When is the best time to visit Japan? A seasonal travel guide

When is the best time to visit Japan? A seasonal travel guide

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Konnichiwa! There are thousands of reasons to visit Japan — to see the cherry blossoms in bloom, to hit the slopes for some skiing, to enjoy some of the world’s best cuisine, or just to marvel at the sights and sounds of Tokyo. The question is: when are you going to take your trip? We’ve put together some tips to help you decide on best time to visit Japan. Read on before you book your holiday in the Land of the Rising Sun

An eye on the weather: what to expect from Japan’s climate

One of the most important considerations for any traveller is the weather. Do you want to travel halfway around the world to be met with endless days of rain? Nope? Us neither! Of course, it’s important to remember that Japan is bigger than you might think. While some of its 14,000 islands have a mild climate, others experience very cold winters and hot, sticky summers. It’s worth checking the climate of your particular destination before you travel.

That being said, there are some general rules to keep in mind. Japan has mild springs and autumns, with pleasant temperatures. Summer can be hot and extremely humid, so it’s not a particularly comfortable time of year. However, that’s not the worst of it; travellers should also consider the potential for severe storms.

If you really want to see Japan in summer, you’ll need to watch out for the annual typhoon season, which tends to run from July until September. Depending on the year, these storms might be quite mild or they could be extremely strong. Typhoons frequently play havoc with flight times, and you might find yourself stranded if you risk travelling during this time.

Winter brings its own distinct weather to Japan. You can expect snow in some parts of the country from mid-December all the way until March, which may be a blessing or a curse, depending on what you’re into.

Cherry blossom season

Of course, many people coming to Japan want to see those world-famous sakura flowers. The pretty pink blossoms are one of the country’s main attractions — be warned, they are highly seasonal. If you want to see cherry blossoms, then the best time to visit Japan is definitely the spring.

Once again, though, we have to consider the size of the country. The cherry blossoms bloom on different dates, depending on where you go. The south of Japan, which is warmer than the north of the country, sees its cherry blossom season starting early. The rest of Japan gradually catches up.

There is one major disadvantage to travelling to Japan in cherry blossom season: it’s the peak travel season. That means you can expect to see large crowds, particularly in popular areas for viewing cherry blossoms, like Kyoto and Osaka. Plus, you may find that prices are higher than usual, so booking in advance is strongly recommended.

If you want to see cherry blossoms without the crowds, try this top tip: there are some rare varieties of sakura that bloom in autumn. You can see them in Obara, Tokyo, in late November. Yes, there’ll still be plenty of people out there taking pics of the famous flowers, but believe us, you won’t see anything like the crowds that come in the spring season.

A beautiful pathway lined with cherry blossom trees in full bloom, leading to a traditional Japanese gate with people walking and enjoying the scenery

Fall foliage in Japan

Autumn in the Land of the Rising Sun may not be as famous worldwide as spring, but for fans of picture-perfect scenery, it might just be the best time to visit Japan. If you’re a bit of a leaf peeper at heart, then you might want to head east in search of some truly stunning autumn foliage.

Just like the cherry blossom season, the fall foliage moves around the country, so you won’t find the same colourful leaves everywhere at once. It starts in mid-September on Hokkaido, the country’s northernmost island, and gradually drifts south. This means you can find foliage worth admiring in various parts of the country until late October, sometimes even November.

A serene scene of a traditional Japanese temple surrounded by trees with vibrant autumn foliage

The cheapest months to visit Japan

It’s all well and good thinking about Japan’s natural, seasonal beauty, but let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Travelling to Japan can be seriously expensive, so what time of year should you go if you want to save money?

Unsurprisingly, cherry blossom season is the most expensive time of year. You can expect to pay a premium on everything from flights to hotel rooms. To a lesser extent, autumn in Japan also comes with a pretty hefty price tag.

If you want to save money on your trip to Japan, you’ll need to visit in the off-season. The cheapest months are from December to February, but you’ll need to be prepared to wrap up warm. Of course, that’s not the case if you’re heading to a ski resort, but for most of the country, winter is a quiet period, so hotels and flights are usually cheaper. It’s also a great time to relax in an onsen, a traditional Japanese spa built around hot springs filled with natural minerals.

