When is the best time to visit Japan

Yes, it does rain in Japan, but you need it for those moody mists that make the temples look as if they are floating on air.
The best time to visit Japan is between August and January, when there are lots of festivals going on, superb hiking weather, and the magnificent landscapes of autumn. But Japan is definitely a four-season place to vacation. The climate varies from the cooler, mountainous north to the subtropical islands of the south. Cherry blossoms famously take center stage between March and May, and the less well-known autumn leaf turning is glorious in November, which makes these seasons the most popular times to visit Japan.

When is the best time to visit Japan for the cherry blossoms?

Mid-March to April is the best time to see the cherry blossoms in Japan, as they are abundant throughout much of the country including Tokyo and Kyoto. However, the cherry blossom season can begin as early as January in Okinawa, spreading further north as spring continues. Hanami, the traditional act of appreciating the blooms, sees visitors flocking to public parks and gardens to spread out blankets under the trees. Read our guide to seeing the cherry blossoms in Japan for more details

A month by month guide on when to go to Japan

January in Japan

    Early cherry blossoms in Okinawa Snow monkeys and atmospheric onsens Hatsumōde means busy shrines and temples
Hatsumōde is the custom of paying the first visit of the new year to a shrine or temple. The most popular, such as the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, can welcome millions of visitors in early January. In southern Okinawa the first cherry blossoms make an appearance, while skiing and snow sports thrive in the north. January is a good time to meet the residents of Jigokudani Monkey Park and to follow their lead soaking in steamy hot springs.

February in Japan

    Crowd-free sightseeing Warmer spring-like weather further south Sapporo Snow Festival
February in Japan is peak winter sports season while cities are uncrowded – ideal for relaxed sightseeing. The Sapporo Snow Festival sees huge crowds coming to admire sculptures of celebrities, buildings and events carved from snow and ice. Meanwhile, thousands of scantily clad men brave the cold for ‘naked festivals,’ where they try to win good luck for the year ahead. Or at least avoid hypothermia.

March in Japan

    Sumo wrestlers spring into action Cherry blossom season in full swing Omizutori Festival in Nara
Japan in March welcomes cherry blossoms (and plum blossoms) in cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, making this a very desirable time to visit. Less delicate but just as enthralling, sumo wrestling tournaments take place year-round but there’s a big event in Osaka during March. And in Nara, the Omizutori Festival sees a Buddhist priest drawing water from a sacred well, while others wield fiery torches to fend off evil spirits.

April in Japan

    Ideal walking weather Bears emerge from hibernation Cherry blossoms spread further north
Hanami, the tradition of appreciating flowers, gets really busy in popular locations, so seek out less-known spots such as the Shinyo-do Temple in Kyoto to spread your blanket beneath the cherry blossom during what is for many the best time of year to visit Japan. Japan in April is lovely for walking, with snow melting away, allowing mountain routes to open up. The weather is mild and the spring foliage gorgeous. You’ll see little bells around – ring them as you go, as they’re to scare away bears which are waking from hibernation around now.

May in Japan

    Avoid Golden Week in early May Brief rainy season starts mid-May Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo
Japan in May sees a short rainy season that continues to mid-June, starting in Okinawa and moving north. But showers are light and infrequent. The cherry blossoms are thinning out but there are lots of other floral delights to be found, including pink and purple flowering phlox in Saitama. Golden Week comprises four national vacations and sees high prices and packed hotels. And the Sanja Matsuri sees hundreds of musicians and dancers in traditional clothing thronging the Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo.

June in Japan

    Japan’s ‘month of water’ Hokkaido drier and perfect for hiking Wonderful time to explore public gardens
Hot, humid and – at least for first part of month – wet in many areas, June is known as minazuki, ‘the month of water’. Showers move north and farmers enjoy seeing their rice paddies flood, which kills off weeds without harming the rice. Japan in June can be very picturesque, especially around public gardens, with lush foliage a lovely backdrop for photography. And if it does rain, duck into a traditional teahouse for shelter.
June is traditionally low season because it is rainy, but to watch the rice plants being planted in the paddy fields is absolutely enchanting.
– Jeremy Spencer from our partner OKU Japan

July in Japan

    Festival season across Japan Ideal time for hiking Mount Fuji Pack sunscreen as temperatures climb
By July, the rains are easing and temperatures rising, and people head for beaches, beer gardens and higher ground where it’s cooler. Hike to the summit of the sacred Mount Fuji, an active volcano, which due to snow at other times of year can only be reached in July and August. Expect lots of company on the trails. Japan in July is festival season, events taking place across the country including one of the most significant, the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, with parades, floats and delectable street food.

