We’re going to set it straight for you. There is no single best time of the year to travel to this fascinating country. Japan is truly a year-round holiday destination, but travelers will notice right away Japan’s profound appreciation of the changing seasons. Each season is celebrated with seasonal foods, festivals and marked by ancient traditions. You can’t go wrong with a holiday in Japan no matter what time of the year you choose to go.
However, if your dates are flexible it’s definitely worth thinking about which time of the year you’d personally enjoy the most. After all, not everyone likes traveling during hot, humid summer days – while others will go above and beyond to avoid crowds. When planning a trip to Japan, a key question to ask yourself is: Would you rather have better weather or fewer tourists around?
We’ve put together this comprehensive guide that breaks down exactly what to expect for each season, weather, festivals to look out for, and more so that you can choose the best time to visit based on your personal travel style, budget and interest.
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Japan is considered to be between March and May, or October and November as these are periods when the country is at its most vibrant with cherry blossoms and stunning red foliage. But at the end of the day, it all depends on what your interests are and what you plan on doing during your trip. Some travelers might be the exception to the ryke and prefer to check out summer matsuri festivals or hot springs in the wintertime followed by skiing and snowboarding in Niseko’s legendary powder snow.
Below is a short and brief introduction to Japan’s seasons.
The image of cotton-candy pink cherry blossoms and Japan go hand in hand. If you don’t mind the insane crowds of Japanese locals and tourists, you can experience hanami (cherry blossom viewing). This picturesque time of the year is brief, but you’ll also see many engaged couples doing photoshoots
Hear the beating of taiko drums in the evenings as the Japanese prepare for colourful matsuri (festivals). Summer is the most festive time of the year with huge festivals and firework displays. This is a great time to explore Japan’s mountains and hidden villages and take in beautiful coastal views.
Autumn is a magical and popular time of the year, with vibrant autumn colours and cool temperatures.
The cooler months in Japan offer incredible, fresh seafood, relaxing onsen (hot spring) experiences and of course who can forget the best powder snow in the world for skiing and snowboarding.
When considering what season to travel to Japan, it’s also very helpful to have a basic understanding of the country’s geography. At a glance, Japan looks like a small country especially when it sits next to China. It’s important to keep in mind that seasons and weather can differ a lot from one end of the country to the other.
The country stretches from the snowy northern island of Hokkaido, all the way down to the semi-tropical islands of Okinawa in the southwest. Hokkaido experiences far longer and colder winters than the rest of Japan. While Okinawa enjoys longer summers and relative warmth almost year-round.
Generally speaking, locations to the south and west tend to be warmer, while locations to the north and east tend to be cooler. Also keep in mind that higher-elevation areas, such as the Japanese Alps, tend to be colder as well.
Without further ado, let’s dive into Japan’s most famous season: spring!
A welcome break from the cold winter months, spring is celebrated with the arrival of the pale-pink cherry blossoms. Starting in the south and gradually moving north, these delicate blossoms are the crowning jewel of the season and with their short lifespan are symbolic of the fleeting nature of life. Travelers will need to carefully plan their trip to make sure they get to experience the cherry blossoms and the culture surrounding these exquisite flowers. Taking part in hanami (flower-viewing picnics) under the pink trees is a dream for many travelers, and it truly lives up to its reputation. Be ready to constantly battle crowds, especially in cities such as Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kyoto. Any weekend during the blooming of cherry blossoms will also mean that trains will be packed.
Savvy travelers can still experience the magic of cherry blossoms by traveling to lesser-travelled destinations around Japan, especially the more rural areas. Although the cherry blossoms are Japan’s most iconic flowers, springtime offers so much more. Travelers can enjoy traditional dance performances put on by Kyoto’s best geisha and maiko as well as experience enchanting wisteria tunnels and spring festivals.
Clear blue skies with cool weather, for spring, is best to dress in several layers. During the day when the sun is out, the weather is pleasantly warm but be prepared for cool evenings. There are occasional showers as well, but it’s very easy and cheap to simply pick up an umbrella from a convenience store for less than 300 yen.
