The year 2018 is barely under way, but two things are clear:
- It’s going to be much better than 2017 (nowhere to go but up…).
- It offers amazing opportunities — and should be packed with — glorious travel.
Why? This year is stacked with three-day weekends — two more than in 2017. Here’s the breakdown.
Of Japan’s 16 national holidays from now until December, public (and some private sector) workers will have 11 days of sweet, sweet national holidays. Of those, eight include three-day weekends because the holiday falls on a Friday or Monday or a Sunday holiday will be observed on a Monday. Are you still with me?
In other words: Mark your calendars and get planning ASAP.
As a bonus, if workers in Japan take just two vacation days in May (the first and the second), they’ll end up having nine consecutive days off with an observed holiday on Monday, April 30 and the inclusion of Golden Week (Thursday through Saturday, May 3 to May 5). In other words: Mark your calendars and get planning ASAP, since the rest of Japan’s population is doing exactly the same. In popular areas, cheap-to-reasonable accommodation will bookup very quickly and searching for a place last minute or a few weeks before that three-day weekend will be next to impossible.
So, to help expats get a head start on the crowds in 2018, here’s a look at GaijinPot-recommended destinations across Japan ideal for an action-packed — or relaxingly unpacked — extended weekend.
P.S. — It’s worth noting that most of these places are about a one- to three-hour flight from major airport hubs like Osaka’s Kansai International Airport (KIX) and Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport (HND), though trip durations will obviously vary depending on departure location.
Observed holiday: National Foundation Day, Monday, Feb. 12
Where to go: Kujukushima, Sasebo, Nagasaki City
See more to do: Nagasaki
Nagasaki Prefecture is a place many of us associate with the dropping of the atomic bomb and paying respects to this history while there is paramount. At the same time, the rest of the area’s “cultural fusion” is not to be dismissed. A trip to Sasebo, the prefecture’s second-largest city, will offer a chance to discover Sakai National Park 99 Islands, also known as Kujukushima. It’s a picturesque collection of (actually) 208 minuscule islands, only four of which are inhabited. Not only visually attractive, the view of the islands at dusk from nearby Mt. Yumiharidake was in the movie The Last Samurai, according to Visit Nagasaki.
Offseason flight prices are lower in winter, avoiding transport that can get as pricey as ¥100,000 for even a low cost carrier (LCC), according to Google Flights. But the scenery even in cooler weather is still worth the view and the adventure.
Observed Holiday: Showa Day, Monday, April 30
Where to go: Hitachi Seaside Park
See more to do: Ibaraki
Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki Prefecture is one of the best day trips you could make from the central Kanto region or even from northern Sendai. The most magical blooms at this giant flower park come in spring for a short time, though it has year-round attractions.
Luckily, that April 30 holiday will be the optimal time to head to Hitachi, when the 4.5 million (!!) baby-blue nemophila flowers burst into color. It’s true the park is way out on the coast of a prefecture that doesn’t get much love from tourists. Yet, if Hitachi and perhaps one or two other spots (like Mito City for plum blossoms or the Great Buddha of Ushiku) are on your Japan bucket list, you may well find yourself “humble bragging” after your co-workers get a glimpse of your smartphone photo collection from the weekend.
The cost of the venue itself is just ¥410 for adults, but the bus and limited express train fare from Tokyo will set you back about ¥7,500-¥8,000.
Holiday: Sea Day, Monday, July 16
Where to go: Islands of Japan
See more to do: Kagawa, Miyagi, Niigata, Kagoshima, etc.
Last year, GaijinPot Travel compiled a checklist of jaw-dropping sandy destinations all over Japan. The list not only illuminates how underrated Japan beaches are, but how people sometimes forgo its smaller islands for the more accessible city life.
Isn’t one big island enough? No, my friends.
If it’s paradise you seek, why not try Yoron Island off mainland Kagoshima Prefecture with its picture-perfect “phantom” beach or a weekend jaunt to the Ogasawara or Izu Island chains that are completely accessible from Tokyo by boat or plane. Two other spots to try north of Tokyo are Niigata Prefecture’s Sado Island or Miyagi Prefecture’s Tashiro-jima — one of the country’s famous cat islands, where the kitties roam free.
