Home » Best Time to Travel to Japan: A Comprehensive Guide
Best Time to Travel to Japan

Best Time to Travel to Japan: A Comprehensive Guide

Japan has inexhaustible travel options for any season or time of year. In a couple of hours, you can go from enjoying fried food in one of the world’s cutting-edge and largest cities to soaking in a 1000-year-old cypress bath. Or from snowcapped mountains with hot spring monkeys to a kimono-wearing festival among five-hundred-year-old buildings.

The season for your visit won’t determine whether you have an adventure worth reliving. It will, however, determine the ultimate atmosphere and vibe, sculpting your experience. You could choose the summer with its amazing festivals but hot and humid weather. Or the spring, with the cherry blossoms spreading a pink canopy over every ionic destination. Winter and fall also have their draws, with skiing, late autumn foilage, and lower crowds.

Be sure to also check out our guide on the best airline to fly to Japan.

We’ll help you navigate the complexities of the seasons so you can make the best choice for yourself. Ultimately, your adventure relies on your personal taste and which elements draw you.

Understanding Japan’s Seasons and Seasonal Events

A best time to travel in Japan is in autumn as the seasons change.

When planning to travel to Japan, it’s helpful to know that Japanese people love to talk about their four, distinct seasons. The drastic changes between seasons are something to behold. Each season has unique weather patterns, festivals, attractions, and colors. From blue skies to snow-laden landscapes, fair weather to golden foilage, the season determines the ambiance of your trip.

Spring in Japan

Spring in Japan is from March to May. It is the most popular time to visit the country. The weather is mild, and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and surround every sightseeing location. It is also the busiest season. The crowds bring higher hotel and resort prices.

Some of the popular events during this season include the Tokyo Marathon, the Kyoto Geisha Dance, and the Hiroshima Flower Festival.

Summer in Japan

Beaches are popular in summer throughout Japan.

Summer in Japan is from June to August. Hot and humid in every part of Japan, the farther south the hotter your experience. Beach vacation possibilities open up in areas like Okinawa or Kyushu. Camping, hiking, or frequent trips to eat Japanese-style shaved ice are also popular activities.

Besides all the activities, there are also matsuri (festivals). With the heat comes the best and most lively, exuberant events. There are hundreds of festivals in summer alone. Some of the festivals you’ll encounter are

  • Gion Matsuri in Kyoto.
  • Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori.
  • Awa Odori festival in Tokushima in mid-August.
  • Fireworks festivals such as the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival in Tokyo.

If headed in the summer, get ready for a dizzying array of events. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen with you, a hat, and preparation to eat too much good festival food.

Just remember, if you or someone you’re traveling with has tattoos and you plan to visit Japanese beaches, be sure to read through our guide on tattoos in Japan first.

Autumn in Japan

Autumn in Japan is from September to November, and it is another popular season for tourists. The weather is mild, and the fall foliage is breathtaking. This is also the season for the best food festivals Some of the most popular festivals during the Fall season are

  • Sapporo Autumn Fest
  • The Kobe Beef Festival.
  • The Takayama Autumn Festival.

There are also a host of action-packed festivals that involve floats clashing and taiko drums. We’ll cover them more in an upcoming section.

Winter in Japan

Winter in Japan is from December to February. Winter is the coldest season. Temperatures can fall as low as -1°C (30 °F). With the cold comes the snow and winter sports. Hokkaido and Nagano have hefty snowfalls that allow for great skiing and snowboarding during this time of year. There are also some unique and otherwordly events, especially in Hokkaido. If headed towards Hokkaido, be sure to visit the magical Yuuki Matsuri, Japan’s immensely popular snow festival in Sapporo.

As a huge bonus for those needing a little relaxation, this is the best time to enjoy a hot spring. Look out for ryokan featuring outdoor pools over majestic, snowy landscapes.

If you are visiting Northern Japan during the cold months you’ll want a cozy down jacket and some snow boots, plus layers.

Cherry Blossom Season

The best time to travel to Japan is spring with its many cherry blossoms.

The most popular time to visit Japan among the most popular season. The cherry blossom season goes from early spring, specifically late March to early May. Usually, the blossoms peak the last week of March to the first week of April in the mainland Japan cities of Kansai and Tokyo.