August in Japan

    Pilgrimage walks popular and cooler Obon Festival sees busy hotels Japanese school vacations
Japan in August means the Buddhist Obon (Bon) Festival, which sees Japanese families coming together to honour their ancestors, combining with school vacations to mean high prices and busy hotels. There are lots of festivals going on, with lanterns and fireworks a common sight in the night sky. The Gozan Okuribi in Kyoto concludes Obon with dramatic bonfires lit on the hillside to signify ancestors returning to the spirit world. Pilgrimage walks through mountainous forests are a good way to escape the heat.

August is great for a Nakasendo Trail walking vacation

September in Japan

    Peak typhoon season Warm autumn weather and fewer crowds Amazing rice paddy art in Inakadate
Japan in September often involves typhoons. Okinawa in the south is most vulnerable, and the worst storms cause heavy rains, flooding and landslides. Climate change is likely to make them more intense and common. In the village of Inakadate, amazing rice artworks planted months before come to fruition, drawing crowds. Plus, every few years Silver Week, a five-day national vacation, results in many Japanese people traveling and higher prices.

September is great for a Japan Golden Route vacation

October in Japan

    Spectacular scenery for walkers Harvest festivals country-wide Celebrate Halloween in Tokyo
Japan in October is fab for travel, with the turning leaves colourful enough to rival the cherry blossoms of spring. Walking in northern regions and the national parks is magnificent with all the reds and golds in the landscapes. For foodies too, October is one of best times to visit Japan, as there are harvest festivals all around. And for a uniquely Japanese spin on Halloween, wander the streets of Harajuku in Tokyo, and don’t miss the costume parade at the Shibuya Crossing.

October is great for joining pilgrims on a Kumano Kodo Trail walking vacation

November in Japan

    Mild temperatures but chilly evenings Prime time for leaf changes in Tokyo and Kyoto Perfect season for temples, shrines and palaces
Koyo, or momji, is the term for the autumnal leaf change, which is spectacular in November. Admire the beauty in the foliage in the gardens of temples, shrines and palaces across Japan at this time of year. Those with paid entry tend to be less crowded. The cities have some brilliant winter illuminations up by the end of the month. And Japan in November is still suitable for walking, though you’ll want layers for the mornings and late afternoons when temperatures drop.

December in Japan

    Early snowfall at higher elevations Ryokans and onsens in high demand Snow monkeys in Joshinetsu Kogen National Park
Christmas is not a big event in Japan, although the small Christian population do celebrate. Famously, the traditional Christmas dinner is KFC rather than turkey. New Year is a big deal, with lots of festivities, and there are many fantastic illuminations the length of Japan. Meanwhile, December in Japan also sees the photogenic snow monkeys of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park on Honshu keeping warm by bathing in the hot springs. Traditional ryokans with onsen baths are sought-after.

Tokyo Weather Chart

 
MIN °C
MAX °C
RAIN (mm)
JAN
0
10
43
FEB
1
10
58
MAR
4
13
94
APR
9
19
119
MAY
14
23
132
JUN
18
25
181
JUL
22
29
128
AUG
24
31
147
SEP
20
27
181
OCT
14
21
158
NOV
8
17
84
DEC
3
12
44
PLAY
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Japan or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best times to visit Japan for festivals & events

Cherry blossom season (January to May)

Japan’s famous cherry blossom season begins as early as January in the south of the country and spreads further north as spring goes on, lasting until May. Hanami, the traditional practise of admiring the blooms, sees large crowds of people gather in public gardens and parks, spreading out picnic blankets and posing for photos. It’s a gorgeous natural spectacle, closely rivalled by the autumn leaf-turning.

Sapporo Snow Festival (early February)

This week-long winter event sees international teams competing to build huge and intricate sculptures of snow and ice, and has been going on since 1950. Thousands of people come to admire these transient works of art, which are softly illuminated in the evenings, as well as to enjoy the ice-skating rink, snow slides, and Hokkaido delicacies such as crab nabe hotpot from the many stalls.

