When you are planning a trip to Japan, your first thoughts are probably how to get the cheapest tickets, or where you are going to stay. But one of the most important aspects of your trip is deciding what time of year to go. Should you choose summer or winter? Cherry blossom season or autumn when the leaves are a blaze of color?
Here we take a look at the best time for you to visit Japan...
What is Japan’s climate like?
Four Seasons to Pick
Lying outside the tropics, Japan has four distinct seasons; spring, summer, autumn and winter, but it also has a rainy season and a typhoon season. The climate ranges from subarctic in the north to subtropical in the south.
Each season has something to offer visitors, so choosing when to go depends on where you are heading and what you want to do or see. Spring runs from March to May, summer from June to August, autumn from September to November, and winter from December to February.
Autumn; Not Too Hot and Not Too Cold
If there is a single time that could be considered the best to visit, on the point of view of the climate, it is usually said to be autumn, when the punishing humidity of summer has dropped, but the days are still mostly warm and sunny, with less chance of rain. Of course, the later in the season and the further north you go you can expect it to get cooler, but not too cold.
What about visiting during cherry blossom season?
Cherry blossom season is widely considered the best time to visit Japan. The blossoms start to appear in late February or early March in the south of the country as this is where it is warmer and then spread north across the country. In the cooler, northern areas they don’t really bloom until May. So, it’s important to take that into account if you want to see the blossoms.
If you are planning a trip to Sapporo for example, you will be disappointed if you book a March holiday as the cherry blossoms come out in May.
Besides Cherry Blossoms Season
While the cherry blossoms are indeed a beautiful and captivating sight, bear in mind they attract huge numbers of foreign tourists these days as well Japanese. You need to plan and book everything well in advance, and if seeing the blossoms is not your main objective, then it is probably best to visit at another time.
Are there any other busy periods?
Golden Week is notorious in Japan for being one of the busiest times for domestic travel. That is because four public holidays come in quick succession at the end of April and beginning of May and most people take advantage of that to get an extended holiday while using fewer days from their annual leave. It is probably best to avoid coming to Japan at this time as transport is so overcrowded and prices for tickets and accommodation are highest. If you come, you will need to reserve months in advance for train and plane seats and hotel rooms.
The other peak times for domestic travel are around the O-bon festival in the second week of August, and New Year.
When to visit by region:
Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost main island and as such offers amazing winter sports opportunities. Niseko is famous for having some of the heaviest snowfall and best powder in the world. Snowfall starts as early as October, but the ski reason really gets going in December and lasts until April. Sapporo’s famed Snow Festival runs from the end of January to the second week of February.
But if snow and cold isn’t for you, Hokkaido can be a great summer destination when the temperatures are milder than in the rest of Japan. You can enjoy a range of activities like horseback riding, hot-air ballooning and rafting. If you want a chance to watch some of the Shiretoko peninsula’s brown bears (from the safety of a boat), it’s best to go between April and June, while for a glorious autumn leaves display, visit from early to mid-October.
You can visit Tokyo at any time of year and still enjoy yourself, but March to May or September to November make great times to visit.
If you come in winter, be prepared for daytime lows of around 5°C and colder at night. June is rainy season, though there are not downpours every day, while in September and October there is a risk of typhoons bringing torrential rain.
Late June to August can be grueling in the big city with temperatures reaching the high 30s as the humidity makes it feel hotter and more oppressive than it is.
If you are looking for some winter fun, then Kanazawa may be the perfect place for you. Snow usually starts falling here from December and can last until March. Winter is a peak time here for domestic travel due to the choice of winter activities available. Autumn, when the leaves in the city’s famous gardens turn shades of yellow, orange and red is also a lovely time to come.
Kyoto has a temperate climate all year round, although winters can be much colder than in Tokyo, with freezing night-time temperatures. The cherry blossoms usually bloom here from the last week of March to the second week of April.
The Kyoto Gion Festival is held in June. Plan to come between mid-October to mid-December to take in the glorious copper-colored autumn leaves.
As Shikoku is located further south it is warmer and there is less chance of snow. Spring is great for hiking. It gets hottest from June to September when it can get over 30°C and you can enjoy the wealth of watersports. Autumn is the most picturesque time. Surprising to say, they have some ski areas and you can enjoy skiing, snowboarding or sleighing there.
Kyushu is blessed with a pleasant climate all year round, although the spring and summer months are known for being some of the best times to make a trip down here. It is also a good place to visit in the winter if you want to get out of the cold elsewhere as it is usually warmer than most other places in Japan.