Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on April 2009
Golden Week is essentially a celebration of spring, and what better way to enjoy the clement weather than a boat ride around Tokyo Bay? From April 26-May 6, Symphony Tokyo Bay Cruise company is offering special deals to celebrate its 20th anniversary. On Friday, May 1, DJ Yoko Saiki will spin pop hits from 1989 during an evening ride that also includes a full course French dinner and free drinks (¥10,000). For early risers (and those on a budget), the Morning Cruise from May 3-5 includes a breakfast buffet for ¥2,500 (kids ¥1,500). Basic cruises without meals start at ¥1,500, and the 50-150min rides taking in such sights as Rainbow Bridge and Odaiba.
Departs Hinode Pier 11:50am, 3pm, 4:20pm & 7pm. See www.symphony-cruise.co.jp/english for more info.
With all your friends out of town for Golden Week, now’s your chance to dress like a ninja, visit a maid café, or pal around with sumo wrestlers. Tour group H.I.S. Experience offers a mind-boggling array of cultural workshops and excursions under the headings “Art & Craft” (calligraphy; Japanese pottery), “Food” (sushi making; Tsukiji tours), “Dance & Music” (taiko drumming; shamisen), “Action” (aikido; samurai sword techniques) and “Culture & Tradition” (tea ceremony; Akihabara). On the sumo tour, for instance, participants attend a morning practice at a real wrestling stable, followed by chats with the rikishi and a meal of traditional chanko nabe with the stablemaster.
¥4,800-¥30,000. See http://hisexperience.jp for more info.
Japan’s love affair with the ocean—and with seafood—takes center stage in this popular family activity, which involves digging on the beach for shellfish during low tide. The quarry? Shijimi and asari clams, which are then used to make a flavorful broth for miso soup or a nice alla vongole pasta sauce. The traditional shiohigari season is May-June, making Golden Week the perfect time to grab your kumade (rake) and get digging. Popular local spots include the Odaiba waterfront and Kanazawa Hakkei in Yokohama (on the Keikyu line). If you want to guarantee you don’t go home empty-handed, though, head to Funabashi Sanban-se Kaihin Park in Chiba, which keeps its beach stocked with shellfish.
Admission ¥420 adults, ¥210 kids. Rental kumade ¥200. 40 Ban, Shiomi-Cho, Funabashi City, Chiba. Open daily April 29-May 10, closed Mon other times. Times vary greatly with the tides. Nearest stn: Futamata-Shinmachi (Keiyo line). www.park-funabashi.or.jp/bay/index.htm (Japanese)
One of the symbols of Ginza, the willow tree (yanagi) lends its name to this lively festival on the Children’s Day national holiday. Hit the streets of Tokyo’s most upscale neighborhood for parades with marching bands and anime characters, plus street performances by circus entertainers and mimes. Ginza Yanagi Matsuri will also feature a procession of classic cars—perfect for bored dads—and a retro space where you can learn to play traditional matsuri games. Bonus: the organizers will be giving away 2,000 willow saplings to grow in your own home, so get there early.
May 5, 11am-5pm. Various locations, including Nishi-Ginza Dori, Chuo Dori and Sukiyabashi Park. Nearest stn: Ginza. www.ginza.jp/nishiginza/yanagi
The Tokyo Midtown complex is finally putting its 2,000m2 of green space to good use. Taking place over 12 days, the Open the Park event features free morning yoga lessons (J/E), performances by acrobats from France and Germany, and even a “park library” where visitors can borrow a picnic mat and a basket filled with (Japanese-language) books. Feel free to bring your own lounge gear, and pick up specially prepared, limited-time-only bento from the likes of Dean & Deluca, Tonkatsu Hirata Bokujo or Chowder’s Select Soup.
9-7-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3475-3100. Apr 24-May 6, various times. Nearest stn: Nogizaka or Roppongi. See www.tokyo-midtown.com for more info (Japanese).
A visit to one of Tokyo’s lush traditional gardens during Golden Week is a sure way to put your mind—and your wallet—at ease. All the following green spaces have extended their open hours by 60 minutes from April 25-May 6 (9am-6pm). On the May 4 national holiday—Greenery Day—admission to all the gardens is free, while youngsters get in free on Children’s Day (May 5).
