- Sakura in Sendai
- Making the most of Matsushima
- Adventure in Aomori
- Avoiding the perils of Golden Week travel
- Head north
Sakura in Sendai
If the cherry blossom forecast is on your side (it varies slightly from year to year) a Golden Week trip to Sendai is a great way to experience splendid vistas, fascinating history, and cherry blossoms just past full bloom.
If you have time to spare (and enjoy a good workout), I recommend taking a long walk through the easy-to-navigate, grid-based streets of Sendai, from JR Sendai Station to the ruins of Aoba (Sendai) Castle. You’ll see plenty of cherry blossoms as you work your way through the beautiful city and discover even more once you reach the castle grounds. Upon completing the final leg of your journey and ascending to the high ground on which Aoba Castle used to stand, you’ll be further rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and beyond.
Making the most of Matsushima
No visit to Sendai is complete without venturing to nearby Matsushima, which is a mere 30-minute train ride from JR Sendai Station. Matsushima—a bayside town home to over 250 tiny, pine-tree-covered islands—is regarded as one of Japan’s three most beautiful places (nihon sankei).
With its rich history and tranquil atmosphere, Matsushima is a pleasure to visit in any season. Being surrounded by cherry blossoms, however, makes a spring-time trip extra special. As you explore this pleasant seaside town, be sure to spend some time on Fukuurajima Island and pay a visit to the historic Zuiganji and Entsuin temples.
Adventure in Aomori
Aomori, Honshu’s (mainland Japan) northernmost prefecture is filled with pink, picturesque scenery during Golden Week. In fact, the city of Hirosaki hosts an annual cherry blossom festival. Here you can enjoy all kinds of local culinary delights from food stalls while leisurely strolling through the city and the beautiful park that surrounds Hirosaki Castle.
Additionally a trip to Aomori prefecture is the perfect excuse to try out the Tohoku Shinkansen—the fastest and smoothest bullet train ride in the country. Kick back and relax in an ultra-comfortable reclining seat as you whisk past cherry-tree-dotted landscapes at 200 miles per hour. Just make sure that you secure a reserved seat. As you’ll see in the next part of this article, crowded trains are one of the pitfalls you need to avoid when it comes to Golden Week traveling.
Avoiding the perils of Golden Week travel
You may have heard that Golden Week is one of the worst times to visit and travel throughout Japan. This series of consecutive national holidays means that Tokyo experiences a mass exodus, with residents simultaneously fanning out across the country to visit leisure destinations or return to their hometowns. And, of course, the travel industry isn’t about to let that “golden” opportunity for profit slide. On top of this, trains can get insanely crowded and traveling by car amounts to grueling, endless traffic jams throughout the country.
With all of this in mind, how can I possibly recommend traveling during Golden Week? Well, with some careful planning, you can avoid these pitfalls and experience the wonders depicted above. Here’s what you need to know:
- Travel by train with a reserved ticket. Airlines may jack up their pricing for Golden Week, but train prices are stable throughout the year. Get a reserved seat when possible to ensure that you don’t end up standing for a three-hour shinkansen ride. If reserved seats aren’t available, then move on to the next tip…
- Shift your schedule. Make sure you aren’t traveling near the beginning or end of Golden Week. Japanese families are usually on the move within the first and last couple of days of the holiday period. Make your move just before or in the middle of Golden Week and your commute should be just fine.
- Stay in business hotels. Golden Week is typically a family affair, so ryokans (Japanese-style inns) and family-oriented accommodations will most likely be at full capacity or prohibitively expensive. You should, however, be able to find affordable accommodations at business hotels. Don’t let the term “business hotel” deter you—many well-known chains are clean, convenient, and affordable, even during Golden Week. For starters, Richmond Hotels and Daiwa Roynet Hotels are two chains that you can usually rely on.
With a little planning, flexibility, and the tips highlighted above, you can turn one of Japan’s most notorious travel periods into a blissful experience. Most importantly, heading to northern Japan during Golden Week will give you a second chance to appreciate the coveted beauty of Japan’s ephemeral cherry blossoms.