These are flower-viewing picnics held under the cherry blossoms. This is a time when the young and old come together and admire the delicate beauty of these delicate flowers. You can enjoy sakura-themed food and drinks such as sakura mochi, sakura lattes, and spring obento boxes sold at local supermarkets.
Held on 3rd March, Hinamatsuri is a special holiday that celebrates the growth, happiness and prosperity of young girls. Households with young daughters will set up a multi-tiered display decorated with beautiful Japanese dolls dressed in traditional aristocratic clothing.
This is a traditional dance event held annually in April in the ancient city of Kyoto. Geisha and maiko gather together and put on breathtaking dance performances. Opportunities to see these elusive entertainers are rare, so the Miyako Odori is a fantastic way to see these traditional artists at their best.
Travelers can enjoy the weeping wisteria that appears in full bloom throughout Japan. These lavender-coloured flowers sweep over trellises in historic shrines that stretch back to the Edo period. Visitors flock to see these whimsical flowers and to experience the magical wisteria tunnels that best capture the beauty of these flowers.
- Ashikaga Flower Park (Tochigi)
- Kawachi Fujien (Fukuoka)
- Kameido Tenjin Shrine (Tokyo)
Summer in Japan is intense to say the least. It’s hot and intensely humid so make sure to keep hydrated. The Japanese love to spend their summers at the beach and camping by rivers. Travelers can enjoy the Japanese summer by experiencing the colourful matsuri (festivals), the huge displays of fireworks that take place in the evening and savour festival foods from street vendors. If heat isn’t your thing, we suggest heading over to the Japanese Alps to experience the more rural mountain lifestyle or fly up to Hokkaido where it’s warm, but not as intense as in places like Tokyo and Osaka.
August is a great time to head away from the dense urban cities and into the beautiful countryside. We recommend exploring the many hiking trails Japan has to offer, especially up the northern region of Japan in Tohoku.
Expect temperatures between mid-20s °C to high 30s°C. Humidity is the big factor with summer in Japan making it feel much hotter than what it actually is, especially in the cities. Make sure to pack light and breathable clothing with a light jacket for the warm evenings. It’s also worth investing in an electric handheld fan. You’ll be thanking yourself later when exploring the neighbourhoods of Tokyo or Osaka.
Visitors should avoid traveling during the typhoon season which peaks in August which can delay travel plans. Travelers need to be aware of the monsoon season in June and July. Hokkaido is a great place to enjoy breathtaking nature, mouthwatering cuisine and is barely affected by the rainy season.
Obon (お盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom that honours the spirits of one’s ancestors. It is believed that each year during Obon, spirits return to our world in order to visit their relatives. Customs vary from region to region, some light a fire at the front of their doors to greet their ancestors, Others float lanterns down rivers, and others insert matchsticks into eggplants or cucumbers to create horse-shaped figures for the spirits of their ancestors to ride back to the spirit world.
Travelers can experience Obon by taking part in Obon dances, or Bon Odori that takes place in many temples.
Experience the excitement and romance of Japanese summer festivals. These festivals are held all over the country almost every weekend as almost every shrine celebrates their history with a matsuri.
With streets lined with vendors selling from takoyaki to chocolate bananas, young Japanese men and women dressed in yukata and taiko drums beating into the rhythm of the night – Japanese summer festivals are not to be missed. If you want to see spectacular summer festivals outside of Tokyo, head north to Tohoku and see Nihonmatsu’s Great Lantern Festival, Akita’s Kanto Festival or Sendai’s Tanabata Festival. If you don’t mind the crowds, the Nebuta Festival in Aomori is also an incredible experience with larger than life floats depicting mythical Japanese creatures.
In Japanese culture, fireflies evoke the nostalgic feeling of summer. They are also believed to be the spirits of warriors who fell in battle. With the fast spread of urbanization, it’s not as easy to see the mystical glow of fireflies. For travelers seeking more authentic, Japanese summer pastimes will enjoy heading to rural areas such as Gifu and Gunma to experience the magic of fireflies.
