The Best Time to Visit Japan

Japan Winter

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Japan is one of the best year-round tourist destinations in Asia. Whether you're interested in attending a festival, taking part in athletic activities, or doing some power shopping, there's a season for it in Japan. Ultimately, the best time to visit Japan is late spring (March to May) and late autumn (September to November). While there are crowds, there is also little rainfall, clear skies, and mild temperatures.

However, your visit to Japan depends on your own personal preferences. There is no wrong or right time to visit for the most part. Read on for more information about the weather and events in Japan.

The Weather in Japan

Japan's seasonal calendar is in line with the Western Hemisphere. Spring typically runs from March through May, summer from June through August, fall from September to November, and winter from December through February. Despite this, the country's unique geographical makeup means that the climate can vary widely between regions. Overall, Japan's weather is relatively mild, however.

It's important to remember that Japan is made up of several islands and the climate and weather conditions vary significantly depending on which region you visit. If you were to visit the United States in March, for example, it might be snowing in some places, raining in others and mild or warm in southern regions. Make sure to check the weather and average climate of the regions you plan on visiting.

The average yearly temperature for Tokyo is 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but for Sapporo-city in Hokkaido, it is just 48 degrees. Okinawa, further south, averages 73 degrees.

The country's rainy season is typically during the summer, beginning as early as May in the southern reaches of Japan and moving up. August through October is typhoon season. Visitors should also beware of volcanic warnings and restrictions—the country is home to 108 active volcanoes.

Peak Season in Japan

Because of the festivities (and the gorgeous blooms), spring is the top tourist season, so definitely book hotels, transportation, and attractions far in advance to avoid high prices and sold-out accommodations.

January

New Year's holidays are essential to the Japanese and are a busy time to travel. Transportation is crowded during the last week of December to the first week in January. January 1 is a national holiday, and many businesses and establishments close during this period. However, department stores offer their biggest sales of the year, so it's a great time to shop. Temples and shrines attract millions of visitors, as the Japanese reflect on their lives and spirituality at the start of the new year.

Events to Check Out

  • New Year ("oshogatsu" in Japanese) is one of the most important holidays on the calendar in Japan. Many people travel home to visit their families and reflect on years past.
  • Dezomi-shiki is a festive parade of Japan's Edo-period firefighters. The celebration includes acrobatic performances and a show of more than 100 vehicles.

February

Wintertime is a great time to go skiing in Japan as well, and you won't find better slopes than in Hokkaido, the northernmost island. The powder is so perfect and fluffy here it even has a name: JaPow. February is also the start of the country's diving season—experienced divers will be able to spot sea turtles, sharks, humpback whales, and more.

Events to Check Out

  • The Sapporo Snow Festival takes place each year in Hokkaido, drawing more than two million visitors. The February festival includes incredibly elaborate snow and ice sculptures.
  • Japan celebrates National Foundation Day (Kenkoku Kinen no Hi in Japanese) annually on February 11. It commemorates the foundation of Japan and the accession of its first Emperor Jimmu.

March

March is one of the most popular times to visit Japan, thanks to the remarkable blossom season. These festivities include ume matsuri, or the plum blossom festivals, as well as the cherry blossom viewing, which is a major cultural tradition there, dating back thousands of years. In Japanese, cherry blossom viewing is called hanami, and it involves a bunch of public parties in the parks and gardens around Japan.

Events to Check Out

  • Shunbun no Hi, or Spring Equinox, is an essential holiday in Japan. It marks a day when night and day are equal in length, and you can enjoy warmer temperatures—and cherry blossoms.
  • Omizutori is an ancient Buddhist festival held at the Nigatsu-do of Todaiji Temple in Nara. The main event of the 1,250-year-old festival is a parade where priests carry substantial flaming torches that rain down embers to purify the spectators.

April

Springtime also marks a break in classes for Japanese schools, beginning in mid-March and continuing until the school year resumes in the first week of April. Golden Week is another major event that occurs during spring. This week takes place from the end of April to about May 5. It is called Golden Week because several significant holidays are observed in Japan for 10 days, including a day to honor the Showa emperor.

