When is the best time to visit Japan?
The best time to visit Japan is between March and May and between September and November as it's both warm and dry between these periods. However, the joys of springtime and the iconic blooming of the cherry blossoms in Japan are no secret, which means you'll be sharing the space with plenty of other travellers. Depending on what you want to see, how many people you want to share it with, and your tolerance for rain, we’ve prepared a month-by-month breakdown to weigh up the best time and places to travel in Japan.
When is the best time to visit southern Japan?
Southern Japan 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 region. The forests of Yakushima are beautiful year-round, but trekkers should plan on layering up from November to April, as this island outpost stays chilly for much of winter and spring.
When is the best time to visit Tokyo?
Tokyo is an attractive destination throughout the year, with mild temperatures (outside the depths of winter), though June and September can 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.
When is the best time to visit Kyoto?
Kyoto has a long summer, with temperatures 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.
When is the best time to visit Japan to see the cherry blossoms?
Cherry blossom season is a spectacular, albeit very crowded 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 first week of April, while Tokyo sees its peak in the middle of the month. By mid-May, most flowers have usually opened, even in northern cities like Sapporo. There are no set dates for the season since the blooms rely on environmental factors, but there are many websites dedicated to keeping you updated on the status of the beloved trees. The Japan Meteorological Corporation starts providing bloom maps and forecasts beginning in January every year. If you’d like to maximize 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.
Best for: shredding the powder in Hokkaido
If the term "Japanuary" is in your vernacular, you're probably familiar with the epic amounts of powder that make Japan's northern island of Hokkaido a ski and snowboard paradise. Every winter, cold Siberian winds carry snow across the Sea of Japan delivering perfectly fluffy, deep, something-to-write-home-about snow. Japan has tons of ski resorts, and once you see powder like this, your first Japanuary pilgrimage definitely won't be your last. Save us a spot on the lift!
Best for: unwinding in an onsen
Whether you plan on spending your trip skiing or sightseeing, a relaxing soak in an onsen is a quintessential winter activity in Japan. Onsens, or mineral-rich hot springs, can be particularly relaxing in the winter. Japan has tons of onsen destinations, like Hakone; a must-visit mountain town nestled in the foothills of Mt. Fuji, where you can unwind in your bath while snow falls softly around you. If you plan on staying in a traditional ryokan, many properties aren't equipped with proper heating, so the accommodations can be quite cold, but they make up for it with invitingly steamy baths.
Best for: day tripping on the shinkansen
March is a great time to hop on a shinkansen, or bullet train, and take some day trips from Tokyo, especially if you're too early for cherry blossom season. In Japan, bullet trains have developed a bit of celebrity status for their ultra-fast speeds, efficiency, and reliability. From Tokyo, you can safely get to Kyoto or Osaka in just under three hours, or to Hiroshima in four. Temperatures in April are mild, hovering around 14°C (58°F), making sightseeing a pleasant experience.
Best for: three words: cherry. blossom. parties.
The best time to visit Japan to see sakura, or cherry blossoms, explode into fluffy pink blooms is in April. The Japanese custom of hanami, or flower viewing, is a magical time for both locals and visitors to come together and celebrate the beautiful blooms' short lifespan. You can participate in various hanami parties in parks across Japan; they're usually informal picnic gatherings of family and friends, but keep in mind that parks in larger cities like Yoyogi Park, Ueno Park, and Inokashira Park in Tokyo are very popular and may require some planning and finesse to find a spot.
Larger sakura events like the Meguro River Sakura Festival and the Ueno Sakura Festival take place in early to mid-April in Tokyo, while the cooler northern regions see festivals like the Hirosaki Castle Park Festival happening in late April to early May. While Hanami is certainly a must-see in Japan, expect delays on public transit and higher-than-average hotel prices during this celebratory time.
Best for: whirlwind Golden Week festivities
The first week of May in Japan is known as Golden Week, a collection of four national holidays (Shōwa Day, Constitution Day, Greenery Day and Children's Day) that has locals taking advantage of spring weather with some time off of work and school. During Golden Week you can expect free entry to many museums, parks, and attractions, as well as some authentic traditional celebrations, like the flying of koinobori, or carp kites, on Children's Day. While travelling during this period is sure to be exciting, it can also be crowded, costly, and hectic (albeit memorable) so you might want to consider a trip toward the end of the month. Plus, if you thought cherry blossoms were the only famous florals in Japan, think again! In the springtime, Japan's gardens are bursting. Plan a visit to the Ashikaga Flower Park (just over an hour outside Tokyo) to see jaw-dropping hundred-year-old wisteria trees in full bloom that get illuminated at night.