We highly recommend the Japanese tradition of cherry blossom viewing. Called Hanami (花見), which literally translates to “flower viewing,” it’s a way of sitting back and relaxing. You’ll see the many parks covered in picnic blankets with Japanese people eating, talking, laughing, and overall having the time of their lives. Join in with some Japanese food and a drink!

Cherry blossom blooms vary depending on the location and weather conditions of the various regions. Southern Japan sees the blossoms first. Kyushu gets its full bloom in late March while northern Japan is likely to see the petals in late April. The cherry blossoms usually fully bloom for about a week.

Among the famed cherry blossom spots in Japan are Ueno Park in Tokyo, Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, and Hirosaki Castle in Aomori. To beat the crowds plan ahead and arrive early.

Golden Week and Other National Holidays

Golden Week is a busy, crowded, and wild holiday season. It is a week-long holiday that starts at the end of April and runs into the first week of May. Four national holidays are included in the week: Showa Day, Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day.

The warm temperatures and sunny skies make this an ideal time to visit, however, it is also the busiest time to travel in Japan. Japanese people are off work and traveling to their homes or on vacation. Hotel prices skyrocket during the week, trains get packed, and multi-hour traffic jams can become a hindrance. Getting flights and accommodations requires booking months in advance.

Golden Week can be crowded to the point it’s hard to recommend. Japan has several other national holidays throughout the year that are great alternatives. Some of these holidays include New Year’s Day, Coming of Age Day, National Foundation Day, and Vernal Equinox Day. Each has traditions and experiences involved, such as a sunrise temple and fortune reading on New Year’s Day, that make them worth the trip.

Like anywhere in the world on holiday, national holidays can affect business office hours. Many may be closed during national holidays, and transportation services have reduced schedules.

Rainy Season in Japan

The rainy season in places like Tokyo can make travel more difficult.

Japan’s rainy season is called “tsuyu” or “baiu” and typically lasts from early June to mid-July. During this period, most parts of the country, including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, receive heavy rainfall.

The rain is a hindrance but the temperature is pleasant. The temperatures fall to around 26°C (79°F), a nice respite after the sweltering summer heat.

It is not a great time to visit the main island cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka. Instead, to make the most out of the season head south to Okinawa or Hokkaido. Okinawa’s rainy season ends in June, and Hokkaido will be drier and beautiful during this season.

If you happen to be in larger cities like Tokyo or Osaka, you can still enjoy the time. There are underground shopping malls, theatres, arcades, and many other indoor activities to keep entertained.

The rainy season can cause transportation disruptions. Train delays and cancellations are not uncommon. In addition, early September is the typhoon season. These storms feature downpours and powerful winds that prevent travel in some areas.

We recommend bringing waterproof clothing and footwear if you visit Japan during this season.

Peak and Off-Peak Seasons

The best time to travel to Japan for low crowds is winter.

The peak travel time is April to May when cherry blossoms bloom. Millions of local and foreign tourists crowd the country’s iconic destinations.

Winter is the off-peak travel time in Japan and runs from December to February. Cold temperatures and snowfall take over the mild autumn weather, especially in northern destinations like Hokkaido. The ski season begins and can run through March and even April in some areas. And, thanks to the cold temperature, the prices for accommodation and airfare are also lower. If you are traveling on a budget this could be the season for you!

The shoulder seasons (time between peak and offseason) in Japan are from March to May and from late September to November. In early March, tourists start showing up, and in late November the cold begins to set in causing people to forgo travel. We argue the weather is pleasant enough and it can be worth exchanging the large events for fewer crowds.

The peak season in Japan is more expensive. We recommend booking well in advance or considering cheaper accommodation options, such as hostels and trying to find cheap tickets to Japan. The off-peak season gets chilly, but has some great offerings with fewer crowds.

Visiting Japan’s Major Cities

Ancient temples and skyscrapers. Concrete and bowing deer. the cities are a clash of modern and charming ancient buildings. Here’s what you need to know when visiting Japan’s major cities.

Tokyo

Tokyo changes with the seasons, hosting cherry blossoms in spring, snow in winter, and heat in the summer.

Home to over 13 million people, Tokyo is the capital and largest city of Japan.

Tokyo is truly a city that never sleeps. It hosts an abundance of things to do and see. But Tokyo is not just “Tokyo,” as strange as that might sound. It’s made of distinct districts that each have their own atmosphere, style, and even traditions. There’s the popular geek district of Akihabara, the shopping metropolis of Shinjuku, and the traditional and temple locations like Senso-ji in Asakusa. Going from district to district will feel like changing cities, and you’ll find an inexhaustible number of places to explore.