- Shinshu Tatsuno Firefly Festival (Nagano)
- Uchio Shrine (Hyogo)
- Tsukiyono Firefly Village (Gunma)
For many travelers, this is the best time to travel in Japan. As the weather cools, the vibrant hues of red and orange light up the cities and countryside throughout the country. The changing leaves are the main draw for many between the months of September and November. Inspiring poets and writers for centuries, Japan’s autumn colours are worth the fuss. Autumn is a photographer’s dream destination with over 70% of the country covered in lush forests. The changing of the leaves begins in the north in September and gradually makes its way down the country in waves of stunning red, yellow and copper shades.
Travelers can enjoy exquisite seasonal flavours such as chestnut, roasted sweet potato and Japanese pumpkin. A fantastic way to enjoy the autumn colours is by taking a train out of the city. We recommend taking the train from Kyoto to Arashiyama, Tokyo to Nikko, and the Kurobe Gorge Railway.
Expect temperatures of mid to high 20s °C in September. The weather in October is mainly dry and pretty warm, allowing for outdoor activities in your travel itinerary. The weather in November starts to cool down, but that also brings the perfect excuse to indulge in seasonal treats such as roasted sweet potato and Japanese chestnuts.
Train and boat rides are a spectacular way of enjoying the changing colours of autumn in Japan. These are very popular with locals and tourists so it’s best to book these early!
- Hozugawa Kudari Boat Ride (Kyoto)
- Geibikei Funakudari Boat Ride (Iwate)
- Oigawa Railway (Shizuoka)
- Hakone Tozan Railway (Hakone)
Japan is a dream destination for shopaholics. Between September to November, the majority of stores have their annual clearance sales to make space for their autumn/winter collections. This is a great time to head in stores and find a bargain all while experiencing the Japanese retail scene.
Similarly to hanami (flower-viewing), the Japanese make it a custom to sit down together and marvel at the signs of the passing seasons known as tsukimi. For autumn, people celebrate the autumn moon with moon-viewing parties. Unlike hanami which can be lively gatherings, tsukimi is a more serene and poetic affair. Traditionally it was a way of expressing gratitude for a bountiful harvest and hopes for a good harvest the following year. Japanese households will celebrate the beauty of the moon by eating tsukimi dango, a sweet rice dumpling. Eating these sweets on the night of a full moon is believed to bring good health and happiness in the coming year.
From hidden mountain villages, snow mountains to legendary powder snow and soul-warming hotpots, Japan embraces winter like few other countries, making it a fantastic destination to visit during the cooler months. Travelers can make the most of their trip by beating the crowds and experiencing a completely side of Japan rarely shown to the world. Experience the zen-world of Japan dusted with white snow for a blissfully serene holiday.
Winter temperatures drop to an average of 5°C across central Japan and dive down well below zero up in the mountains and up the northern regions of the country. Luckily for travelers, winter brings about clear skies and sun despite the cold temperature. As long as you’re dressed in warm layers you’ll have no problem exploring Japan’s winter wonderland.
Hiking and cycling might be out of the picture, but winter turns Japan into a world-leading skiing destination. Head up to the northern regions of Japan and experience Niseko’s legendary powder ski. Nagano Prefecture also offers incredible skiing and snowboarding experiences with affordable accommodation due to the lack of tourists around.
Winter illuminations around Christmas and New Year are popular attractions in cities across the country. Typically these are displayed from November right through to December. Among our personal favourites is the spectacular light show is Kobe’s Luminarie, an Italian designed light festival held as a memorial to the victims of the devastating Kobe earthquake in 1995. Here are some of our other recommendations around the country.
- Sendai Pageant of Starlight (Sendai
- Ashikaga Flower Fantasy (Tochigi)
- Kingdom of Light (Nagasaki)
Visiting Japan during New Year is a fantastic way to experience Japan’s most important holiday. Travelers should be aware though that many tourist attractions, shops and restaurants are closed between December 31st to January 3rd which can be inconvenient.
The Japanese New Year is celebrated through a number of traditions from getting up to see the first sunrise of the year to Hatsumode which is the year’s first visit to a shrine or temple. Hatsumode festivities are held at almost every shrine and temple across the country especially on January 1st. Photographers will relish the opportunity to take beautiful shots of families and couples in traditional kimono as they line up to make their first prayers of the year.