Best time to visit Japan

Advice on the best time to visit Japan isn't consistent across the different areas of the country. The main influences on Honshū’s climate are the mountains and surrounding warm seas, which bring plenty of rain and snow. Springtime can be one of the most pleasant times to visit Japan, when the weather reports chart the steady progress of the cherry blossom from warm Kyūshū in March to colder Hokkaidō around May.

Weather and climate in Japan

The weather is one of the most important things to consider when deciding when to go to Japan.

The country’s diverse geography causes enormous variation in weather patterns: from sub-arctic in the north to subtropical in the far south.

Winter weather differs greatly, however, between the western Sea of Japan and the Pacific coasts, the former suffering cold winds and heavy snow while the latter tends towards dry, clear winter days. Regular heavy snowfalls in the mountains provide ideal conditions for skiers.

Here are some general guidelines to help you decide when to visit Japan:

  • Winters are cold and snow is common.
  • Summers are hot and humid across the country.
  • As it happens with other countries located in the northern hemisphere, January is the coldest month and August is the hottest.
  • Summer is also typhoon season, although these tropical storms usually affect southern Japan worse than other areas.

When is the monsoon in Japan?

In the weeks leading to summer, monsoon rains sweep through Japan from south to north. Usually, the monsoon lands in the Okinawa archipelago in May, and then moves north, arriving in Kyoto and Tokyo in early June. Western Japan gets the heaviest rains.

Usually, the rainy season (tsuyu) is over by mid-July. The monsoon season lasts approximately a month a half, although the exact start and end dates vary from year to year. Temperatures can drop suddenly, so layers and waterproof gear are a must! If you’d like to have up-to-date information before deciding when to visit Japan, check the forecasts published by the country’s Meteorological Agency.

When is the best time to visit Japan?

There is no single best time to travel to Japan. The country’s weather varies from island to island, especially during the winter months. For example, while winter temperatures in Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost island) drop below zero, in the southern island of Okinawa they’re in the 20s °C (high 60s °F).

Unless skiing is in your travel plans, March to May and September to November are the best months to visit Japan. This is a country of extremes in terms of its weather, so these months are the best to avoid the high temperatures and humidity of Japanese summers or its chilly winters.

When to visit Japan in winter

Winter temperatures drop to an average of 5°C (41°F) across central Japan, and fall below zero in the mountains and the far north. But it’s not all negative: temperatures are low, but the weather is dry. Clear skies and sunshine are common, so as long as you’re dressed for it, you’ll have no problem exploring your destination.

Heavy snowfall rules out outdoor activities like hiking and cycling, but turns Japan into a world-class skiing destination. And because fewer people visit Japan during the winter, transport and accommodation prices are slashed. This is the best time to travel to Japan for travellers on a budget.

All things considered, Japan is one of the most underrated winter destinations in this part of the world.

Visiting Japan in December — February

Winter weather brings the highest chances of getting a clear view of the spectacular Mount Fuji. You may also want to stay at one of the many ryokans nearby. These traditional Japanese inns are set up for winter comfort and offer a way of experiencing first-hand the legendary Japanese hospitality.

Jogkudani Monkey Park is another top winter destination. This is an easy day trip from Tokyo, and can be combined with a relaxing onsen stay. There are hundreds of these hot spring resorts all over the country.

Between December and February, snow brings a magical stillness to mountains and rural areas. This is the time to visit picturesque mountain villages like Biei (in Hokkaido), Ine (north of Kyoto), and those along Nakasendo Trail.

The Japan Alps, a mountain range in central Japan, are a dream for skiers at this time of the year. There are other excellent ski resorts within easy reach of Sapporo.

The weather in December is perfect for city breaks, as urban destinations make it easy to mix indoor and outdoor activities. Visiting museums, anime shops, discovering ramen and sake spots, tea ceremonies, and karaoke sessions are some popular things to do.

When to visit Japan in spring

Spring brings cloudy and wet weather to Japan. Morning and evenings can be chilly. But as the snow begins to melt, Japan’s nature is revealed at its best.

Spring is sakura season in Japan. Japanese cherry blossoms are know all over the world and draw crowds of tourists. As a result, prices tend to be higher than at other times and bookings for transport and accommodation need to be made in advance.

But the busiest time of the year is Golden Week. This period consists of four national holidays, and it extends from late April to early May. Many locals take time off to travel around the country, so expect transport and accommodation to be fully booked.

Visiting Japan in March-May

Although technically the spring begins in March, this is one of the coldest months in Japan. Early in the month, conditions are still good for skiing and other winter sports. Towards the end of March, the temperatures are noticeably warmer, making spring a fantastic time to explore Japan’s mesmerizing nature. If you don’t like extremes, you’ll find that the weather in April and May is right in your comfort zone.

Cherry blossom season runs between April and May. You’ll find more information about the best time to see cherry blossoms in Japan further down. And there are other natural wonders that will capture your heart. For example, the blossoming of nemophila flowers, which turn Hitachi Park in Ibaraki into a sea of blue blossoms.

Arashiyama bamboo forest near Kyoto is another inspiring spring attraction. There are other worthwhile sights attractions in the area, including hot springs and imperial villas.

When to visit Japan in summer

Summer temperatures gradually rise from mid-20s °C to high 30s °C (high 60s °F to high 90s °F). High humidity can make it feel hotter than what it really is, especially in densely built urban areas. But since Japan consists of several islands, you’ll never be too far from a beach.