Because of the stifling summer and rain in early autumn, we recommend early October or mid-March to visit Tokyo.

Other Major Cities

Tokyo isn’t the only city worth visiting. Here are some of the others you don’t want to miss.

Kyoto is the cultural gem of Japan. The city boasts over 2,000 temples, shrines, and neighborhoods unchanged since the Edo period. People flood into the city during the cherry blossom blooms to see the mesmerizing colors fill the streets.

Osaka is an entertainment center and food paradise. Some of Japan’s most popular foods originated in the city. The geniuses of Osaka gave the world delicious menu items like okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and kushiage. Temperate is moderate in spring and close to Kyoto, making it a great addition to any Kyoto itinerary.

The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima destroyed the city. This tragic past has become a symbol of Hiroshima. The resilient people rebuilt and now host vibrant festivals and the famous memorial to peace.

Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Sapporo are worthy mentions. You’ll find various local foods, sake, beer, scenery, and festivals that offer a completely different experience at each location. For example, Fukuoka is near Japan’s largest active volcano and many of the best hot spring resorts. Sapporo is known for delicious seafood, skiing, and mesmerizing winter festivals.

Experiencing Japan’s Festivals

Japan excels at putting on a show and party. Here are a few festivals that should not be missed.

Summer Festivals

Fireworks in Japan are popular in the summer season, and a great activity for travelers.

The blue skies and warm weather bring out the largest, liveliest festivals. Gion Matsuri, held in Kyoto in July, hosts more than a million visitors over the month of July. Huge floats, dancing, and parades fill the streets. Another great event, Nebuta Matsuri, held in Aomori in August, features giant illuminated paper lanterns that are paraded through the streets.

Besides the traditional events, every prefecture, city, and town has its own fireworks shows. Some have multiple displays in the summer months.

  • Omogari fireworks festival in Daisen is a competition for fireworks makers. Given that there is a price and bragging rights involved, the fireworks are extra special.
  • Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival in Tokyo. This festival is almost 300 years old. This is Japan’s most popular show with over a million people jostling for a place to see the illuminations each year.
  • The Miyajima festival. With a backdrop of the famous Itsukushima Shrine you are in for a romantic and beautiful sight.

Fireworks are extra special in Japan. Pop culture icons and stunning waterfalls appear in the night sky along the more common bursts. If you are in Japan during the summer, don’t miss out on the fireworks.

Winter Festivals

Many festivals in Japan feature lanterns, creating a beautiful night scene.

The winter season slows down but doesn’t stop the events. Many incredible sightseeing adventures occur even in the cold weather and the snow, especially in Hokkaido.

The Sapporo Snow Festival, held every February in Sapporo, is one of Japan’s most famous winter festivals. It features massive snow sculptures that are illuminated at night in various colors. You’ll also find food stalls and live performances. The festival attracts millions of visitors from around the world each year.

The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival in early February creates a dream-like atmosphere. This old-style town is lined with snow candles, and ball-style lanterns float in the town’s stream.

Chitose Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival is another snow festival that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. It features a range of sculptures that are illuminated in multicolored bright lights at night. There is also ice skating and other attractions.

Spring Festivals

Spring is when Japan starts to come alive. The pleasant weather is the time for getting outside and picnics. Some of the largest festivals and events occur during the months when the famed cherry blossoms bloom.

  • The Tokyo Marathon. 1 of 6 major marathons in the world. 38000 people join each year. It is held at the end of each February.
  • The Kyoto Geisha Dance. Called Miyako Odori, the name translates to Capital Dance. The dances have been held for the public each April since 1872.
  • The Hiroshima Flower Festival. A million people gather in and around Peace Park to witness floats, dancing, and other displays. Usually held in mid-June.

Autumn Festivals

Cooler weather does not mean calm and the end of the excitement. Autumn festivals can be as exuberant and rich as any of the summer. In fact, some of them are downright epic, featuring clashing floats and pounding drums. Some of the most famous festivals are

  • The Nada Fighting Festival. Held in Himeji, watch colorful floats and portable shrines violently crash into each other.
  • The Niiihama Taiko Festival. Traditional Japanese drums beat as the grandiose floats dance and parade through the streets and compete for the cheers of the crowds in Niihama.
  • The Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival. Held over three days, see thousands of lanterns light up Fukushima.

