Japan may be a small country, but with its captivating blend of tradition and modernity, bustling cities and stunning countryside, it has something to offer anyone. In spring, sakura – or cherry blossoms – create a beautiful display that lures in locals and travelers, while the winter is a great time for skiers. But whether you’re looking to dive into the bustling crowds in Tokyo or escape to the tranquil gardens of Kyoto, there is a time that’s right for you. Here’s our guide to help you choose the perfect time to go to Japan.
High Season: April, May and August
Best time for cherry blossoms
Cherry-blossom season (late March to early April), Golden Week (early May) and O-Bon (mid-August) are peak travel periods, when sights will be crowded and accommodation more expensive (and often fully booked). Cooler mountain destinations are most popular in August, which is also the month for many festivals.
Shoulder Season: June, July and September to November
Best time for the outdoors and fall foliage
June and July will kick off the hiking season in the Japan Alps, making it a great time to explore the great outdoors – and perfect for anyone looking to escape the cities in the summer heat. Autumn foliage draws crowds during specific periods in October and November (depending on elevation).
Low Season: December to March
Best time for snow
Sights are uncrowded and accommodation at its cheapest. The exception is the ski resorts, which are now hitting their stride. Many businesses close over the New Year period (end of December to early January)
Japan comes to life again after the lull of the New Year holiday. Winter grips the country in the mountains and in the north, ushering in ski season (take care when driving in snow country).
Key events: Shōgatsu (New Year); Coming-of-Age Day
February is the coldest month and the peak of Japan's ski season.
Key events: Setsubun Matsuri; Mantōrō; Yuki Matsuri; Plum-Blossom Viewing
Spring begins in fits and starts. The Japanese have a saying: sankan-shion – three days cold, four days warm.
Key events: Hina Matsuri; Anime Japan
Warmer weather and blooming cherry trees make this a fantastic month to be in Japan, though places like Kyoto can get very crowded.
Key events: Cherry-Blossom Viewing; Takayama Spring Matsuri
May is one of the best months to visit: it's warm and sunny in most places and the fresh green in the mountains is beautiful. Be wary of the travel crush during the Golden Week holiday.
Key events: Sanja Matsuri; Roppongi Art Night
Early June is lovely, though by the end of the month tsuyu (the rainy season) sets in. As mountain snow melts, hiking season begins in the Japan Alps (though double-check for higher elevations).
Key events: Hyakumangoku Matsuri
When the rainy season passes, suddenly it’s summer – the season for festivals and hanabi taikai (fireworks shows). It does get very hot and humid; head to Hokkaidō or the Japan Alps to escape the heat.
Key events: Mt Fuji Climbing Season; Gion Matsuri; Tenjin Matsuri; Fuji Rock Festival; Peiron Dragon-Boat Races
Hot, humid weather and festivals continuing apace. School holidays mean beaches and cooler mountain areas get crowded. Many Japanese return to their home towns (or take a holiday) around O-Bon, so transit is hectic and shops may close.
Key events: Summer Fireworks Festivals; World Cosplay Summit; Sendai Tanabata Matsuri; Nebuta Matsuri; O-Bon (Festival of the Dead); Peace Memorial Ceremony; Awa-odori Matsuri; Rōsoku Matsuri; Daimon-ji Gozan Okuribi; Earth Celebration
Days are still warm, hot even, though less humid. Though the odd typhoon rolls through this time of year, this is generally a great time to travel in Japan.
Key events: Jōzenji Street Jazz Festival; Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri; Moon Viewing
Pleasantly warm days and cool evenings make this an excellent time to be in Japan. The autumn foliage peaks in the Japan Alps at this time.
Key events: Matsue Suitōro; Asama Onsen Taimatsu Matsuri; Yokohama Oktoberfest; Kurama-no-hi Matsuri; Performing Arts Festivals; Halloween
Crisp and cool days with snow starting to fall in the mountains. Autumn foliage peaks in and around Tokyo and Kyoto, which can draw crowds.
Key events: Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3 Festival)
December is cold across most of Japan. Year-end parties fill city bars and restaurants; commercial strips are decorated with seasonal illuminations. Many businesses shut down from 29 or 30 December to between 3 and 6 January.
Key events: Luminarie; Toshikoshi Soba; Joya-no-kane
Source: Lonely Planet