- Hamarikyu Garden. ¥300. Tel: 03-3541-0200. Nearest stn: Shiodome
- Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu Garden. ¥150. Tel: 03-3434-4029. Nearest stn: Hamamatsucho
- Koishikawa Korakuen. ¥300. Tel: 03-3811-3015. Nearest stn: Iidabashi, Suidobashi or Korakuen
- Kyu Iwasaki-tei Teien. ¥400. Tel: 03-3823-8340. Nearest stn: Yushima
- Rikugien. Tel: 03-3941-2222. ¥300. Nearest stn: Komagome
- Kiyosumi Teien. ¥150. Tel: 03-3641-5892. Nearest stn: Kiyosumi-Shirakawa (Oedo or Hanzomon line)
- Kyu Furukawa Teien. ¥150. Tel: 03-3910-0394. Nearest stn: Kami-Nakazato (Keihin-Tohoku line)
Rail travel hasn’t been the same since they phased out the steam engine. Cleaner, faster and more efficient, sure, but the shinkansen just doesn’t have the same romance as an old-fashioned, coal-powered locomotive. Fortunately, there are still a few steam trains chuffing their way across the Japanese countryside—and one of them isn’t all that far from Tokyo. Chichibu Steam Railway runs from Kumagaya to Mitsumineguchi in Saitama prefecture. The leisurely trip takes approximately two hours 40 minutes, departing from Kumagaya at 10:12am and beginning the return leg from Mitsumineguchi at 2pm.
Sat-Sun and hols. Kumagaya is just over an hour from Shinjuku or Ueno on the JR Takasaki line. http://chichibu-railway.co.jp/paleo
A sprawling showcase of 200 years of design history, the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum is home to 27 buildings from the Edo, Meiji, Taisho and early Showa periods, all of which have been painstakingly dismantled and reconstructed on the grounds. They range from an 18th-century thatched farmhouses to the chic home of modernist architect Kunio Mayekawa, originally built in 1942. There’s also a Showa-era bathhouse, a politician’s mansion from the Taisho period, and a 1962 streetcar—just for good measure. Bring the kids on May 5 and 6 for an afternoon of children’s team games (1-4:30pm) and general tomfoolery.
3-7-1 Sakura-cho, Koganei City. Tel: 042-388-3300. Open Tue-Sun 9:30am-5:30pm, closed Mon (and May 7). Entrance: ¥400 (adults), ¥320 (university students), ¥200 (high school/junior high students), free (children). Nearest stn: Musashi Koganei or Higashi Koganei. www.tatemonoen.jp
While many museums in Tokyo cut their hours during Golden Week, car fans will want to zoom on over to Toyota’s Megaweb in Odaiba. Start off in the showroom, currently featuring the Crown Majesta and the new Wish, then check out the History Garage displaying vehicles from the 1950s-1970s, portraits of famous drivers and a miniature car gallery. Tots can pedal a motor-assisted hybrid around a 150m track, while older kids can experience driving an electric vehicle over at the E-com Ride (¥200). Those with a Japanese or international license can reserve a test-drive of any Toyota model (¥300).
Palette Town, Aomi Itchome, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-3599-0808. Open hours vary by attraction. Nearest stn: Aomi (Yurikamome) or Tokyo Teleport (Rinkai). www.megaweb.gr.jp
One of the most popular theme parks in all of Asia, Tokyo Disneyland has just unveiled a new star attraction: Ride and Go Seek. This Monsters, Inc-themed ride whisks visitors along in the Security Tram, where they follow Mike, Sully and Boo in a game of hide and seek. Over at Tokyo DisneySea—the only water-themed Disney park in the world—check out the Spring Carnival, featuring Tinkerbell and her fairy friends in a variety of parades and dances, until June 30.
Admission ¥3,900-¥5,800 (kids under age 3 free). Nearest stn: Maihama (Keiyo line) or via direct bus from Shinjuku, Yokohama and Kawasaki stns. www.tokyodisneyresort.co.jp
Nothing sticks in your head quite like a catchy commercial or ad slogan. Established in 2002, Tokyo’s Ad Museum is the only site in Japan dedicated to preserving and promoting the country’s most memorable advertisements. The museum’s collection encompasses 150,000 pieces ranging from Edo-era nishiki-e to TV spots. All ads not currently on display are accessible from the viewing terminals in the museum’s library. Through May 16, the is displaying the winning works from the 15th China International Advertising Festival.
