The best time to visit Japan depends on what you want to see, how many people you want to share it with and your tolerance for rain. We’ve prepared the handy guides below to weigh up the best time to travel in a couple of different places and with a few different considerations.
When to visit Japan overall
Japan’s super-fast bullet trains – Shinkansen – make covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time possible, so what’s the best time to see the country if you want to travel from north to south in, say, a two-week period? Well, the spring months of March and April are the safest bet for travellers who want to cover a few different regions, as they tend to bring crisp but not too cold temperatures, with very little rain and (towards the end of March) the blooming of Japan's famous cherry blossoms. The weather is also generally fine in May, though a number of Japanese public holidays throughout the month can interrupt travel plans and make things more crowded. Generally, the further south you go the warmer it gets, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki experiencing truly warm days as early as April. Of course, the joys of springtime in Japan are no secret, which means you’ll be sharing space with plenty of other travellers if you’re travelling in March, April or May. If you’re willing to pack a winter coat, then November or February might just be your idea of heaven. While temperatures are low, rainfall has stabilised, and the main attractions won’t be crowded.
When to visit southern Japan
Southern Japan already benefits from less tourism than the north and central regions of the country, which means that even if you travel in the traditional tourist 'high season' of spring and summer, you’ll find it quieter than the hotspots. The months of April and October offer warm weather without the excessive rain that hits the south hard in summer. If you plan on hiking through the deep south of Yakushima, keep in mind this rugged island is colder than the rest of the south. The forests of Yakushima are beautiful year-round, but trekkers should plan on rugging up from November to April, as this island outpost stays chilly for much of winter and spring.
When to visit to see the cherry blossoms
Hanami, AKA cherry blossom season, is a spectacular time to visit Japan. These blush-coloured flowers begin emerging in spring, with a slightly earlier bloom time in the south than in the central and northern regions. Nagasaki and Hiroshima, for example, sometimes see a full bloom emerge by the start of April. By mid-May, the flowers have usually opened, even in northern cities like Sapporo. If you’d like to maximise your chances of experiencing cherry blossom season in Japan, you should plan your visit for between the middle of March and the middle of April.
When to visit Tokyo
Fairly mild temperatures (outside the depths of winter) make Tokyo an attractive destination throughout the year, though June and September bring high rainfall. April offers a sweet spot that combines average temperatures of 14°C (58°F), less rain than the summer and a respite from the crowds that descend on the city in May. Of course, as the most populated city in the world, Tokyo is always fairly crowded. The summer months of June, July, and August may be busy, but they also offer an abundance of festivals and revelry to indulge in, so don't write them off automatically. In 2020 you might like to coincide your visit with the Summer Olympics, which are being held in Tokyo – travel between 24 July and 9 August to catch this important event on the international sporting calendar.
When to visit Kyoto
Kyoto has a long summer, with things warming up in May and staying hot through September. As with Tokyo, summer and late spring are the busy tourist times. If you want to beat the bulk of the crowds, the best time to visit Kyoto is between October and March. That being said, the dead of winter can be a little, well, dead. October is still jeans and a light jacket weather, though, with fewer crowds and less rainfall, making it a good choice.
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