There is no best or worse season of the year to visit Japan. However, Japan is a country which has very marked seasons; winter will be very cold, summer will be very hot. Each month has its pros and cons and choosing which one you’d enjoy the most can be a difficult task sometimes! Here’s a few things to have in mind for every season, and an overview of what to expect at different times of the year.
Winter can get very cold in Japan! The average low temperature for February, generally the coldest month, is of -8ºC in the northernmost island. There is so much snow in some regions that in the past people living in the countryside would be stranded for months in their little houses. However, this means that the small communities were able to come closer together when secluded from the rest of the world and many traditions and festivals were born during those times. Winter is one of the best seasons to visit Japan for those looking to see local festivals and customs in rural snowy areas, today much more accessible thanks to modern transportation. Snow-related events are numerous and many places are great for skiing. Onsen, Japanese hot springs, feel especially good during this time of the year.
For those who don’t like snow too much, don’t worry, other areas in Japan rarely see snow, Tokyo and Kyoto only on the coldest years. You’ll be looking at 9-13ºC in Tokyo and Kyoto areas.
The Japanese also really love New Years! Every year millions of people all over the country participate in hatsumode, the “first yearly visit to a Shinto shrine”. Shrines will be very crowded but very worth a visit to see this side of the local culture! Many winter decorations are also lit up and can make for some amazing photos.
On the negative side, many places will be closed the last and first days of the year (although Christmas is a regular work-day in Japan). The sun also sets quite early, around 5pm, so days will seem much shorter than other times of the year. And, unless you have experience driving in snow, I would recommend public transport for snowy areas or it can be dangerous.
Spring! The season most widely loved, everyone wants to see the famous and stunning sakura, cherry blossoms. Sakura start to bloom at the end of March but are at their peak at the start of April in most areas. Note that their blooming usually lasts around two weeks and can be a bit hard to predict the ideal timing early in advance. There are plenty of other flowers around in Spring too, especially in April and May. Snacks, sweets and drinks will have sakura flavour on their menus!
As mentioned, Japan is a snow country, so March, even though it counts as Spring with the blooming of plum blossoms and temperatures starting to go down, will still have snow in the north of the country. It’s a good time to see both plum blossoms and snow in one trip.
But, the last days of April and the first days of May coincide with Golden Week, a week-long holiday in Japan. Adding to this that many foreign tourists come to Japan during these dates to experience sakura, April is the busiest month of the year. Hotels can be filled up even months in advance and there’ll be long lines to visit some of the top sites.
Japanese people love summer! School holidays start at the end of July and last through August, so people make the most of their days off to celebrate with many summer festivals. Girls wearing traditional yukata, fireworks shows, dances and music, street food and stalls, men carrying highly decorated floats through town… the first few days of August have so many events going on all over the country that you won’t know where to go!
It’s also time to go to the beach, eat ice cream and, from the end of July through August, you’ll be able to hike Mount Fuji! Furin charms tinkling with the wind will be a sound you’ll remember and associate with Japanese summers by the end of your trip.
Early June is rice-planting season. The fields go from the dryness of Spring to being filled with water and then growing and green through the summer. It makes for some nice scenery!
However, Japanese summers are quite humid and August is very hot, with numbers rising up to and over 32ºC on the average day. It’s not strange to hear about foreign tourists unprepared for the heat fainting, so make sure you drink plenty of water and bring sunscreen. Also note than the end of June and start of July is the rainy season in Japan and days can be quite grey with some heavy downpours or annoying drizzles.
After the summer holidays, Japan quiets down once again as everyone returns to school or their jobs. Autumn is a tranquil and quiet season with little tourism. But little tourism doesn’t mean there isn’t anything special going on!
Autumn sees harvest festivals and has some very unique seasonal dishes to try. Mushrooms, persimmons, pumpkins, fish, rice, chestnuts… I’d even say it’s one of the most unique seasons when it comes to food. Autumn reds and oranges colour the trees making some truly impressive scenes. A visit to a gorge is very highly recommended.
In the past the upper classes loved to set up outdoor night parties to appreciate the moon and so autumn became the traditional season for moon-viewing. Because of this, you may see tsukimi dango in shrines, round dumplings ceremonially offered to the moon.
Truly there are few negative things to say about autumn, overall they are nice and calm months to visit. However, Okinawa, Kyushu and Shikoku islands see the typhoon season, something to take into account if you plan on going further south. In that case, planes may be cancelled or delayed.