You must know that your travel period is a peak season or a shoulder season. I would like to show you the busy period in 2019. You also find some tips when you travel in the peak season in this post.
Don’t travel same direction as a local tourist
Before I show you the calendar, I would like to tell you how Japanese residents travel in the peak period. Please keep these in your mind when you build your plan.
1. A train from the major cities are busy in the beginning of the peak period.
2. A train to the major cities are busy at the end of the peak period.
Major cities, like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka have the huge population. The huge number of travelers get out of these cities and go back to their hometowns to spend the time with family. So you have to avoid to leave the major cities in the beginning of the peak period. On the other hand, if you travel opposite way, a train is more crowded than usual but it is still acceptable.
The movie below shows you how Tokyo station was on December 29, 2016. It is 20 minutes movie and mostly shows car #1 which is non reserved seat car. You will find there was a long line up and many passengers waited for.
If you stay in the cities in the peak period, it is not much different from a regular weekend. Of course attractions, such as USJ, Tokyo Disneyland are super busy. I do not recommend you to visit very popular attractions in the peak period. You have to spend a few hours to take just one ride. You may not be satisfied.
Kyoto and Nara are busy in New Year’s day because Japanese visit shrine and temple to pray on New Year’s Day that is Japanese traditional custom. Major shrines and temples in other cities, such as Meiji Jingu shrine in Tokyo are super busy on New Year’s Day. The trains in the cities run all night long from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day.
I would like to show you some more tips about getting a seat during the peak period later in this post. First of all, I would like to show you the calendar of the peak period in 2019.
*If you look for the information about 2018-19 New Year’s peak period, please see the link below:
2018 busiest period to travel by train. Tips to book your seat in even during the busy period.
Golden Week (late April to early May)
There are lots of holidays in this period. That is why it is called “Golden Week” in Japan. 2019’s Golden Week will be more special in Japan. Because Emperor Akihito will abdicate on April 30, 2019. Prince Naruhito will ascend the throne and will become the next emperor on May 1, 2019. It is not confirmed yet but May 1 will be holiday too.
2019’s calendar is the following:
Apr 27 (Sat)
Apr 28 (Sun)
Apr 29 (Mon) Showa Day
Apr 30 (Tue) Citizen’s holiday
May 1 (Wed) Emperor coronation day
May 2 (Thu) Citizen’s holiday
May 3 (Fri) Holiday (Constitution Memorial Day)
May 4 (Sat) Holiday (Greenery Day )
May 5 (Sun) Holiday (Children’s Day)
May 6 (Mon) Holiday (Children’s day observed)
2019’s Golden Week will be 10 consecutive days off from Apr 27 to May 6. I expect April 27 for outgoing and May 6 for incoming will be busiest days. However some Japanese residents will start to travel earlier. A trail will be busier from the late afternoon on April 26 (Fri). And May 5 will be busy too.
Obon (mid August)
Obon is not a national holiday. It is Japanese traditional summer break. Usually Obon period is August 13 to 16. 2019 calendar is the following
Aug 10 (Sat)
Aug 11 (Sun) Holiday (Mountain Day)
Aug 12 (Mon) Holiday (Mountain Day observed)
Aug 13 (Tue)
Aug 14 (Wed)
Aug 15 (Thu)
Aug 16 (Fri)
Aug 17 (Sat)
Aug 18 (Sun)
In 2019, Obon period will be just between weekends. I expect the busiest day is August 10 for outgoing and August 18 for incoming. However late afternoon on Aug 9 and Aug 17 will be busy too.
New Year’s holidays
In Japan, Christmas is not a big holiday season. Most public schools have the winter break from December 25 to January 7. And December 23 is holiday. Christmas period is a bit busier than usual. But it is just one of the weekend and holidays. The busiest period in Japan is New Year’s Holidays. It usually starts on December 30 and finish on January 3. 2018-19 calendar is the following.
Dec 28 (Sat)
Dec 29 (Sun)
Dec 30 (Mon)
Dec 31 (Tue)
Jan 1 (Wed) Holiday (New Year’s day)
Jan 2 (thu)
Jan 3 (Fri)
Jan 4 (Sat)
Jan 5 (Sun)
In 2019-2020, December 28 is Saturday. The beginning of New Year’s Holidays will be one day earlier than usual. Saturday on December 28 is the first day of New Year’s Holidays. Many Japanese travelers will start to get out of the cities in the morning on December 29. For outgoing, I expect train will be busy from the morning on December 29 to the end of December 30. January 4 and 5 will be super busy to go back to the cities. Most local travelers want to settle before New Year’s Eve. Usually December 31 is not such a busy day. January 3 is the last day of New Year’s holidays period usually. But in 2019-2020, Jan 4 and 5 will be weekend. Japanese residents will enjoy a longer period in next season.
January 1 is very slow too. However as I mentioned above, most Japanese visit shrine or temple to pray on New Year’s Day. A local train runs all through the night from December 31 to January 1. Some of local lines are very busy in this period.
How to book a seat in peak period
Online train seats booking is very limited actually. Please see the link below:
However you can find the availability of the trains in advance.
You must know the booking status of the trains that you want to take in advance. It will be much easier to find a seat after you arrive in Japan.
The first thing you need to do is trying to book a seat right after you arrive in Japan. But you may not be able to make it. I introduce some tips to expand the possibility to book a seat.
Take early or late trains
Nobody want to travel in very early morning and late night. That is why trains in very early morning and late night are slower than daytime trains. Late night trains are usually slower than early morning train.
Take slower trains
Everybody wants to get the place as early as possible. That is why slower trains have lower demand than faster trains. I do not recommend you to take local trains to move for a long distance. This technique can be used for Shinkansen only. I recommend you to take slower trains on Shinkansen line, such as Kodama.
Please see the links below to find Shinkansen timetables:
You will find the trains that stop at all stations. That is Kodama. It’s way slower than other Shinkansen trains. But it’s much easier to get a seat on this train. If you are okay with spending extra hours but want to get a seat, try to book a seat on Kodama.
Take Green seat
Green seat is more spacious but more expensive. So usually Green seat is easier to book than Ordinary seat. However in peak period, even Green seat on some trains are booked out. Especially if you are wondering JR pass ordinary or Green, it maybe expand the possibility to get a seat. But if you cannot get Green seat, you have to take ordinary seat even if you have Green pass. It maybe gamble.
Try to book separately
If you cannot find a seat, divide into two segments and try to book. You may find a seat. For example, if you want to get a seat for Tokyo to Shin-Osaka, you can try to book for Tokyo to Nagoya and Nagoya to Shin-Osaka.
How to get a seat on non reserved seat car
I explain about reserved seat and non reserved seat in the link below. You can find some tips to get a seat in non reserved car. You may be able to use this way even in peak period.
I hope these information will help you to travel smoothly in the peak period.