Traveling on a holiday weekend

I realized this weekend that I don’t often travel on holiday weekends in Japan. This was a three day weekend in Japan, and of course the reason for the holiday was … um …Labor Thanksgiving Day. Yeah, that’s right. According to Wikipedia,

Labor Thanksgiving Day (勤労感謝の日 Kinrō kansha no hi) is a national holiday in Japan. It takes place annually on November 23. The law establishing the holiday cites it as an occasion for commemorating labor and production and giving one another thanks.
Events are held throughout Japan, one such being the Nagano Labor Festival. The event encourages thinking about the environment, peace and human rights.

Labor Thanksgiving Day is the modern name for an ancient rice harvest festival known as Niiname-sai (新嘗祭?), believed to have been held as long ago as November of 678. Traditionally, it celebrated the year’s hard work; during the Niiname-sai ceremony, the Emperor would dedicate the year’s harvest to kami (spirits), and taste the rice for the first time.

The modern holiday was established after World War II in 1948 as a day to mark some of the changes of the postwar constitution of Japan, including fundamental human rights and the expansion of workers rights. Currently Niiname-sai is held privately by the Imperial Family while Labor Thanksgiving Day has become a national holiday.

According to me, it is a VERY BUSY travel period. It almost got cancelled because late Friday afternoon my boss asked who was coming in this weekend. Say what? Anyway, I got that arranged and guiltily took the three days.

I had made reservations in Kyoto using a free Hyatt night about 6 months ago, anticipating this weekend would be the peak of the fall colors. It wasn’t but that didn’t stop the crowds. Tomo thought this weekend might also be a good time to go to Osaka and see his family, so our weekend plans grew. Saturday morning as we were heading towards Kyoto, Tomo suggested we get our return tickets for Monday. Ah, good thing we did.

Monday evening train service from Osaka (大阪) to Nagoya (名古屋) and Tokyo (東京)

Difficult to get to Tokyo

The red X means no seats are available. The blue – is simply indicating that service is not available (smoking car, or stopping at a certain location). The yellow triangle is a “be careful” while the green circle is OK. The only train available to Tokyo on the screen was a smoking, first class.

Already on Saturday the trains for Monday were selling out. In order to sit together, we had to take the Green Car, that’s the first class carriage. I’m spoiled and often take the Green Car, but that can get pricey.

Kyoto does a lot of illuminations, and I wrote about it last year. This year was even crazier it seems. Instead of visiting Kiyomizudera, we went to 高台時 (Koudaiji). There we had to wait about 40 minutes just to get to the entrance of the temple. Wow, that was a line. You can see the crowd snaking up the stairs. Well, you can sort of see the crowd.

The cold, dark line at Koudaiji


During the day on Saturday we went to Arashiyama. We got our first taste of the crowd there.

The heavy crowds at Arashiyama.

The crowded weekend begins


We also went to Nishiki, which is a long, narrow, covered market. There I did battle with the obaasan and came out battered and bruised. Never, EVER, get in a shoving match with an obaasan (FYI, my Apple dictionary simply defines an obaasan as an old lady (woman)). I know it sounds horrible, getting into a shoving match with an old lady, but if you live in Japan you know what I am talking about.

The Nishiki crowd.

The crowds continue


In spite of the crazy crowds, it was a fantastic weekend in Kyoto and then in Osaka with Tomo’s family. More later after the pictures are edited.