The good news for travelers is that there is no single best time of year to travel to Japan. Yet this makes it difficult to decide when to visit, as each of Japan’s seasons has its own special highlights!
Japan is truly a year-round destination, and Japanese culture is remarkable in its profound appreciation of the changing of the seasons.
As you’ll see when you visit, each season — and even sub-season! — is celebrated with seasonal foods, and often matsuri (festivals).
Because of this, we typically recommend taking advantage of any chance to visit Japan. On the other hand, if your dates are flexible it’s worth thinking about which time of year you’d enjoy most.
After all, some travelers hate the cold — or the heat and humidity of summer — while others will do whatever it takes to avoid crowds! (When planning a trip to Japan, a key question to ask yourself is: would you rather have better weather, or fewer tourists around?)
So we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you determine the best time to travel to Japan.
Highlights of Japan’s Seasons
Before delving into much more detail about each of Japan’s distinct seasons below, here are some brief highlights on what to expect at different times of year:
Spring in Japan is famous for the cherry blossom season, and if you’re lucky — and don’t mind the crowds — you may experience hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) in all its glory.
Fall in Japan is another magical (and highly popular) time of year, with brilliant autumn colors and crisp, pleasant temperatures.
Winter in Japan offers amazing seafood, incredible onsen (hot springs) experiences, not to mention some of the best powder in the world for skiing and snowboarding.
Japanese Geography 101
When discussing the seasons and weather in Japan, it’s also helpful to have a very basic understanding of the country’s geography.
While Japan may look rather small on the map — especially next to a massive country like China! — it is surprisingly large.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that seasons and weather in Japan vary a lot from place to place.
Japan stretches from the frigid northern island of Hokkaido, all the way to the subtropical islands of Okinawa in the far southwest.
As you can imagine, Hokkaido experiences longer and more pronounced winters than the rest of Japan. In contrast, Okinawa enjoys longer summers and relative warmth almost year-round.
In between — in places like Tokyo and Kyoto, on Japan’s main island of Honshu — things tend to be less extreme.
For the purposes of this article, to keep things as simple as possible, the information below is primarily based on the seasons and weather in Honshu – and specifically places like Tokyo and Kyoto.
Generally speaking, locations to the south and west tend to be slightly warmer, while locations to the north and east tend toward being cooler.
Also keep in mind that higher-elevation areas, such as the Japanese Alps, tend to be colder as well.
So let’s get into it, starting with Japan’s most famous season: spring!
Spring in Japan
Spring in Japan lasts from about mid-March to May, depending on the location. The weather in spring is notoriously fickle, with temperatures ranging from approximately 40 to 65 °F (4 to 18 °C). On some days you may still want your winter coat, while on other days you may not even need a sweater.
Spring is Japan’s most famous season, and is symbolized by the iconic sakura (cherry blossoms), which typically bloom sometime between the second half of March, and the first half of April (sakura bloom schedules, too, vary significantly depending on location).
Without a shadow of a doubt, we receive far more inquiries for travel to Japan around cherry blossom season than for any other time of year. In fact, it is such a popular time to visit that we are often forced to stop even considering new inquiries months and months in advance.
While the beauty of the cherry blossoms in bloom is undeniably alluring, whether or not flower viewing in Japan is worth the potential downsides is not quite as clear!
Would-be travelers to Japan often try to coordinate their trips to coincide with hanami season, but Mother Nature is unpredictable.
In some years, the sakura bloom early, and in others they arrive late; in “lucky” years they might linger on the trees for a couple of weeks, while in others a strong wind or rain may scatter them early.
Of course, it is in great part this unpredictability and impermanence that has provided inspiration to Japanese poets for centuries.
Why You Might Want to Avoid Cherry Blossom Season
First, a confession: we can’t deny that cherry blossom season can be amazing. The question is whether or not it’s worth the trouble, added expense, and endless crowds.
Apart from their unpredictability (alluded to above), the problem with the blossoms is that they’ve almost become too famous for their own good.
Cherry blossom season has always been an appealing time of year to visit, but in the past few years – and now leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – Japan has received steadily record-breaking numbers of visitors (primarily from throughout Asia, and also from throughout Europe, the US, Australia, and beyond).
The “worst” of peak cherry blossom season lasts from mid-March until around mid-April, and in terms of popularity and crowds it’s comparable to Europe during summer vacations.
What this means for you, the traveler:
- More tourists
- Lower accommodation availability
- Higher accommodation prices
- A need to plan much further in advance
JAPAN’S ACCOMMODATION SHORTAGE
We typically begin receiving requests for cherry blossom season up to a year in advance or more, and many hotels and ryokans begin to fill up surprisingly early (fortunately, some accommodations don’t start accepting bookings this far in advance, meaning it’s not impossible to plan with less advance notice).