September may also be a little cheaper, but again, take care. Saving money and being hit by a typhoon on the first day of your holiday may not be the wisest financial decision of your life!

The best season to visit Japan for festivals

Want a taster of Japanese culture? Then the best time to visit Japan has to be Golden Week. This celebration runs through the first week of May, as this is when four national holidays are clustered together. Shōwa Day, Constitution Day, Greenery Day and Children’s Day each have their own particular customs for you to observe and enjoy. You’ll also be able to see people taking part in traditional activities like kite-flying in the park, and there’s free entry to museums, parks and other attractions. Of course, things will be rather crowded during Golden Week. You might even find it a bit hectic, but that’s part of the fun, and it’s the perfect time to visit if you really want to embrace the local culture.

The other time to visit if you want festivals is August. This is the month when you’ll find Natsu Matsuri or summer festivals. While each one is different, you can expect to find great food and stunning performances wherever you go. The dance festivals are particularly popular and are sure to take your breath away. Watch out for enormous groups performing precisely choreographed routines in the streets of major cities, wearing exquisite national dress.

August also brings Obon, a religious event in which people honour their ancestors’ spirits. Expect to see colourful lanterns and spectacular fireworks. Finally, you may want to visit in December to enjoy the unique experience of Christmas in Japan. This is not a Christian country, but the locals have embraced the winter festival and even created their own unique traditions. Japanese Christmas cakes, which are usually exquisitely decorated masterpieces that make the most of the local strawberries, are definitely worth trying, but you may be less impressed with the country’s favourite Christmas dinner — a bucket of KFC!

The best month to go in Japan for foodies

Japanese food is popular all around the world. If you’re craving some authentic cuisine, when is the best time to visit Japan? Well, the truth is that you’ll eat well, no matter when you visit. However, if you want an unbeatable Japanese culinary experience, your best option is to visit in October.

Japanese people love the bounty of the autumn harvest, and during the month of October, you’ll find dozens of foodie events to try out. Rich seasonal foods like persimmons, pears and chestnuts are at their best, but the real highlight is shinmai or freshly harvested rice. It may seem like a cliché, but the Japanese really do take their rice seriously, and this is the time of year to join them in the appreciation.

Locals will say that the best way to eat shinmai is to eat it as simply as possible. You’ll want to savour the flavour of the pure rice without soy sauce or other condiments to drown it. Some people might add a sprinkling of flavourings, but nothing more than that. Don’t fancy the idea of just munching through a bowl of plain rice? Not to worry — this is also a great time of year to enjoy wagyu beef. Just keep an eye on your bank balance because this is one delicacy that doesn’t come cheap!

Unusual Japanese itineraries

If you wander away from the main tourist destinations of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, you’ll find that the best period to go Japan-crazy can vary. The southern island of Okinawa is subtropical, so it enjoys a much milder winter than other parts of the country. You can even go scuba diving all year round here, as the water remains swimmable even in the depths of January. Okinawa is also a good choice if you fancy something a bit different. With its own distinct cuisine and unique culture, it offers an experience that’s quite unlike what you’ll find in Tokyo or Kyoto.

You may also find that the best time to visit Japan is different if you want to go to Hokkaido. This northern island has lower humidity than the rest of the country, so its summers are a lot more tolerable. In fact, if you pay a visit to Hokkaido in July and August, you may well see that the streets are flocked with Japanese holidaymakers fleeing the stickiness of Tokyo in search of something a little cooler and more relaxing.

A vibrant field of multicolored flowers in Hokkaido, with rolling hills and mountains in the background

So when will you be flying east to the magical land of Japan? No matter what time of year you want to visit, you’ll find great options among our itineraries. Our Japan 360 tour runs for 11 days and will take you to famous sights like Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka. It’s ideal for travellers who want to see the cherry blossoms and spring blooms. In autumn, try our Exclusive Japan tour, an 11-day bonanza that will show you the country’s fall foliage at its best. Grab your chopsticks and join us!

Can’t get enough, huh? Good, read The best places to visit in Tokyo: your itinerary in the capital of Japan.

WeRoad Team
Written by WeRoad Team