When planning your trip to Japan, the timing of your visit is key, thanks to the countless seasonal experiences and holidays that take place throughout the year. Visit in spring, and savor a glass of umeshu under the cherry blossoms; come back in summer, and enjoy the lively dancing of the Bon Odori festivals.
Japan boasts some of the most colorful and culturally fascinating festivals on Earth, and more national holidays than most other countries. But while certain celebrations are worth planning around, it’s also essential to be aware of how local holidays can affect travel plans – particularly if you don’t enjoy getting lost in endless crowds.
Should You Plan Around Japanese National Holidays?
The truth is that there’s no single best time of year to visit Japan, and no time to avoid it entirely either.
However, there are certainly some dates that can complicate travel plans, as destinations become flooded with travelers, both foreign and domestic. Perhaps most importantly, if you plan to visit during Japan’s busiest holidays and tourist seasons, services (such as accommodations, transport, and the best local guides) will be in high demand and short supply.
Popular destinations and activities will be predictably congested during busy times of year, but it’s still possible – with some extra effort – to limit your exposure to crowds. For example, you can plan to explore tourist spots during off-peak hours and spend some time in Japan’s lesser-known, yet equally remarkable destinations (read about our favorite off-the-beaten-path places in Japan for inspiration).
This article explores the Japanese holidays with the most potential to impact your travel plans. And because we think you should never pass up a chance to visit Japan, we’ll include some tips to help you enjoy your trip, even if your dates unavoidably overlap with peak travel periods.
Oshogatsu (New Year’s Holidays)
Around December 29 to January 3
Winter in Japan is lovely, but traveling over the New Year’s holidays always brings some added complications, and Japan is no exception (but perhaps not for the reasons you might expect). New Year’s in Japan is traditionally a more sober, family-centric affair than in many other countries.
According to tradition, on January 1 households are graced by the arrival of Toshigami, the god who brings good luck for the year ahead. The arrival of this auspicious visitor marks the beginning of oshogatsu (the first month of the year).
The New Year’s period can be a wonderful time of year to visit, but only if you’re willing to work around some minor inconveniences.
Spending New Year’s in Japan: Pitfalls and Workarounds
To prepare for the New Year, most companies in Japan typically close from around December 29 until around January 3. The roads and railways tend to be quite busy at the beginning and end of that period, as urbanites flock to their hometowns and back again.
A key factor for travelers to consider is that many shops, restaurants, markets, and other places of interest close during part or all of this period (some take even longer New Year’s holidays).
For these first few days of the year, travelers might find their options are limited. In major city centers, some big brand stores and chain eateries remain open, though many will be closed. Hotel bars and restaurants are usually open for business throughout the holiday to sustain travelers, so don’t rule out taking in the festivities in a traditional city like Kyoto or Kanazawa.
On the other hand, temples and shrines will be enjoying their busiest days of the year. Oshogatsu is actually one of the best times to see Japanese holiday traditions in action, as locals head out for hatsumode (the first shrine visit of the year). Expect large crowds at the most popular shrines, where queues to pray at the main altars can run upwards of an hour.
If you’d prefer to escape the hustle and bustle of the city entirely, this can be a fantastic time to retreat into nature with a stay at a countryside ryokan (complete with natural onsen hot springs). Just be sure to book well in advance, as this is a popular way for locals and visitors alike to enjoy the New Year period.
What to expect if you’re considering a trip during New Year’s:
- A unique and traditional Japanese New Year experience
- Lively countdown parties in Tokyo and other major cities
- Travel congestion and many businesses are closed from around December 29 to January 3
Chinese New Year
Typically late January or early February
An important holiday throughout Asia, the exact dates of Chinese New Year vary from year to year (here is a guide). While Chinese New Year is no longer a Japanese holiday, it’s nevertheless an important consideration for travelers.
As it is an extended holiday period for people around the region, Japan is typically flooded by tourists, making it a very crowded (and correspondingly expensive) time of year to visit.
Visiting Japan at Chinese New Year: Pitfalls and Workarounds
If your dates happen to overlap with Chinese New Year, it is still possible to minimize exposure to crowds by avoiding major tourist sites, or visiting early in the morning (otherwise, don’t be surprised to see large numbers of tourists!).