Best for: indoor activities, tea ceremonies and sake tasting
In Japan, June is the first (and wettest) month of the rainy season, and is known as minazuki, "the month of water". While you shouldn't expect a heavy daily deluge of rain in southern cities like Tokyo or Kyoto, you should definitely be prepared to plan some indoor activities like going museum hopping, partaking in a traditional tea ceremony or just seeking refuge in a bar with a glass of whiskey or sake to warm your bones.
Best for: phone-background-worthy beach vacations
With humid weather in the cities, July is a great time to take a short flight (or ferry ride) to one of Japan's surrounding islands. By July, the rains have slowed down, and while you might not think of a beach vacation when you think of Japan, summertime visitors will be treated to tons of options for sunbathing, snorkelling, and swimming. Japan is an island nation, after all! The Okinawa Prefecture is home to over 100 white sand beaches, and with turquoise waters and a tropical climate for more than half the year, you'll feel like you're living inside of a screensaver. If you'd rather stay on the mainland, the Kamakura beaches are just over an hour from Tokyo and feature some killer views of Mt. Fuji.
Best for: treating the kiddos to a cultural experience
August is a great time to visit Japan with kids due to the number of Natsu Matsuri (summer festivals) and cultural events happening during this time. Treat your littlest explorers to the sights, sounds, and tastes of Japan at one of its famous dance festivals! At the Awa Odori Festival in Tokushima or the Hanagasa Festival in Yamagata, large groups of choreographed dancers parade through the streets in vibrant traditional dress. If you're visiting in the middle of August, you might witness locals celebrating Obon (a Buddhist event honouring the annual return of ancestors' spirits) with offerings of food, dance, and glittering floating lanterns. In cities like Tokyo, Nagaoka City, and Aomori, you can expect epic fireworks displays all month long.
Best for: exercising mind, body, and appetite in dreamy weather
The end of summer in Japan brings pleasantly perfect temperatures and fewer crowds, which is a perfect time to squeeze in a physical and cultural workout. With such a diverse landscape, you can hike, bike and kayak your way through the country; exercising your mind in dazzling Tokyo, your body on the famous Shimanami Kaido cycle route, and your appetite with delicious ramen in Onomichi. Temperatures typically hover around 24°C (75°F), and although September falls into Japan's typhoon season, your travel plans are unlikely to be affected as typhoons rarely make landfall.
Best for: Feasting on the bounties of harvest season
The onset of autumn brings the harvest season in Japan, which is the perfect time to join a food tour. As you travel from Tokyo to Osaka you might catch a glimpse of farmers harvesting rice, persimmons, chestnuts and Japanese pears, and many farms allow you to get in on the action by picking your own produce! The Takayama region, well-known for sake breweries and Hida-gyu (Hida wagyu beef), is home to Japan's third largest festival, the Takayama Autumn Festival. Every year, thousands gather to celebrate the good harvest with dances, marionettes and a parade with intricately decorated floats. Try some of Takayama's regional delicacies like mitarashi dango (rice dumplings roasted in soy sauce), houba miso (miso vegetables cooked in magnolia leaf) and chuka soba (a local ramen dish).
Best for: filling the scrapbook with nature photos
November in Japan welcomes robust foliage across the country, giving already impressive landmarks a lively red, orange and gold backdrop. Japanese people use the word koyo to describe the transition of the leaves from green to orange to red and momiji to describe the deep red hues of maple leaves in fall. The word momijigari refers to the hunt for autumn leaves, which can be particularly spectacular at the Osaka Castle in Osaka, the Bishamon-do Temple in Kyoto, and the Momijidani Garden in Wakayama. Whether you're a novice photog or an expert shutterbug, extra memory cards are a must; the clear, cold air at the end of November increases the odds of sacred, snow-capped Mt. Fuji making a rare appearance.
Best for: a non-traditional and memorable holiday season
Welcome to Japan's sparkling silver season! Throughout December, cities will be aglow with illuminations to celebrate the festive holiday season, and in the northern parts of the country, you might even get some snow to complete your winter wonderland. Although not a traditional Japanese holiday, Christmas has become popular over the years with locals celebrating with a dinner at, believe it or not, KFC! If you feel like mixing up your holiday traditions, do as the locals do and grab a Kentucky fried dinner and marvel at the impressive lights displays. It will definitely be a holiday season to remember.
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