The Best Time of Year to Visit Japan
One convenient thing about traveling to Japan is that you can visit at any time of year. It really is a year-round holiday destination. Since Japan is a long chain of islands, however, certain areas of the country are best visited at different times. The season you travel can affect what activities are most enjoyable.
In this article, we explain everything you need to know about when to visit Japan, including a breakdown of Japan's four seasons, and some information on the best times to visit some of the country's most popular destinations.
Visiting Japan in Spring
Spring is an exciting time to visit Japan and is the country's main tourist season. It typically lasts from March to May, and witnesses beautiful weather all over the country. It is the season when you can see the renowned sakura (blooming of the cherry blossoms).
During spring, the whole country is buzzing with excitement, anticipating the beautiful weather. Spring also marks the start of the school year and business year in Japan, so it is full of activity and vitality.
Weather in Spring
Spring in Japan typically starts around March and lasts through May. The weather is warm and pleasant with little rain and mostly sunny days, which makes for a great time to travel and see the beauty of the country.
Average temperatures in Japan during these months range between 8 to 22 degrees Celsius (50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit), though it is warmer in the south and cooler in the north.
What to See in Spring
Spring in Japan is a great time to visit national parks and appreciate the country's natural beauty.
One of the best-known reasons to visit in spring is to see the cherry blossoms, which you can find in parks, near castles, along streets, or even near mountains. There are many famous places from which to view sakura in Japan.
In Okinawa, the cherry trees start blooming in February. They continue to bloom with the arrival of spring as it moves northward. Sakura doesn't happen in Hokkaido until late May.
If you want to see beautiful flowers, but want to avoid the crowds that come for the cherry blossoms, you can instead go to see the plum blossoms, which bloom from mid-February to mid-March, or you can check out some of the country’s famous gardens as the flowers start to bloom and sprout.
There are many festivals celebrated during spring, including religious festivals such as Omizutori (the sacred water festival) or Hana Matsuri (Buddha's birthday), the Grand Sumo Tournaments in Osaka, or Anime Japan in Tokyo, which is one of the biggest anime festivals in the world.
Tips for Spring Travel
Spring is the busiest tourist season in Japan and many people come from all around the world to see the sakura. So, if you are traveling during spring it is recommended to book tickets and hotels well in advance. You can expect the prices of accommodation and travel to be more expensive at this time and many popular tourist destinations will be crowded.
Visiting Japan in Summer
Summer is another exciting season in Japan, known as the season of festivals. There is something going on every day, from traditional to modern music festivals, and it's common to hear the sizzling and bursting of fireworks at evening.
Summer has fewer crowds and lower hotel prices than spring, but the weather is hotter and more uncomfortable due to high humidity. Every building in Japan has air conditioning, so it is easy to cool off, but it can still take foreigners a few days to get used to the often sweltering heat.
Weather in Summer
Summer in Japan is hot and humid, with temperatures getting up to 35 degrees Celsius (95 F) and high levels of humidity. On sunny days this can be very uncomfortable and travelers will need to wear suitable clothing and prepare plenty of drinking water.
Because most of Japan is subtropical, the country sees a lot of rain in summer. The official rainy season is in June and July, which is when there is a risk of typhoons. Even when there aren't any typhoons, heavy rain is expected almost every day in these months. Usually, the rain starts to slow down by August.
Although the stormiest month is July, there is a risk of typhoons in Japan from May to October. Okinawa and southwestern Japan are most vulnerable.
What to See in Summer
If you are a lover of the outdoors and hiking, summer is a great time to explore northern Japan and the Japanese Alps. While the rest of the country experiences sweltering heat, temperatures stay cool and comfortable in the north.
Some of the best things to do in northern Japan include hiking through the lush green national parks, taking a cycling tour of Hokkaido, visiting the beautiful lavender and tulip fields, or relaxing in a steaming hot spring.
Summer in Japan is also the best time to experience Japanese Festivals. Obon is an annual Buddhist festival celebrated in mid-July or mid-August. It is a celebration of ancestors. To honor them, there are performances and dances, and lanterns are hung in front of houses.
The renowned month-long Gion Festival takes place in July and includes religious events as well as joyous street celebrations. During this time, you can expect to see daily prayers and cleansing rituals, as well as large outdoor fairs with art, music, and some world-class street food.
The centuries-old Kangensai Music Festival takes place from late July to early August and includes a spectacular show of traditional Japanese music played on boats on the Miyajima. During this festival, many people head to Miyajima to celebrate by cooking and eating together on boats, while enjoying the music and watching the festivities.
Tips for Summer Travel
Traveling in the summer in Japan requires a lot of planning and preparation. It is important to have a few extra days in your itinerary, in case of rain or storms that may delay your travels, or your ability to see attractions on the days you planned.
It's also important to understand that sudden typhoons can delay or change your trip entirely. When traveling in the summer it’s necessary to check daily weather forecasts and plan accordingly.
Visiting Japan in Autumn
Autumn is the second most popular time to visit Japan due to its comfortable weather, sunny skies, and the fact that forests burst into vibrant colors, making hiking and sightseeing amazingly beautiful. Autumn is a good time to walk through public parks, as well as to visit mountains and shrine grounds.
As with sakura, the explosion of autumn colors happens at different times across the country. For fall foliage, the leaves first start turning color in the north, especially in the mountains of Hokkaido. Then the changing colors move slowly southward, until they reach the subtropical islands.
Weather in Autumn
Autumn temperatures in Japan are typically comfortable but cool, averaging 8-10 degrees Celsius (45 to 50 F) in November. Many places in Tokyo are still warm in September but become cooler at night.