If you happen to be in a city like Yokohama or Kobe (two cities with prominent Chinese districts), it’s worth visiting for the lively celebrations.
What to expect if you’re considering a trip to Japan during Chinese New Year:
- Lesser-known attractions and off-the-beaten-path destinations are generally unaffected
- Celebrations in Yokohama Chinatown and other areas
- Main tourist destinations become extremely crowded
- Hotel prices can increase due to high demand in major destinations
Cherry Blossom Season
Mid-March to early April (exact dates vary)
In the popular imagination, is there anything more quintessentially Japanese than the cherry blossoms? Picture row after row of sakura-cladtrees, gently shedding their petals in the breeze and covering the world in a carpet of rosy hues.
Every year, people all across the country flock to parks and riverbanks, picnic blanket and sake bottle in hand, to enjoy this gorgeous spectacle with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties under the fleeting blossoms.
If cherry blossom viewing is near the top of your Japan bucket list, you’re not alone. Millions of visitors flock to Japan around this time, all to catch a glimpse of the country at its most fantastically floral. It’s also a popular time for honeymoons to Japan, as the iconic blossoms can create an effortlessly romantic backdrop.
However, these scenes are only available for a couple of weeks a year – and there’s quite a bit of difficulty in predicting exactly when that time will be.
Visiting Japan during Cherry Blossom Season: Pitfalls and Workarounds
The ephemerality of the sakura bloom is precisely why it’s so emblematic of Japanese culture, which places great importance on the beauty of impermanence. As lovely as that sentiment is, it’s not practical for most travelers planning trips to Japan months in advance.
Broadly speaking, cherry blossom season runs from around mid-March to early April, reaching its peak about one week after the first buds begin to open. However that’s not true for all areas of Japan; these notoriously fickle flowers bloom as the warm weather arrives, moving up in a great pink wave from south to north. On Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, the season doesn’t even begin until May!
Wherever you plan on visiting, be aware that peak bloom brings with it a surge in demand. If you plan on visiting Japan during cherry blossom season, expect higher prices for accommodations and flights as travelers pour into the country. Many of the best ryokan (traditional inns) and hotels sell out up to a year in advance.
What to expect if you’re considering a trip during cherry blossom season:
- Awe-inspiring natural beauty
- Sakura viewing picnics and other cultural celebrations of the cherry blossoms
- One of the busiest times to visit
- Surging prices for accommodations and flights
Around April 29 to May 6: see here for exact dates by year.
The Japanese are renowned for their strong work ethic, so much so that it’s become something of a cultural stereotype. However, there’s one week a year when the entire country enjoys some much-deserved time off: Golden Week.
Golden Week isn’t a holiday in and of itself, but a cluster of four Japanese holidays that all happen to fall within the same period, resulting in a full week of vacation time.
The domestic tourism industry is extremely strong in Japan, and the locals relish this opportunity to travel. Unfortunately for any unprepared visitors, this means that Golden Week is far and away the most hectic time to travel there; early bookings for accommodations, attractions, and transport are a must.
Visiting Japan in Golden Week: Pitfalls and Workarounds
During the Golden Week holiday period, expect trains, planes, and hotels to sell out almost completely. Any leftovers will be priced far higher than usual (often by a factor of three or more). Waiting times at popular attractions can likewise run up to double or triple the norm.
Even international flights to and from Japan will be in higher demand, as locals take the opportunity to travel overseas. The only way to mitigate these considerable downsides is diligent planning.
This might sound quite daunting. However, if you aren’t as invested in specific destinations and activities, Golden Week doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. Rural regions and lesser-known towns don’t receive nearly the same number of visitors, and for those with a taste for adventure, it could be a perfect time to enjoy some peace in the idyllic Japanese countryside.
What to expect if you’re considering a trip during Golden Week:
- By far one of the busiest times of year to travel in Japan
- Many rural regions are less affected by the surge in demand
- Fantastic spring weather
- Prices for flights and accommodation skyrocket
- Top attractions and trains are overcrowded or sold out
- Traffic congestion, particularly at the start and end of the week
Around August 13th to 16th (extends throughout mid-August)
The third and final major Japanese holiday period, Obon is a Buddhist festival all about honoring the spirits of the ancestors. According to tradition, for a brief time in the middle of August the spirits of the dead return to the world of the living.