Having said that, it’s possible to enjoy moderate temperatures if you head to the mountains. August is a great time to explore the hiking trails in the Japan Alps, or the volcanic wilderness of Daisetsuzan National Park.

Three things you’ll want to consider if you’re planning a trip to Japan in the summer are:

  • There’s a major holiday in mid-August, so many landmarks will be busy with Japanese travellers.
  • Monsoon rains can be heavy and make their appearance suddenly during June and July.
  • Typhoon season peaks in August. These tropical storms can disrupt travel plans.

Visiting Japan in June — August

Despite having much to offer, Japan flies under the radar as a beach and watersports destination. Okinawa’s tropical beaches of Okinawa are world-class, and if you really want to get off the beaten path, fly to the Yaeyama Islands – you may think you’re in Polynesia.

If you don’t have the time or resources to plan a getaway in southern islands, there are other beaches that are easier to reach. Izu peninsula, not far from Tokyo, is ideal for beach hopping, and is teeming with wildlife and rugged coastal scenery. Also near Tokyo is Okutama, a paradise for watersports lovers in search of an adrenaline boost. River rafting and canyoning tours are only an hour away from Japan’s capital city!

July and August are the best months to climb Mount Fuji. But you don’t have to go all the way up to the summit to appreciate the beauty that surrounds Japan’s most famous mountain, as there are plenty of things to do in the surrounding area: cable car excursions, boat trips, and museums will keep you entertained.

If you’re here during the summer monsoon, why not head north and explore one of the country’s least-visited islands? Hokkaido boasts breathtaking nature, few tourists, extraordinary cuisine, and is barely affected by the monsoon.

When to visit Japan in fall

For many travellers, this is the best time to visit Japan. The changing of the leaves is the main draw between September and November. This natural event has inspired poets and writers for centuries and is just as appealing today. And considering that forests cover nearly 70% of Japan, photo opportunities are pretty much everywhere. Foliage colour changes begin in the north in September, and gradually the wave of beautiful red, yellow, and copper shades makes its way down south. Foliage forecasts are updated every year to help you choose your destination.

Average temperatures stay in the mid to high 20s °C (high 60s °F) in September. Japan weather in October is mostly dry and relatively warm, allowing you to include outdoor activities in your itinerary. Japan weather in November is cool and dry, but with the cooler temperatures comes the perfect excuse to indulge in seasonal treats made with persimmons, chestnuts, or sweet potato. Each region has its own speciality, so sample away!

Visiting Japan in September — November

Train rides are a spectacular way of seeing the changing colours of foliage in all their glory. Some recommended train trips include Kyoto to Arashima, Tokyo to Nikko, and the Kurobe Gorge Railway.

Japan is a dream for shopaholics – that’s hardly a secret. Between September to November, many stores launch their summer clearance and autumn/fall sales, so this is a good time to find a bargain and check out the Japanese retail scene – a cultural experience in itself.

If you’re a foodie and haven’t yet decided when to go to Japan, book your trip in September or October. Kyoto welcomes the Plum Wine Fair in September, and there are craft beer events all over central Japan. Late October is ramen time in Tokyo. The Tokyo Ramen Show brings expert noodle makers from all over the country to the city, giving you a chance to sample dozens of regional specialities in a single place.

When to see the cherry blossoms in Japan

Sakura season runs between April and May, although it comes earlier to some parts of the country. In Fukuoka and Hiroshima, these delicate flowers are already on display in late March.

Cherry blossom hotspots in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka will be crowded, but there’s no shortage of alternative places where you can admire this natural wonder without battling crowds and their selfie sticks. Here are our suggestions:

  • Showa Memorial Park, a 30-minute train ride from Tokyo.
  • Taking a boat trip along Meguro River, in Tokyo for a different perspective of the flowering trees.
  • Shukeien Garden in Hiroshima.
  • Tsurumi Park in Osaka.
  • Nikko national park, only 90 minutes away from central Tokyo.

Festivals in Japan

Here’s a summary of the best festivals in Japan by month:

February

  • Sapporo Snow Festival, a week-long event known for its impressive ice sculptures.
  • Otaru Snow Light Path, also in Hokkaido. The glittering light of lanterns set along the river adds a touch of warmth and charm to the winter atmosphere.

March

  • Higashiyama Hanatouro in Kyoto. Thousands of lanterns illuminate the city’s top landmarks creating a magical scene - especially in the evenings!
  • Inabe Plum Festival. A great alternative if you can’t make it on time for cherry blossom season.

April

  • Wisteria Flower Festival, in Ashikaga Park. Vibrant purple flowers are arranged in tunnel formation for a striking effect. This festival usually coincides with Golden Week.

July

  • Gion Festival in Kyoto, the city’s most important cultural event. The festival runs for the entire month of July and is known for its lavish floats and paper lantern displays.
  • Mitama Festival in Tokyo’s Chiyoda area. You’ll see traditional dancing, pretty lanterns, and will have a chance to admire the beautiful yukatas (summer kimonos) that many people wear for the occasion.

September

  • Sapporo’s Autumn Fest, one of Japan’s biggest food festivals, offering gourmet and traditional dishes along with generous amounts of sake and other local spirits.

October

  • Sawara Grand Festival, which has been celebrated for over 300 years. The streets of Katori come alive with music, chanting, and floats carrying mythological figures.

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Rough Guides Editors
11/6/2020
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