Weather changes, typhoon season, and busy festivals should all be taken into account while deciding when to go to Japan.
Although avoiding bad weather is usually the goal on vacations, consecutive sunny days draw bigger crowds to East Asia. You'll have to share transportation and attractions during high season. Hotels are already a bit pricey in Tokyo, but they really skyrocket during some of Japan's busiest festivals.
The Weather in Japan
With an archipelago of close to 7,000 islands spread north to south in the Pacific, the weather in Japan can differ greatly between regions. Tokyo can be near freezing while people enjoy T-shirt weather just a little south.
Most of Japan enjoys four distinct seasons along with snow in the winter, however, Okinawa and the islands in the south stay warm throughout the year. Northern Japan often receives heavy snowfall that melts quickly in spring. Tokyo itself doesn't ordinarily receive much snow. The megalopolis got a dusting in 1962, then snow made headlines again in 2014 and 2016. In January 2018, a large snowstorm caused disruptions in Tokyo.
Rainy Season in Japan
Even when no typhoons are spinning nearby to mix things up, Japan is a relatively wet country with ample rainfall and high humidity.
The rainy season in Japan typically hits in the summer months, around the middle of June to the middle of July.
In Tokyo, June is a very rainy month. Historically, showers slack off just a bit in late July and August then return with force again in September.
Adding to the meteorological madness is the threat of typhoons. Typically, most typhoons cause trouble for Japan between May and October. As you can imagine, a typhoon in the area completely changes everything weather related — and not usually for the better.
Dry Season in Japan
Actually, a better way to call the time of year most travelers visit Japan would be the "drier" or "less rainy" season. Rainy days are a thing throughout the year, so building too tight of a sunshine-based itinerary could lead to disappointment.
Fortunately, Japan has some very interesting ways to spend time indoors during rainy afternoons.
The driest months in Japan are typically December, January, and February. November and March are "shoulder" months between the seasons — often an ideal time to visit any country to avoid peak-season prices and groups.
Temperatures in Tokyo
Although the lowest average temperature in Tokyo is still around 34 F, temperatures do sometimes drop below freezing on winter nights.
August is typically the hottest month in Japan, and January is the coldest.
Here is a sampling of average low and high temperatures in Tokyo:
- January: 36 - 50 F
- February: 36 - 50 F
- March: 41 - 55 F
- April: 52 - 64 F
- May: 59 - 73 F
- June: 66 - 77 F
- July: 73 - 84 F
- August: 75 - 88 F
- September: 70 - 81 F
- October: 59 - 72 F
- November: 50 - 63 F
- December: 41 - 54 F
Typhoon Season in Japan
Typhoon season for the Pacific Ocean runs between May and October, although Mother Nature doesn't always go by the Gregorian calendar. Storms can arrive early or drag on later. August and September are usually the peak for typhoons in Japan.
Even if they don't threaten Japan, big typhoons in the area can cause severe delays and congestion for air traffic. Check the Japan Meteorological Agency website for current warnings before you plan to travel. Your ticket may be refundable if your travel insurance covers trip cancellation due to acts of nature.
Enjoying Big Festivals in Japan
Visiting Japan when big festivals are in progress is a great way to get in on the fun and see locals enjoying themselves. But on the other hand, you'll have to compete with crowds at popular sites and pay higher prices for accommodation. Either make a point to arrive early and enjoy the festival, or avoid the area altogether until regular daily life resumes.
- Christmas and New Year: Celebrations for Shogatsu (New Year) can get busy. From the week before Christmas until a few days into January, malls and public transportation are even more crowded. During the holiday season, the Japanese public get a rare chance to see the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace. This happens on only two days a year: the Emperor's Birthday (December 23) and on January 2.
- Obon: Temples and shrines get busy in the summer during the three-day Obon festival. Dates for Obon vary, depending upon the place in Japan. Obon in Tokyo and eastern parts of Japan is usually observed around July 15. Hachigatsu Bon — an even busier time — is celebrated around August 15. Although Obon — commonly just called Bon — is not an official holiday, many Japanese families take leave to pay homage to ancestors around that time of year.
Golden Week in Japan
Golden week is the biggest, busiest holiday period of them all in Japan. It's the busiest time to travel in Japan — you'll have fun, but watch out!
Golden Week starts winding up around the end of April and runs into the first week of May. Several consecutive national holidays fall within a seven-day stretch. Many Japanese families tack on a valuable week of vacation away from work, so transportation and accommodation fill up quickly on both ends of the holiday. Public parks will be busy.
Golden Week officially begins with Showa Day on April 29 and concludes with Children's Day on May 5, however, many families take additional vacation days before and after. The impact of Golden Week actually stretches to around 10 – 14 days.
In many ways, Golden Week is considered the start of the tourism high season in Japan — be ready!
Flower Viewing (Hanami)
The best time to visit Japan — in theory, of course — is a time when the short-lived cherry blossoms are blooming but before or after the busy stretch of Golden Week.
Additional students will be enjoying a break from school, however, Japan is extremely enjoyable to visit during spring. Large crowds of people flock to local parks for picnics, parties, and to enjoy hanami — the deliberate viewing of cherry blossom and plum blossom flowers. Families, couples, and even entire offices get in on the fun.
The timing of the blooms depends entirely upon the warming weather. The flowers begin in Okinawa and in warmer parts of Japan around mid March, then move north as the weather gets warmer until early May. Forecasters actually predict the timing as blooms appear from south to north.
Spring Break in Japan
Golden Week is preceded by spring break for many schools in Japan. Students get out of school around mid March and enjoy time with family until around the first week of April. Parks (especially theme parks) and malls will be busier with so many young people suddenly finding themselves free during the day.
When to Go to Kyoto
Kyoto is a favorite cultural destination for tourists in Japan. The busy season months in can become very crowded.
Spring and fall are the busiest times in Kyoto; October and November are the peak months for tourism.
Consider booking your trip to Kyoto in August when rain slacks off a little but crowds haven't surged yet. If cool weather doesn't scare you, January and February are good months to visit Kyoto.
You'll certainly want to book accommodation in advance if visiting Kyoto in November.