During this time, Japanese people typically return to their hometowns to tend to family graves and light lanterns said to guide the ancestral ghosts back home. That might sound a touch macabre, but in reality, Obon is anything but.
It’s actually a time of great celebration which plays host to some of the best matsuri (traditional festivals). Across the country, huge parades of dancers and drummers, called Bon Odori, are organized to welcome back the dearly departed.
The largest and most famous of these is the Awa Odori in Tokushima Prefecture, which sees 100,000 performers take to the streets over the course of four days.
Visiting Japan During Obon: Pitfalls and Workarounds
As with New Year’s, the main downside of Obon is the huge congestion on the roads and railways as people all rush to their hometowns at once. This is especially pronounced in the immediate lead-up to the main dates and directly after.
If planning a trip during the height of the Obon festival period, it’s best to avoid intercity trains and highways during the busiest travel days if possible. Tourist sites generally aren’t as affected as in other peak travel times, however, hotel prices do go up as the festival approaches.
What to expect if you’re considering a trip during Obon:
- Streets come alive with traditional Bon Odori parades
- Less disruptive to attraction availability than other peak times
- Travel congestion, especially around Aug 11-13, and 16
- A spike in accommodation prices
- Very hot and humid weather
Around September 19 to 23 (only certain years)
Silver Week is another cluster of Japanese holidays that results in five full days of rest and relaxation. There’s just one catch: it only comes along once in a blue moon. It’s a combination of two irregular public holidays, plus a weekend tacked on for good measure.
On the third Monday of September is Respect for the Aged Day, which every few years, falls two days apart from the Autumn Equinox. And whenever there’s a one-day gap between public holidays, the Japanese government fills it in with a bonus day off, bringing the tally to five.
Now, this shouldn’t be a priority concern for travelers for the time being, unless you’re planning your trip well in advance: the next time a full Silver Week will come into alignment is 2026.
Visiting Japan in Silver Week: Pitfalls and Workarounds
Just like Golden Week, Japanese people take this opportunity to travel, meaning larger crowds and higher demand across the board. The same rules also apply here as to Golden Week: book everything as early as possible, and be prepared to pay higher prices for accommodation.
The disruptions during a normal year won’t be anywhere near as significant as in a ‘true’ Silver Week in Japan, but it’s still worth marking these — and any other relevant holidays — on your trip calendar. Take a look down below for a full list.
What to expect if you’re considering a trip during Silver Week:
- It won’t be a major concern until 2026
- Rural regions will be less affected by the high demand
- Flights and accommodation prices will surge
- Top attractions and trains will be crowded or sold out
Key Dates for Japanese National Holidays in 2023
- December 31 to January 3: New Year Holidays
Japanese families prepare for the New Year with traditional meals, games, and gifts. When it comes, they pray for good fortune for the year ahead.
- January 1: Oshogatsu (New Year’s Day)
Locals rise before dawn to watch the first sunrise of the year, and visit shrines to pray for good fortune in the days and months ahead.
- January 9: Seijin no Hi (Coming of Age Day)
Boys become men and girls become women, on a day of celebration for everyone turning 18 between April 2, 2022 and April 1, 2023.
- February 11: Kenkoku Kinenbi (National Foundation Day)
A celebration of the folkloric founding of Japan over 2,500 years ago by the mythical Emperor Jimmu. This was a major holiday in imperial Japan pre-WWII, but nowadays it gets little attention.
- February 23: Emperor’s Birthday
The birthday of Emperor Naruhito, the current and 126th emperor of Japan. Crowds gather at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace to catch a glimpse of the royal family on the balcony.
- March 21: Shunbun no Hi (Spring Equinox Day)
An ancient celebration marking the official beginning of spring. People will typically clean out their houses in preparation, and sweep the tombstones of their ancestors.
- April 29 to May 5: Golden Week Peak Travel Days
A cluster of holidays which result in a full week of vacation. This is one of the most difficult times to travel in Japan.
- April 29: Showa no Hi (Showa Day)
A commemoration of the birthday of Emperor Showa, the 124th ruler of Japan who reigned from 1926 to 1989. It’s a designated day of reflection upon the historic events which defined his reign.
