole family with rides, Lego® models to play and build, and interactive, adventurous attractions themed on the Lego block world.
Where: 2-2-1 Kinjo-futo, Minato-ku, Nagoya, Aichi-ken (map)
If you want to celebrate Children’s Day in a more sedate way, you should check out the Hina doll selection at the Tokugawa Art Museum. It has perhaps the best collection in the city and features diverse and impressive examples built and handed down through the ancient samurai family line, and Children’s Day is the last chance to see it for this year.
Where: 1017 Tokugawacho, Higashi Ward (map)
Throughout The Week
It may come as something of a surprise, but there is nothing more traditional to do during Golden Week than to visit the cinema. In fact, the holiday’s nomenclature is directly linked to the silver screen, having been coined in 1951 by the managing director of Daiei Film Co ltd to reflect the ticket sales boom during this period following the holiday’s introduction in 1948. Most theaters are open for business so pick something, find a cinema and go!
Belgian Beer Festival
As fortune would have it, the annual Belgian Beer Weekend falls during Golden Week this year. Running from April 26 to May 6, it is a celebration for all things Belgian. From Stella Artois to Duvall, and pretty much everything in between, there are a huge amount of beers to sample, as well as some great food. At JPY 3100 for the “starter set” to eat or drink, it is a little bit pricey, but admission to the park is free.
Where: Hisaya Odori Park, Naka-ku, Marunouchi, 3 Chome−Hoka (map)
The Nagoya-ko Aquarium is a pretty good place to visit at any time of year, but all through Golden Week they will be extending their hours into the late evening. It’s a pretty magical time to see these beautiful creatures, as dusk starts to fall, it’s a great chance to see them react to the light in a way that isn’t possible at other times of the year. And as an added bonus, the later you are, the bigger the chance you will have of avoiding the swarms of children.
Where:Minato Ward, Minatomachi, 1-3 (map)
For sports fans in Nagoya, there is perhaps nothing so important as the Chunichi Dragons. Between April 28 to 30 the DeNA Baystars are in town. Winners oif the 2017 Central League Pennant, they should put up some oretty stiff competition. If you want to get out and cheer on the Dragons, book your tickets early, as the holiday will bring out baseball fans in their numbers.
Where: Nagoya Dome, Higashi Ward, Daikominami, 1 Chome−1-1 (map)
By Mark Guthrie
Image via https://belgianbeerweekend.jp/2017/ja – Screen grab (modified)