One of the main problems most travelers don’t realize is that Japan’s recent rise in popularity as a tourist destination has, to a great extent, taken the country by surprise. Whereas the JNTO’s (Japan National Tourism Organization) main challenge used to be drawing more travelers to Japan, its main challenge now is dealing with the huge influx.
Sadly, for would-be travelers, there are simply not enough hotel rooms to go around. This is particularly dire in the city of Kyoto, which has a striking shortage of rooms relative to demand. It’s also of course an issue when it comes to the best hotels in Japan, which tend to have fewer rooms in the first place.
It’s worth noting that guides, too, are in disappointingly limited supply. The best guides in Japan are often booked just as early, making it a challenge to find great guides when booking without significant advance notice.
Golden Week in Japan
Despite the downsides, cherry blossom season can be a lovely time to visit, provided you plan wisely.
However, there is one week in spring that we definitely recommend avoiding, unless you simply have no choice: Golden Week. Along with the New Year’s holiday (and the Obon holiday in August), Golden Week is one of Japan’s peak travel weeks.
Golden Week usually begins at the very end of April, and runs through the first week of May (each year’s calendar varies slightly). During this time of year, Japanese people travel heavily, making it an extremely busy and expensive time to travel around Japan.
In case you’re wondering what all the fuss is about (after all, maybe holidays and festivals are your thing) it’s important to mention that there is nothing particularly exciting about being in Japan during Golden Week. It’s simply a collection of several non-particularly-exciting public holidays in a row.
If you must travel during Golden Week it can be done, but if you can shift your dates a little you should consider doing so.
Final Tips on Visiting Japan in Spring
Having read all of the above, some of you may be thinking you might want to skip the cherry blossoms (and Golden Week) in favor of fewer crowds.
Late April can be a good time to try and visit, though lately the popularity of the cherry blossom season has started to spill over into this part of the month. Also, if considering late April, beware of Golden Week.
Mid to late May can be a wonderful time to be in Japan, and tends to have a good combination of warmer temperatures and fewer tourists (though even May is starting to become popular).
As May gives way to June, the spring weather noticeably transitions into Japan’s hot and humid summer…
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Summer in Japan
Summer in Japan lasts from about June to mid-September, depending on the location. Summers are hot and humid, with temperatures ranging from approximately 70 to 90 °F (21 to 32 °C).
July and August are typically the hottest and most humid times of year, and can be uncomfortable for sightseeing if you are averse to humidity. But despite (or perhaps because of) the torrid climate, summer can also be one of the liveliest times to be in Japan.
Japan has more festivals (matsuri) than almost any other country in the world, and Japanese festivals – in all their color, tradition, and exuberance – are often spectacular.
While there are great ones throughout the year, summertime features many of Japan’s best festivals — including Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri, Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri, and the Awa Odori festival in Tokushima, on the island of Shikoku – not to mention countless lively (and delicious) neighborhood matsuri throughout the country.
In addition to matsuri, summer is also renowned for its extraordinary fireworks extravaganzas. Hanabi(fireworks) are taken seriously in Japan, and going to a hanabi taikai is both entertaining and quite culturally immersive. Tokyo’s Sumida River Fireworks are especially famous, but throughout the summer fireworks displays take place all around the country.
And next year, the Japan Olympics in 2020 add yet another exciting event for summer.
This all sounds fun – and it really is – but is it worth subjecting yourself to Japan’s summer heat and humidity?
How Hot & Humid is Summer in Japan?
Apart from the usual summer crowds (thanks in great part to summer vacations taking place across half the world), one of the potential downsides of visiting Japan in summer is the heat and humidity, which can be uncomfortable at times.
In my personal experience, summers in Tokyo feel more or less like summers in New York City. It’s hot and humid, but the days are long, people are out enjoying themselves, and it’s worthwhile as long as you aren’t the type of person who melts in this type of weather.
Kyoto is more comparable to an even muggier city like Washington, DC. If you’re not accustomed to this type of weather, it can be tiring to try and fit too much in.
Whether or not it is worthwhile depends on your own ability to enjoy yourself in this type of weather. Californians accustomed to mild weather may find it challenging, while those from places with distinct seasons will probably be fine.
But fortunately, even if you’re not the hot-and-humid type, there are ways to experience a milder version of Japanese summer, even during the summer months!
Tips on Visiting Japan in Summer
As we’ve explained above, Japan stretches quite a long way from the northern extremes of Hokkaido, to the southern subtropics of Okinawa. This leads to significant variations in weather, meaning that – to a degree – you can choose your own desired climate when visiting Japan.
Additionally, even within central Japan itself, mountainous areas such as the Japan Alps enjoy cooler temperatures than places like Tokyo and Kyoto.