- May 3: Kenpo Kinenbi (Constitution Memorial Day)
A celebration of Japan’s modern post-war constitution coming into effect in 1947. The government’s National Diet building opens its halls to the public on this day.
- May 4: Midori no Hi (Greenery Day)
A day celebrating Japan’s deep cultural connection with nature. Trips to public parks or temple gardens are a common way to celebrate.
- May 5: Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day)
This day is dedicated to the little ones. Families adorn their houses with streamers decorated as koi carp, and children dress up in traditional kimono to visit temples.
- July 17: Umi no Hi (Marine Day)
A relatively new holiday for appreciation of the oceans and their bounty. Locals escape the summer heat with a day of swimming and sunbathing by the seaside.
- August 11: Yama no Hi (Mountain Day)
Mountain Day is the newest Japanese public holiday, celebrated for the first time in 2016. However, Japan’s reverence for its mountains goes back millennia. Hiking and trekking are two obvious ways to celebrate.
- August 12-16: Obon Peak Travel Days
Japanese people welcome back the spirits of their departed ancestors with lamps and offerings. Some regions actually celebrate Obon one month earlier, according to the lunar calendar.
- September 18: Keiro no Hi (Respect for the Aged Day)
A day to formally express Japanese culture’s respect and love for the elderly. It began in 1948 as a local tradition in a small town, then quickly spread across Japan, becoming a holiday in 1966.
- September 23: Shubun no Hi (Autumn Equinox Day)
The official start of fall, when Japanese people will once again sweep the tombs of their ancestors, or relax outdoors with some snacks.
- October 9: Taiiku no Hi (Health and Sports Day)
A holiday commemorating the start of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. This is typically when schools will hold their annual sports days, and companies organize activities for their staff.
- November 3: Bunka no Hi (Culture Day)
Japan’s Culture Day commemorates the history and beauty of Japanese art. The emperor awards the prestigious Order of Culture medals to noteworthy Japanese artists and writers on this day.
- November 23: Kinro Kansha no Hi (Labor Thanksgiving Day)
Originally an ancient festival to celebrate the fall harvest, this is now dedicated to all the workers of Japan. School children will typically make cards and hand them out to public sector workers.
Key Dates for Japanese Holidays in 2024
- December 31 to January 3: New Year’s Holidays
- January 1: New Year’s Day (Shogatsu)
- January 8: Coming of Age Day (Seijin no hi)
- February 11: National Foundation Day (Kenkoku kinenbi)
- February 23: Emperor’s Birthday
- March 20: Spring Equinox Day (Shunbun no hi)
- April 29 to May 5: Golden Week Peak Travel Days
- April 29: Showa Day (Showa no hi)
- May 3: Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpo kinenbi)
- May 4: Greenery Day (Midori no hi)
- May 5: Children’s Day (Kodomo no hi)
- July 15: Ocean Day (Umi no hi)
- August 12: Mountain Day (Yama no hi)
- August 12-16: Obon Peak Travel Days
- September 16: Respect for the Aged Day (Keiro no hi)
- September 23: Autumn Equinox Day (Shubun no hi)
- October 14: Health and Sports Day (Taiiku no hi)
- November 4: Culture Day (Bunka no hi)
- November 25: Labor Thanksgiving Day (Kinro kansha no hi)
- December 31 to January 3: New Year’s Holidays
Start Early to Plan Your Ideal Trip During a Peak Holiday Season
It bears repeating, after all that talk of packed trains and long lines, that there’s absolutely no “wrong” time to visit Japan.
Although there certainly are some less convenient times, don’t be disheartened if you don’t have the flexibility to avoid these busy Japanese holidays and peak times entirely. It’s perfectly possible to enjoy a remarkable trip to Japan regardless; all it takes is a little more planning and flexibility.
Of course, a helping hand from Japan travel experts can take the stress out of overcoming these hurdles. Boutique Japan’s bespoke trip designing service can help you create a unique itinerary catered to your personal tastes and the exact time of year you’ll be traveling.
Our low-volume approach and connections with top hotels, restaurants, and experience providers help us plan extraordinary custom trips year-round (even during the deepest depths of Golden Week).