No sooner is summer out of the way than those weary eyes of all our Japanese colleagues start to gaze enviously towards the third week of September, toward the legendary “Silver Week”.
To the uninitiated, “Silver Week” probably sounds like some kind of campaign to raise awareness of elderly issues. In actuality, its nothing of the sort, though millions of older people across Japan will probably enjoy it!
Silver Week is a series of national holidays strung together into one week to create one of those few times of year when Japanese people can actually be encouraged to take more than 1 or 2 days off.
Though by no means as popular as Japan’s legendary Golden Week holidays at the beginning of May each year, Silver Week is fast becoming the 3rd most popular time of year in Japan for tourism after Golden Week and the New Year Holidays.
Some would argue Obon should be in that top two ahead of New Year, however in countering that I would say that Obon is the time when most Japanese return to their hometown for the purpose of honouring their ancestors and older relatives, so in the strictest sense I would call that family obligation rather than tourism.
In any case, “Silver Week” is an early highlight in what can often be a hectic final four months of the year for many in Japan.
Photo: Kate Ter Haar on Flickr
Unfortunately, as the status of Silver Week as a holiday period grows, so too does the eagerness of travel agents, hotels and airline companies to cash in on the hype and hike up their prices.
Thankfully though, the kind of financial insanity and blatant bilking of customers that you see so often during Golden Week hasn’t quite taken hold over Silver Week yet.
For those who are flexible and in the know, Silver Week offers an opportunity to see a new part of Japan at a price you won’t still be paying off come Christmas time!
Here are some helpful hints to help you get the most “bang for your buck” (or perhaps that should be “yield for your yen”) this Silver week:
1. A “getaway” doesn’t necessarily need to be far away
Photo: fletcherjcm on Flickr
One of Japan’s major plus points as a tourist destination is the huge diversity of cultural, culinary and scenic experiences that can be enjoyed up and down the full width and breadth of the country. Whilst travel by Shinkansen bullet train and airplane can in some cases be very expensive, ordinary bus and train travel is actually very cheap. You can use this to your advantage by going to places that, whilst they may be quite different from what you are used to, aren’t that far removed from where you live, in a geographical sense.
Take my current place of residence, Osaka as an example. If I head north for just over an hour, I come to Shiga, and the shores of Lake Biwa. The peace and tranquility that can be enjoyed at the many retreats along the Biwa coastline really is the complete polar opposite of what one can experience in a metropolis like Osaka.
Photo: jpellgen on Flickr
Not only that, but the assortment of luxury hotels, many complete with on-site onsen hot spring baths means you can be as adventurous or as pampered as you please.
On the other hand head for about the same length of time in an easterly direction out of Osaka and you’ll come to Wakayama, where mountain trails, small private onsens and large luxurious beaches are the order of the day. Even though September is noticeably cooler in Japan than the summer time, a day at the beach is still a feasible option for a good few weeks yet.
2. Don’t leave it to the last minute.
If you grew up in a working class family such as mine, where every penny was a prisoner, then you’ll probably be familiar with the concept of the last minute departure holiday. My family and I enjoyed many such holidays. Booking just one or two days before departure allowed us to visit the likes of Spain, Tunisia and Morroco for rock bottom prices. I am not exaggerating when I say that there was an occasion when my father went out to buy a pint of semi-skimmed milk and a loaf and instead came back with 10 days in Gran Canaria. Now, some 20 years on, my mother is still waiting for the bread and milk!
Photo: hjl on Flickr
Unfortunately this same logic does not apply in Japan. In fact, here it is quite the opposite. Rather than save money, those who leave it until the end usually end up paying a lot more if indeed they can get any reservation at all. With particular reference to the peak times like Golden Week, Silver Week and Obon, most Japanese will book several months in advance. Early uptake discounts are a major part of the business model for almost all travel agents in Japan. So book early to avoid disappointment as they say.
3. Avoid the most popular places
Despite not being as big as Golden Week or New Year, Silver Week is still a premium holiday period and as such all the usual suspects of Tokyo, Kyoto, Okinawa and most other really popular tourist destinations will sell out very fast, and prices will remain quite high. So, if you want to save big, it may be a good idea to go “off the beaten path” as it were. Or, you could base yourself somewhere close to a big city but outside the city limits. For example, during one Silver Week a few years ago, I wanted to visit a friend in Hiroshima.
Photo: Takashi Yamaoku on Flickr
Unfortunately, being the home to so many tourist attractions like the Miyajima Island and the Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima hotels were all either sold out or extortionately overpriced. There was a solution however. With a bit of creativity and some help from my old friend Google, I was able to find a hotel in nearby Saijo City, approximately 45 minutes from Hiroshima by train, for less than 8000 yen per night. This meant I could still meet up with my friend, see a small town I otherwise would never have visited and sample some of the best sake I’ve ever tasted. Incidentally Saijo Sake, of which I was previously unaware, is apparently world famous!
So, by following these 3 simple steps, hopefully you can have a Silver Week you’ll never forget. Bon Voyage!