Free admission. Caretta Shiodome, 1-8-2 Higashi-Shimbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-6218-2500. Open Tue-Fri 11am-6:30pm, Sat & hols 11am-4:30pm, closed Sun-Mon. Nearest stn: Shimbashi or Shiodome. www.admt.jp
Combine edification and tasty beer with a trip to the Kirin brewery in Yokohama. The 40-minute guided tour takes visitors through the entire brewing and bottling process, including a display about the history of Kirin and beer in Japan. You also get to sample beer at various stages in the brewing process, and after the tour is over, you’ll have 20 minutes to sit and sample the brews. Kirin Beer Village also boasts a pub, restaurant and beer garden (open from June). Brewery tours leave every 30 minutes and reservations are recommended. Guidance is Japanese only, but brochures are available in English, Chinese and Korean. Stop by May 2 for live performances by local rock band Churu-Chuw at noon and 2pm.
Free. 1-17-1 Namamugi, Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama. Open Tue-Sun, 10am-4:30pm, closed Mon. Tel: 045-503-8250. Nearest stn: Namamugi. www.kirin.co.jp/about/brewery/factory/yoko
Reconnect with nature during GW on a trip to the area’s best-loved open-access farm. Mother Bokujo is a 250 hectare animal park and nature preserve that features petting zoos, horse rides, an amusement park, hiking trails, arts-and-crafts and lots more. Daily events for kids and families include a sheepdog show, a footrace between piglets and children, cow milking, and animal “parades.” Mother Bokujo is also renowned for its flower fields—during Golden Week, the 20,000 azalea trees should be in bloom. You can also try your hand at barbequing or picking fruits and vegetables. A variety of cottages and cabins are available for overnight stays.
Admission ¥1,500 adults, ¥800 elementary school students and younger. Access: from Tokyo station, take the JY Yokosuka line or special Sazanami #5 train to Kimitsu station, then transfer to the Mother Bokujo bus. www.motherfarm.co.jp/en
A can’t-miss festival for Akihabara fans, the annual Dream Party features a jaw-dropping assortment of popular anime, comics, figurines and characters. This is one of the largest character events in Japan, which means the industry’s leading companies will be on hand to show off their goods. There’s also a lineup of stage events with voice actors and singers, while maid-café booths will keep visitors refreshed. The Dream Party also attracts one of the largest get-togethers for cosplayers from Tokyo and beyond.
Tokyo Big Sight 3-21-1 Ariake, Koto-ku. West 3 & 4 hall and outdoor exhibition hall. ¥1,500 (adv)/¥2,000 (door). Tel: 03-5530-1111. May 5, 11am-5pm. Nearest stn: Kokusai Tenjijo (Rinkai line). See www.dreamparty.jp for more info.
From the 360-degree “Shark & Ray Tunnel” to the virtual-reality theater to the restaurant with tropical fish-tank walls, Epson Aqua Stadium in Shinagawa is a state-of-the-art aquarium and theme park. Some 20,000 fish representing 300 species are on display, but that’s only part of the story. Modern-day attractions include a large-scale pirate ship, two amphitheaters, a concert hall, a pair of restaurants and a beer pub. The recently debuted dolphin show Especially offers a “collaboration” between the marine mammals and human DJs.
Admission ¥1,800 adults, kids ¥600-¥1,000. Extra fee for some attractions; day passes available. Shinagawa Prince Hotel, 4-10-30 Takanawa, Minato-ku. Nearest stn: Shinagawa, Takanawa exit. www.princehotels.co.jp
Always one of Tokyo’s livelier neighborhoods, Koenji promises to be even more hectic than usual during Golden Week. Hordes of performers will be taking to the streets for two days of carefully orchestrated mayhem to mark the opening of the new Za Koenji theater (well, that’s the excuse, at least). Expect everyone from circus troupes to magicians, mimes and musicians to pop up at various locations around town over the course of the weekend. There’ll be balloons and face-painting for the kids, too, and tie-in promotions are promised at shops and restaurants in the area.
May 2-3.Various locations around Koenji. See www.koenji-daidogei.com for details.