Kanamara Matsuri (first Sunday of April)

The Kanamara Matsuri in Kawasaki is one of Japan’s most unusual festivals. Held at the Kanayama Shrine, the festival attracts devotees praying for good marital relations, successful childbirth, and sexual health. Curious visitors, meanwhile, tend to be there to see the many phallic symbols that are paraded around – don’t miss the penis-shaped sweets. The festival raises funds for HIV research, another reason to check it out.

Golden Week (late April to early May)

Golden Week is a grouping of five public vacations that means many cities empty out as Japanese people return to their family homes in small towns and the countryside. Lots of businesses in the cities temporarily draw their shutters, while hotels and public transport tend to be very busy. Silver Week in September is another hectic period that makes travel to Japan inadvisable, but that only takes place sporadically rather than every year.

Inakadate rice paddy art (June to October)

This charming festival around the village of Inakadate in northern Honshu began as a way to combat a declining population, as well as to boost much-needed tourism income. Every May, hundreds of volunteers plant rice in intricate patterns and designs. By summer, their efforts burst extravagantly to life in fields and on hillsides. Aerial views from the observatory platform are best and colours are generally at their most rich in July.

Gion Matsuri (July)

With 1,000 years of history behind it, the Gion Matsuri is one of Kyoto’s largest and most impressive religious festivals. Portable shrines and huge colourful floats are moved around the city throughout the whole of July, but the best time to be in the city is 14-18 July. That’s when the big float parade takes place, and also when the Yoiyama street food festival gives the evenings a delicious aroma.

Obon Festival (August)

The Obon (or Bon) Festival is a Buddhist celebration that commemorates ancestors, family and friends that have passed on. Traditions include laying offerings at graves and carrying lanterns from the grave back to the family home to encourage spirits inside. Public transport and hotels are busy throughout the three-day festival. One of the best places to experience Obon is Kyoto, where the hillside is lit up with huge bonfires in the shape of Chinese letters and symbolic shapes, as a send-off for those returning to the spirit world.

Koyo & Momiji autumn leaves (mid-November to early December)

Japan’s autumn is between mid-September and early December, and is heralded by the foliage turning vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange – a process known as koyo (momiji refers specifically to red maple leaves). It’s a spectacle on a par with the cherry blossoms of spring and a blissful time to be walking in forested areas particularly. Nikko National Park and Lake Chuzenji are among our favourite places to admire the trees.

Our travelers also ask…

When is Golden Week in Japan?

Golden Week in Japan takes place between late April and early May every year. It’s a cluster of public vacations: Shōwa Day (29 April), Constitution Day (3 May), Greenery Day (4 May) and Children’s Day (5 May) that sees many Japanese people leaving the cities to visit their families. Trains are full, hotel prices rocket, and a lot of restaurants and shops close in the cities. Joining in with the festivities can be a nice experience, but generally speaking Golden Week is not the best time to travel in Japan.

When is the cheapest time to visit Japan?

Late autumn to March and high summer (July and August) tend to be the cheapest times to visit Japan. Small group and tailor made trips to Japan don’t fluctuate in price a great deal throughout the year. However, there are certain periods when flights and hotels are likely to be more expensive, such as Golden Week and the Obon Festival. The cherry blossom season in spring and the leaf-turning season in autumn can also be expensive.

Our guide to budget vacations in Japan has more details

How early do I need to book a stay in a Japanese ryokan?

If you’re traveling during peak season (usually spring and autumn), then you should book your ryokan stay as early as possible – and at least several months in advance – for the most options. Spending a few nights in one of these traditional inns is a highlight of many stays in Japan, not least because they often have private hot spring baths (onsens) attached. Naturally, that makes them very sought-after, but there are also plenty of public onsens around if you find no room at the inn. Just be sure you’re aware of the rules and customs involved.

Find out about bathing etiquette and rules with our guide to Japanese onsens

When is the best time to see the snow monkeys in Japan?

The best time to see the cute snow monkeys of Jigokudani Monkey Park is between December and March, when hundreds of the macaques soak themselves in the natural hot springs against a snowy backdrop. They are there all year round, however, so consider coming in the spring, March or April, or autumn, October or November, when there are likely to be fewer visitors. The park is a conservation area outside the hot spring village of Kanbayashi on Honshu. Unfortunately, the thermal pools are not currently wheelchair accessible, with a steep staircase to negotiate before you reach them.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: coniferconifer] [Intro: Sebastian Herrmann] [Jeremy Spencer quote: Dennis P ] [Cherry blossom season: Sora Sagano] [Gion Matsuri: Z3144228]