Other Festivals

Festivals throughout Japan draw crowds and are worth visiting on a trip.

  • The Takayama Matsuri. Held in Takayama in April and October. It features ornate floats and traditional costumes.
  • The Awa Odori. Held in Tokushima in August. Attracts huge crowds (1 million+) to dance and parade through the city.
  • The Chichibu Night Festival. Held in Chichibu in December. See massive floats and night parades.

Japan’s Ski and Snowboard Season

Nagano is a popular location for skiing and snowboarding in Winter.

Japan’s high mountains are home to some great ski resorts. The ski season can start as early as November and sometimes runs as late as May. Mid-January to late February is the peak time for winter sports.

Hokkaido and Nagano are two of the more popular ski destinations. The resorts in Hokkaido receive 14 meters a year of snowfall, which puts them among the snowiest resorts in the world. Niseko, which is usually the first to open, Rusutsu, and Furano are some of the popular resorts to look into.

Nagano is pretty well known in the world. It hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics and offers various terrains and difficulty levels for skiers and snowboarders. Some of the popular resorts are Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen, and Shiga Kogen.

You can also find snowboarding and skiing close to Tokyo. Nozawa Onsen village, for example, has varying levels and is connected to Tokyo by bullet train, making it easy to access.

Japan’s Unique Natural Phenomena by the Season

The cherry blossoms and iconic Mt. Fuji are common natural draws known the world over. There are other majestic, wonderful phenomena only Japan offers visitors many may not know about.

Snow Monkeys in Winter

Japan is the only place to see monkeys enjoying hot springs. The best time to see them is in winter.

Have you ever seen a monkey bathe? It’s not a common sight. In fact, it’s only known to occur in Japan.

Known as snow monkeys, the macaques of Japan have a bit of bathing in hot springs. It’s possible for visitors to get up close and personal with these monkeys by visiting their natural home. The most famous location to see these onsen-loving furry bathers is in Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano.

The park is open year-round and monkeys are known to bathe throughout the year. But, the best time to visit is during the winter months. The cold drives the monkeys down from the trees to the waters for the day.

Visitors cannot bathe with the monkeys, but they can snap some great pictures.

Spring Flowers

Ashikaga Flower Park is an astounding place of beauty during the wisteria season. If it were located in any other country, it would likely be a top 10. Located in Tochigi Prefecture, this park contains over 350 wisteria trees. The huge, spreading trees droop the wisteria flowers in the millions over scenic ponds and bridges. You’ll be mesmerized by the variety of colors, including pink, purple, and white.

Leaves in Autumn

Color-changing leaves are not exactly unique to Japan. But the stunning beauty of the foliage in Japan will take your breath away.

The best place to see the change of season is Kyoto. The many trees throughout the traditional-style buildings transform the city. At the end of November, you can catch the first wave as the ginkgo trees turn yellow. In October, the maples have their turn, changing to a vibrant red.

Clouds and Fireflies in Summer

Unkai is a Japanese word meaning “sea of clouds.” The site is beautiful and mesmerizing it earned its own word in Japanese. And Japan hosts some of the best locations in the world. Standing above the clouds on a mountain, you’ll feel like you’re standing in heaven.

The Unkai Terrace in Hokkaido is the most famous of locations, but there are several places to see this beautiful sight thanks to Japan’s elevation.

Another summer highlight is the fireflies (hotaru). The hot weather and sunny days bring out thousands of fireflies that gather and shine their lights in the undergrowth and trees at night. Couples and families join the festival-like atmosphere to see the shiny insects. The best time to view the fireflies is in June to early July.

Summary

Every season offers its charms in Japan. Spring for good weather and beauty, summer for activity and the largest festivals, autumn for more festivals and mild temperatures, and finally winter for skiing and snow.

Other than the rainy season, you can’t go wrong with visiting Japan any time of the year. From the winter snow festival to the summer fireflies, you’ll never run out of things to do or places to see on your Japan trip.

We hope you enjoyed this guide and will experience the variatable beauty of Japan!

Jonathan Mcnamara

Jonathan is a veteran of the Japan and Korean expat life. He lived in Japan and Korea for almost 10 years, and speaks Korean and Japanese. A blogger, a writer, website maker who's had his share of relationships while living abroad, he's now turned his attention to helping others navigate traveling, living, working, and relationships in Japan.

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