Events to Check Out

  • The Tejikara Fire Festival dates back more than 300 years and is one of Japan's most spectacular festivals. The festival is held at Tejikarao Shrine in Gifu City and features portable shrines carried under fireworks.
  • Showa Day, held on April 29, is the first Golden Week holiday. It honors the birthday of the former Showa Emperor, who reigned from 1926 to 1989.

May

If you missed the cherry blossom season, don't despair: You'll be able to spot plenty of other colorful blooms of different kinds during a May visit. Beware of visiting during Golden Week, which runs through the first week of May. During this time, prices for flights and hotels soar, and many businesses are closed.

Events to Check Out

  • Greenery Day is held on May 4, as part of Golden Week. It intends to commemorate greenery and Japan's long-standing connection with the outdoors.
  • Kyoto's Aoi Matsuri dates back to the sixth century, making it one of the world’s oldest festivals. This festival features more than 500 people in aristocratic costumes and traditional make-up from the Heian Period.

June

June is one of Japan's rainiest months, as typhoons are frequent. Luckily, the rainy season in Japan is typically over by late August.

Events to Check Out

  • Takigi Noh takes place in June at the famous Heian Jingu Shrine in Kyoto. This annual open-air torchlight event features musical theater performances in the Noh style. The concerts are held in the evening on a special stage at Heian Jingu Shrine.
  • Otaue Rice Planting Festival is an ancient ritual that takes place in Osaka. There's a procession of samurai warriors and other folk rituals.

July

If you've been hoping to summit Mt. Fuji, you have your chance in July—Japan's preeminent mountain opens to climbers again on July 1. The mountainside will be busy, as good weather means serious climbers flock to the peak.

Events to Check Out

  • The annual Fuji Rock Festival is held in the mountains over the course of three days each July. The festival attracts top performers, like Bob Dylan, Vampire Weekend, N.E.R.D., and more.

August

August is Japan's hottest month, but temperatures can vary wildly across the country, reaching into the 90s in tropical Okinawa and barely touching the 70s in Hokkaido. Obon, one of Japan's most popular celebrations, also takes place in August so expect hotels to be pricey and booked well in advance.

Events to Check Out

  • The Obon festival in mid-August is a Buddhist tradition in which the Japanese pay tribute to their ancestors.

September

September's weather can be variable, with random showers popping up here and there and temperatures that are still quite warm.

Events to Check Out

  • The Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament runs through late September in Tokyo. It is the fifth out of six tournaments that are held each year.

October

Japan's fall foliage season begins in October and extends through early December. Many autumn festivals are held throughout the country to give thanks for the harvest, and tourists flocks to the gardens, mountains, and parks to see the foliage turn red, orange, and yellow. The weather is also much more comfortable after the summer heat burns off.

Events to Check Out

  • The Arimatsu Festival consists of a procession of massive floats, pulled through the streets by men in traditional dress, playing traditional music. The festival takes place in Arimatsu, an eastern suburb of Nagoya.

November

November in Japan is pleasant, as days are crisp and cool autumn day. By November, typhoon season has ended, and fall foliage is at its peak in Tokyo and elsewhere in the country.

Events to Check Out

Tokyo's Design Festa is held in November, drawing more than 10,000 artists, designers, craftspeople, performance artists, and musicians.

December

Winter occurs from December to February in Japan. Colorful holiday illuminations can be seen across the country starting in November. Christmas isn't a national holiday, but it's celebrated in Japanese style. For example, Christmas Eve has become a time for couples to enjoy a romantic evening with each other.

Events to Check Out

  • As part of the Oshiroi Matsuri celebrations, oshiroi, a white paste made from rice flour and water, is applied to villagers' faces as a prayer for good harvests in the coming year. The 400-year-old festival takes place on December 4.
  • Setagaya no Boro Ichi is a Tokyo flea market that dates back more than 400 years. Antiques, crafts, and food are on offer.