So if you’re visiting Japan in summer, but want to mitigate your exposure to heat and humidity, it’s worth trying to spend as much time as you can in places such as the Japanese Alps, Tohoku (northern Japan), and Hokkaido. You’ll still have the chance to experience summer, but in a milder way than if you were in the major cities.
Japan’s Rainy Season and Typhoon Season
Fortunately, compared to most countries in Asia, Japan has a relatively mild rainy season. The rainy season(known as tsuyu, the plum rain) goes from early to mid June until mid July, depending on the location.
Despite being the rainy season, travelers shouldn’t necessarily expect rain every day. In addition, the rains – while often persistent – are not usually terribly intense (unlike in many Asian countries, torrential rain is not the norm).
I personally enjoy this time of year (make sure you have proper footwear!), but if you are particularly averse to rain it is worth considering other dates.
Typhoons (known as hurricanes when taking place over the Atlantic Ocean) generally occur between May and October, with the peak taking place in late summer.
Okinawa and southwestern Japan are particularly vulnerable to typhoons, though they can affect other parts of Japan as well. In late summer it’s not uncommon for typhoons to affect travel plans (e.g., flight cancellations) to and from Okinawa, though this tends to happen less in most other parts of Japan.
Japan’s summer extends into September, but as October peeks around the corner the coveted autumn season gets underway.
Fall in Japan
Autumn in Japan lasts from about mid-September to early December, depending on the location. Fall is widely considered to be the most pleasant time (weather-wise) to visit Japan, with temperatures ranging from approximately 50 to 70 °F (10 to 21 °C).
Apart from its comfortable temperatures and generally clear weather (particularly in later autumn), fall is perhaps most famous for the vibrancy of the changing foliage (koyo).
While autumn technically begins in late September, it’s still usually quite warm (sometimes very hot) at this time of year, but with the arrival of October the fall definitively gets underway.
With the pleasant change in weather, tourists also begin pouring in to enjoy the lovely temperatures, making October a very popular travel season in Japan. But its popularity doesn’t compare to November’s, when the peak autumn travel season begins. By November, autumn is in full swing, and throughout Japan you can begin to witness the fall foliage.
Due to the popularity of October and November, if you would like to try and avoid tourists to the extent possible, you may wish to consider early December, when you may still catch some of the koyo, though likely with fewer tourists around.
Soaking in an outdoor onsen while gazing at the autumn foliage is also an unforgettable experience.
Tips on Visiting Japan in Fall
Japan’s fall foliage season is in many ways similar to cherry blossom season, in terms of the appeal and potential downsides (described in more detail above).
As with hanami season travel, koyo travel means contending with more tourists, lower accommodation availability, higher accommodation prices, and a need to plan further in advance.
Please refer to our thoughts in the spring section above to get a better idea of whether fall (or spring) travel may be right for you.
Winter in Japan
Winter in Japan lasts from about December to mid-March, depending on the location. Winters are cold, with temperatures ranging from approximately 30 to 45 °F (-1 to 7 °C).
Yes, it is cold, but if you can get past this basic fact (which is a potential “dealbreaker” for some), you’ll find that winter is in fact one of the best times to experience Japan all for yourself.
Aside from a few exceptions (described below), Japan – like many other destinations around the world – tends to receive fewer travelers during the cold winter season. This is partly because most people prefer to visit at more well-known times (such as cherry blossom season), and also in part because not everyone is able to utilize vacation days to visit at this time of year.
This is unfortunate – especially if you are keen to experience Japan with fewer tourists around!
In the mountains of Japan, snowfall is especially plentiful, making Japan an incredible ski and snowboarding destination. The most well-known places to enjoy Japan’s legendary powder are Hokkaido and the Japan Alps (the latter played host to the 1998 Winter Olympic Games).
One of the best parts of visiting Japan in winter is the chance to really enjoy Japanese onsen (hot springs).
While onsen can certainly also be enjoyed at other times of the year, nothing compares to sitting in a mountain onsen, surrounded by a white landscape with snow falling on you as you soak. It’s one of the quintessential Japanese experiences, and not to be missed.
Need more reasons to get excited about exploring Japan in the cold? Don’t miss our post on the top 5 reasons to visit Japan in winter.
Tips on Visiting Japan in Winter
In general, you’ll find far fewer tourists visit Japan in winter, but there are some notable exceptions to keep in mind.
We receive a lot of requests for travel around the New Year’s holidays, and while it can be a magical time to visit, it’s also worth considering the potential drawbacks.
Because it’s an extended holiday period (not just in Japan, but in many places worldwide), the days before, during, and after New Year’s Day tend to become quite busy with both tourists from abroad, as well as Japanese people visiting family or taking vacations.
This means, for example, that the charming old streets of Kyoto will likely be bustling and full of people from around Japan and the world. For some, it’s a magical atmosphere, full of holiday spirit (Japanese style), but for those who prefer more peace and quiet it is worth a consideration.