Another one for the bucket list is in the Shikoku region in Japan’s smallest prefecture Kawaga. Of course, this is the area with the tourist-friendly “art islands,” but the lesser traversed Shodo Island, with its peculiar olive groves and towering cliffs, may catch your eye just as well.
Holidays: Lucky you, you have not one, but two chances to book this trip in September — Respect for the Aged Day, Monday, Sep. 17 and Autumn Equinox, Monday, Sep. 24 (observed holiday).
Where to go: Hakodate
See more to do: Hokkaido
The millions who flocked to Hokkaido Prefecture for the Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) have faded. Instead of Sapporo, head to the prefecture’s southwestern port town of Hakodate in fall.
You might think traveling to the northern point of Japan is too much for a long weekend, but it’s doable, especially from Kansai and up. Hakodate is a weekend getaway with flair and history. First up on the list from this historic and geometrically-inclined city is Fort Goryokaku. Escape to this utterly unique star-shaped fort, influenced by European styles in the 1800s, and surround park area.
The area has more to enjoy in an extended weekend like the much-talked about night view of the city from Mt. Hakodate, the Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward, and as a wild card, the Hakodate Russian Orthodox church.
Holiday: Sports Day, Monday, Oct. 8
Where to go: Fukuoka City
See more to do: Fukuoka
If you’re itching for a fascinating chance to get yet another local culture experience, Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture, is the right choice. Everyone knows the best way to delve in is at dinner time. Trying the Hakata-style tonkatsu ramen is a must. As one of the prefecture’s top foods, recognized by its thick bone broth, thin noodles and distinct smell that practically hangs in the air. More food inspirations lie in a few more to taste: spicy mentaiko, Motsunabe, and yuzukosho.
Beyond the tastes and smells, “friendly Fukuoka” culture offers travelers a more laid-back and cheaper option compared to other cities in Japan. Geographically, it’s closer to South Korea than Tokyo, opening up opportunity for even more travel with an extended stay.
Holiday: Labor Day Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 23
Where: Kanazawa, Kaga Onsen, Komatsu
See more to do: Ishikawa
Ishikawa has a little big place called Kanazawa — a popular destination about the same distance from Tokyo by bullet train as the ever-popular and now bursting-at-the-seams-with-tourists Kyoto. The charming city of Kanazawa is easy enough to get to by train from major travel hubs, according to the Official Ishikawa Travel Guide. For example:
- Kanazawa to Tokyo (via Hokuriku bullet train): 2hrs 28mins
- Kanazawa to Osaka: 2hrs 30mins
- Kanazawa to Kyoto: 2hrs 15mins
- Kanazawa to Nagoya: 2hrs 25mins
It also has access by air from major cities like Naha, Fukuoka, Tokyo, Sendai and Sapporo to Komatsu Airport. The airport is near enough to Kanazawa and Kaga Onsen, which is popular spot for relaxation and testing the waters (so to speak) with old-world Japan.
If you end up making a stop in Komatsu, which is also serviced by the Hokuriku bullet train, baseball fans will be delighted to know it is the hometown of former Yankees’ all-star outfielder Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui.
Along with a visit to the Hideki Matsui Museum, Komatsu — a city of around 100,000 residents — holds a few other tourist attractions like Natadera Temple and Komatsu Castle Ruins.
Observed holiday: Emperor’s Birthday, Monday, Dec. 24
Where to go: Japan’s Winter Illuminations, all prefectures.
See more to do: Tokyo Illuminations
Niigata and Yamagata are two prefectures with the most snow, but many areas of the country will barely witness flurries. Instead of snow to signal winter, it’s “illuminations.” Not familiar with this term? It’s essentially the secular “Japan-English” word for large-scale Christmas lights (as we’d call them in the U.S.) brightening the dark winter months and coaxing a cheery LED-infused holiday spirit.
No matter what prefecture you’re visiting or living in, stunning illuminations are around every corner, whether you like amusement parks (which charge an entrance fee) or just want to pass one by for free. I suggest bookmarking GaijinPot’s ultimate guide of illuminations from 2017, of which the dates and times generally stay the same annually. Of course, be sure to confirm the specifics closer to your trip.
Now, stop procrastinating and get planning!
What are some of your favorite three-day weekend destinations? Let us know in the comments below!