Japan’s Golden Week 2023 Brings Long Lines, Traffic Jams

Japan’s Golden Week 2023 Brings Long Lines, Traffic Jams

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Golden Week crowding
Picture: K@zuTa / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Things appear to be "back to normal" for Japan's extended Golden Week holiday - and the result is jam-packed tourist traps.

It’s the tail end of Japan’s yearly long public holiday. And from the sounds of it, some folks in Japan could use a vacation from their vacation. Just as in pre-pandemic times, this year’s Golden Week has been plagued by long lines and traffic jams as everyone attempts to enjoy one of the few vacations they get.

An official vacation in a low-vacation country

Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク) is a series of public holidays that results in many workers in Japan having a week or more of vacation. It gets off to a slow start at the end of April with Showa Day and picks up steam after that with Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day.

Since by Japanese law the days before and after a national holiday are also holidays, the proximity of all of these holidays amounts, for many, to a full week off of work. That’s good news for many Japanese workers, many of whom complain their employers otherwise discourage them from taking vacation or sick time.

The holiday means that, much like during Christmas season in the US and Europe, a lot of Japan shuts down during Golden Week. Most utility providers, for example, warn customers that move requests received during this period will be delayed until after the holiday officially ends.

This year’s Golden Week lasts until May 7th (i.e., one day from the writing of this article). During this time, many have flocked to popular in-country vacation spots, such as Disneyland in Chiba Prefecture, Hokkaido, and Okinawa. (Fewer domestic tourists have opted to travel internationally; outbound travel still remains well below pre-pandemic levels.)

The weather has also done its bit to encourage getting outdoors. With mostly clear skies in central and southern Japan, many vacationers have trekked to beaches to grab some sand and some sun.

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Long vacation, long lines

Golden Week - crowded trains

Of course, when everyone takes a vacation at once, traffic jams are inevitable. Social media users have posted footage of jam-packed trains and popular tourist areas on TikTok and Twitter as they navigate public transit and pedestrian thoroughfares. In some cases, foot traffic has been so bad that crowds have ground to a standstill.

The waiting started promptly on Wednesday. At Tokyo Station, local news reported that passengers were waiting an hour or more to board the Tokai Shinkansen line. Most designated seats were sold out all morning, and non-designated seating rider rates reached 180%.

Getting around by car was no better. In fact, it sounds worse. At one point, says TBS News Dig, traffic on the Hanazono Interchange running through Saitama Prefecture stretched for 54 kilometers.

Meanwhile, things weren’t actually better once you got to your destination. At Harajuku’s famous Takeshitadoori, the heart of the area’s indie fashion district, the lines started on Tuesday the 2nd. Users reported conditions were so packed that, for a while, no one was moving.

At one point, the crowding was so bad that some visitors reported fearing a replay of the crowd crush tragedy in Seoul, South Korea in 2022. Conditions seemed to improve later in the week as police showed up to help maintain order and keep crowds moving.

Bracing for the U-turn

Picture: ばりろく / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

With Golden Week winding down, many people are returning home now. And so begins the infamous “U-turn rush” (Uターンラッシュ), which promises to be just as bad as the trip to the vacation itself.

The Great Return started yesterday – and long car queues were the result. By 3pm, traffic on the Ayase Interchange stretched for some 50 kilometers. By 6pm, that was only predicted to drop to around 40km.

The return rush will stretch until Sunday, with Shinkansen riders and domestic plane travel peaking today and international returns peaking on the 7th. At which point, many people will have a day or two to take a vacation from their vacations before heading back to the grind.

Tourists Return to Japan – But Japan Stays Home

Sources

ゴールデンウィークきょうピーク!「久しぶりにこんな混雑びっくり」新幹線ホームでは身動きできず…高速は“50キロ超渋滞”も「すごいです人出が」. TBS News Dig

自由席の乗車率“180%超”も コロナ緩和のゴールデンウィークで下り新幹線の混雑がピークに【記者中継】. TBS News Dig

「やばい、進まない!」「なんか叫んでない?」GW終盤…人でごった返す原宿・竹下通り 警察官らの“ナイスプレー”も. FNN Prime Online

Seoul Halloween Crowd Crush. Wikipedia

Uターンラッシュで上り混雑 高速道路渋滞50キロ予想. TV Asahi News

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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