Additionally, since Japanese people have several days off for the New Year’s holiday (far more than in places like the US or Europe), accommodations throughout the country are typically at very high occupancy, making availability low and prices higher than usual. Luxurious ryokans, in particular, tend to be booked up to a year or so in advance by “repeaters.”
As far as the New Year in Japan is concerned, it’s also important to point out that – from the end of December (generally sometime after Christmas) until a few days into January (usually until around January 3rd or 4th or later), many places are closed.
This can include (but is not necessarily limited to) some restaurants, museums, shops, and more. While there are increasing exceptions, in the past it’s been fairly reasonable to expect that most restaurants will be closed from at latest December 31st until at least January 2nd or 3rd (apart from certain high-end restaurants, as well as those located in department stores, hotels, and those catering particularly to travelers).
On the bright side, this can be a beautiful time to get off the beaten path and visit more remote areas of Japan.
In another piece of great news, most temples and shrines – for example, in Kyoto and elsewhere throughout Japan – do remain open around the New Year’s holiday, and thus it can in fact be a very peaceful and rewarding time of year to visit.
When Is The Least Crowded Time To Visit Japan?
Japan has become an extraordinarily popular destination, and many travelers ask us for advice on when to visit to avoid the crowds.
The good news is that it is possible, to some extent, to avoid crowds at any time of year. Of course, this requires making a special effort to explore at “off” hours (such as early in the morning), or focus on off-the-beaten-path places (as opposed to popular tourist spots).
But if you really want to feel like you have Japan to yourself (to a degree, at least!), simply avoid visiting during any of Japan’s peak seasons.
Japan’s Peak Travel Seasons
As you know by know, certain times of year in Japan are more popular — and crowded — than others.
Here is a short list of the most popular and crowded times of year in Japan:
- The New Year’s period: from around the last week of December, into the first week of January
- Cherry blossom season: from around the second half of March, into the first half of April
- Golden Week: an extended holiday week that usually occurs in the first week of May
- Obon: an extended holiday period that usually occurs in the middle of August
- Any national holiday: refer to the list of Japanese national holidays below
In addition to crowds, it’s safe to expect the price of accommodations at hotels and ryokans to skyrocket during peak travel seasons.
Japanese National Holidays
Japanese people love to travel, and will take advantage of any 3-day weekend (or longer holiday) to go on a trip.
To help you plan around them, here is an overview of Japanese national holidays in 2018 and 2019:
REMAINING NATIONAL HOLIDAYS IN JAPAN IN 2019
- Sep 16: Respect for the Aged Day (keiro no hi)
- Sep 23: Autumn Equinox Day (shubun no hi)
- Oct 14: Health and Sports Day (taiiku no hi)
- Oct 22: Enthronement Ceremony Day
- Nov 3: Culture Day (bunka no hi)
- Nov 23: Labor Thanksgiving Day (kinro kansha no hi)
- Dec 31 to Jan 3: New Year’s Holidays
NATIONAL HOLIDAYS IN JAPAN IN 2020
- Jan 1: New Year’s Day (shogatsu)
- Jan 13: Coming of Age Day (seijin no hi)
- Feb 11: National Foundation Day (kenkoku kinenbi)
- Feb 23: Emperor’s Birthday (tenno no tanjobi) – observed on Feb 24
- Mar 20: Spring Equinox Day (shunbun no hi)
- Apr 29 to May 6: Golden Week Peak Travel Days
- Apr 29: Showa Day (showa no hi)
- May 3: Constitution Memorial Day (kenpo kinenbi) – observed on May 6
- May 4: Greenery Day (midori no hi)
- May 5: Children’s Day (kodomo no hi)
- Jul 23: Ocean Day (umi no hi)
- Jul 24: Health and Sports Day (taiiku no hi)
- Aug 10-19: Obon Peak Travel Days
- Aug 10: Mountain Day (yama no hi)
- Sep 21: Respect for the Aged Day (keiro no hi)
- Sep 22: Autumn Equinox Day (shubun no hi)
- Nov 3: Culture Day (bunka no hi)
- Nov 23: Labor Thanksgiving Day (kinro kansha no hi)
- Dec 31 to Jan 3: New Year’s Holidays
When Will You Visit Japan?
Deciding when the best time to visit Japan is based on numerous factors and personal preferences. We hope our guide has helped you form a clearer picture of what each season in Japan is like, and helped you decide when to visit.
Japan is beautiful at any time of year, and we hope you have the chance to visit soon!
We May Be Perfect For You
Whether you usually plan your own trips, or normally work with a destination expert, planning a trip to Japan can seem overwhelming at times.
At Boutique Japan, our specialty is crafting completely customized trips for travelers seeking unique, authentic experiences.
If you are interested in learning more about working with us, please feel free to explore our trip planning process.