Although the weather is typically beautiful in autumn, there is more of a risk of rain in autumn than in spring. Also, the typhoon season lasts into September, so would be important to be prepared and check for warnings if traveling at that time.
What to See in Autumn
The biggest attraction for travelers in autumn is the fall foliage, which is not a formal event like sakura but is celebrated in a similar manner, with locals and travelers alike flocking to famous viewing places to take in the view. The fall colors begin in Hokkaido in mid-to-late September.
A great place to visit in the fall is Hakone, where you can relax in an onsen (hot spring) with beautiful views of Mt. Fuji surrounded by bright colors. We particularly love to visit Tokyo and Kyoto for fall foliage, due to the large number of beautiful viewing spots in and around both cities.
Although autumn doesn't have as many festivals as summer, there are still plenty of great ones to see at this time of year. In Nagasaki, Kunchi Matsuri convenes from October 7-9th and is full of dance performances and shows all over the city.
Other amazing festivals include Nada no Kenka Matsuri in Nagasaki, Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri in Osaka, Autumn Fest in Sapporo, and Jidai Matsuri and the Kurama Fire Festival in Kyoto.
Autumn in Japan is also an excellent time for enjoying beautiful seasonal foods like matsutake mushroom soup or yakijmo; or you can try other things by going to one of the large food festivals, such as the Tokyo Ramen Show or the Hokkaido Food Festival.
Tips for Autumn Travel
Although autumn doesn't have as many tourists as spring, it is still one of the busiest travel times of the year, so it is very important to book accommodation and travel well in advance.
In autumn, you can expect cooler temperatures and a few rainy days, so it would be a good idea to bring a rain jacket and some warmer clothes.
Visiting Japan in Winter
During winter in Japan, the northern regions and Japanese Alps receive heavy snowfall due to the cold fronts with their icy winds that come from Siberia. Winter is a great time for snow sports, especially skiing and snowboarding.
Of all the seasons winter has the fewest crowds and lowest prices, so it is a great time to visit Japan. Although there aren't any flowers or brilliant leaves to see in winter, there are still plenty of great things to do here in the colder months.
Weather in Winter
Weather in winter varies greatly, depending on which part of the Japanese islands you are visiting. If you visit Tokyo in January you will experience temperatures of around 4 degrees Celsius (41 F) in the afternoon, whereas Hokkaido sees temperatures of -4 degrees Celsius (25 F) and Okinawa has highs of 19 degrees Celsius (66 F).
Winter is the driest season in Japan, with rainfall of only 60 mm and around 3 to 4 hours of sunshine each day.
What to See in Winter
The most popular winter activities in Japan are snow sports like skiing and snowboarding. It is a very mountainous country and has over 500 ski resorts for visitors to choose from, ranging from the small and simple to the large and luxurious. Hokkaido is renowned for having some of the best-quality snow in the world.
Another popular winter activity in northern Japan is to stay in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn with hot springs). Bathing in a hot spring in the middle of winter, surrounded by the silence of snow and pine trees, is a great way to escape and relax on your holiday.
There are some great festivals to experience in winter, including the Sapporo Snow Festival with its massive ice sculptures. You can also join in New Year’s celebrations by visiting a temple at midnight and eating mochi and toshikoshi soba.
Tips for Winter Travel
Winter is a great time to travel due to lower costs and smaller crowds. It would still be a good idea, however, to book in advance to get the best deals. It would also be important to bring suitable clothing and to double check the weather before traveling.
Best Time to Visit Tokyo
Tokyo can be visited all year round. The most comfortable season to visit, however, would be in spring (March to May), because summer is hot and winter is cold with occasional snow. It does rain a lot in Tokyo, so when you visit it would be a good idea to have an umbrella and possibly plan a few extra days for your trip.
August is the hottest month with temperatures around 22-27 degrees Celsius (72-80 F), and high humidity. The wettest months are June, September, and October.
Best Time to Visit Hakone and Mt. Fuji
Hakone is around 100 km from Tokyo and has a similar climate. Hakone normally has more rainfall, however, and temperatures that are slightly lower than Tokyo’s, due to higher elevation.
The main reason people visit Hakone is to view Mt. Fuji, which is easiest to see in the cooler winter months when there is less fog surrounding the mountain. The only time visitors are allowed to climb Mt. Fuji is in July and August, because there is otherwise too much snow on the mountain.
Best Time to Visit Kyoto and Osaka
Like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka can be visited all year round. However, the most comfortable time to visit Kyoto and Osaka is in the spring or autumn, because the weather is best and the skies are clearer at those times. Cherry blossom season typically arrives in Kyoto and Osaka in April and May, and fall foliage can best be seen in October and November.
Summer is hot and humid in the cities, but July is still a good time to visit Kyoto if you want to experience the well-known Kyoto Gion Festival.
Best Time to Visit Sapporo and Hokkaido
If you are heading to Hokkaido for winter sports then the only time to visit is during the winter months. Winter in Hokkaido lasts from December to March and the island has its best snow in January and February.
For people who want to hike through Hokkaido's national parks, summer is a great time with comfortable weather and no snow on the mountains to make hiking difficult. Autumn is also a beautiful time to hike, with the trees turning bright orange and red. Temperatures, however, are much cooler in autumn and travelers will need to bring more gear.
Spring is the rainiest season in Hokkaido.
Visit Japan with Asia Highlights
Choosing the perfect time to visit Japan can be tricky and depends on what you want to experience. At Asia Highlights we can help you plan your perfect itinerary, so you can see what you want to see at the best time of year. To arrange to talk to one of our travel experts, just drop us an email.