Travel

When’s the best time to travel to Japan?

People often ask me: “When’s the best time to travel to Japan?”

Actually, this question is hard to answer because each month and season has something great to offer! It depends solely on your personal interests!
Instead of suggesting a “best time” or a “best season”, I thought it might be more helpful to list what you might be able to see in each season – and then you can decide yourself when’s the best time to travel to Japan! smilie

best time to travel to japan spring

 

Is Spring the best time to travel to Japan?

Spring in Japan is very popular and well-known for its beautiful cherry blossoms.
Cherry blossoms are without a doubt one of the best things to see in Japan. They do not bloom everywhere at the same time, so plan your trip accordingly!
There are many websites that will show you the current “sakura front” of each year.
In Okinawa you can enjoy sakura in January while the rest of Japan gets them from late March until May, roughly speaking going from Kyushu all the way down to Chubu, Tohoku and then Hokkaido.

The good thing about it is that you can enjoy the cherry blossoms in Tohoku in early May, if you missed them in Tokyo or Kyoto in April!

However, spring in Japan has so much more to offer!
Cherry blossoms are beautiful for sure, but let’s check out what else you can see in spring:

 

Plum blossoms in March

Before the cherry blossoms come out, Japan is already tainted in white and shades of pink. On top of that there’s an incredibly sweet smell everywhere thanks to the plum blossoms.

best time to travel to japan spring

Plum blossoms look very similar to cherry blossoms, but they smell better.
From late March to early April you’ll sometimes be able to see both of them in bloom. It can be hard to tell them apart then.

There are also many spring festivals. One of the weirdest festivals you’ll ever experience takes place in early April, the “Phallus Festival in Kawasaki“.

 

Azaleas, wisteria and shiba-zakura in May

Once the cherry blossoms are gone, there’s no reason to be sad.
Japan becomes even more colorful after that. The cherry blossom trees turn from a soft pink into a fresh and vivid green and other flowers start to bloom.

best time to travel to japan spring

Among my favorites are azaleas (躑躅, tsutsuji).
In the photo above you see the “Tsutsuji Festival” at Nezu Shrine in Tokyo (April / May 2013).

best time to travel to japan spring

You’ll also find wild wisteria in the mountains and some parks, temples and shrines have very old wisteria trees on their grounds.

Wisteria is called “fuji” (藤) in Japanese.

best time to travel to japan spring

What I was able to enjoy for the first time this year is called shiba-zakura (芝桜). It has nothing to do with “sakura” – the cherry blossoms.

It’s moss pink in various colors. Whole parks are “paved” with it. I visited Hitsujiyama Park in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, which you see in the photo above.

best time to travel to japan spring

My highlight was the “Shiba-zakura Festival” in Kawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture, featuring Mt. Fuji in the background.

 

Avoid Golden Week:

While spring sounds like a great time to come to Japan, please try to avoid Golden Week.
Golden Week is an accumulation of national holidays from the end of April to early May (usually from April 29th to May 6th).

It’s the high season for traveling in Japan. Everything including accommodation and transportation will cost more than usually. Hotels will be booked out far in advance.
It will be crowded almost everywhere in Japan. You’ll need longer than planned, because buses are so full that you’ll have to wait for the next one.

There are traffic jams and long waiting lines. You won’t be able to take good photos, because there are too many people in the way. It’s a lot harder to enjoy the sights and it’s more stressful in general.

I always see so many foreign tourists here during Golden Week and I simply don’t understand why they come during that time of the year!
If you have the choice, do yourself a favor and DON’T COME during Golden Week!

 

 

Is summer the best time to travel to Japan?

Summer starts with the rainy season – usually in early June – and ends in mid-July.
After that it’ll get extremely hot and humid. If you’re not used to temperatures over 30°C and a humidity level of 90%+, summer in Japan might be very tough. On top of that there are many creepy and some dangerous insects.

Yet there are awesome things in summer you don’t want to miss:

best time to travel to japan summer

 

What to see in June

During rainy season you’ll find hydrangeas (アジサイ, ajisai) everywhere. They come in various colors and are cute and beautiful (see the photo above).
It’s not as hot as in August yet, so if you want to escape the heat, it’s not a bad time to come. And just because it’s called rainy season, it doesn’t mean that it’ll rain every single day!

best time to travel to japan summer

At the same time as the hydrangeas there are also irises (菖蒲, shoubu).

 

Climbing Mt. Fuji in July or August

I admit that I’m really not a fan of the Japanese summer, but there are certain things you can only do then! One of them is climbing Mt. Fuji. The official climbing season is from July to August, so you wouldn’t want to miss that chance.

When I climbed it in August 2010 there was still some snow on the top and it was freezing cold!

 

Summer festivals with fireworks in August

The best thing about summer in Japan is that there are all these great festivals!
Each and every city has their own, so it’s hard to miss them – no matter where in Japan you are. The main season for festivals is “obon” (お盆), the time around August 13th-15th. Please note that this is also another busy travel time as it’s summer vacation for students and most adults have days off during “obon”.

best time to travel to japan summer

You’ll be able to see traditional dance performances, taiko performances, girls wearing yukata and hanabi (fireworks).

There’s also “Bon-Odori” (traditional dance) all over Japan, but the best one ever takes place in Gujo-Hachiman, Gifu Prefecture. In mid-August the local people dance from evening till morning and anybody can join! I did last year and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had! I can’t wait to share it with you in a future blog post! smilie

Firework festival in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture (August 2012).

There’s also the great “Earth Celebration” on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture – that I unfortunately missed by just a few days last year.

Don’t worry if you can’t come in August. There are some great festivals in June and July as well!
To name just one of them: the famous “Gion Matsuri” in Kyoto takes place in July.

If you want to visit Japan in summer, but are not sure if you can take the heat, then you can escape to Hokkaido where it’s less humid and a bit cooler!

 

Typhoon season in September

September doesn’t really have to offer anything special in my eyes. Usually it’s still very hot and humid, but it’s also known as the typhoon season.
In recent years typhoons have hit all year round, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
In fact, there are no long public holidays in September. It’s no “high season”. For that reason it’s a good time to come. There will be fewer people, things will be cheaper – and usually the weather is good.

 

 

Is autumn the best time to travel to Japan?

Autumn is one of my favorite seasons in Japan! The heat of summer is finally gone. Normally the weather is great for travelling (especially in October and November) and the beautiful autumn colors are something you shouldn’t miss!
Just like with the cherry blossoms, there’s a “momiji front” in Japan which simply means that the leaves won’t change colors everywhere at the same time. Again there are many websites that let you check where you need to go if you want to catch the “color peak”.

best time to travel to japan autumn

Usually the leaves turn red first in colder regions like Hokkaido and Tohoku, then go down to Chubu and will finally reach southern Japan. While you’ll find cherry blossoms on Okinawa, there aren’t any autumn colors like in the rest of Japan there.
The peak for popular destinations like Tokyo, Kyoto or Hiroshima is usually in late November.

I would say that the bright autumn colors are the highlight of autumn, but there are other things you might be interested in:

 

Cosmoses, red spider lilies and killer hornets

Cosmoses are very beautiful and are a common sight in autumn, especially in October and early November.

Higanbana (彼岸花), the red spider lily, is seen as weed, but I’m fascinated by those flowers. You’ll run into them very often as they just grow everywhere.

best time to travel to japan autumn best time to travel to japan autumn

One thing I don’t like about autumn is that it’s the time when the killer hornets (known as “suzumebachi”) are most active.
Please be careful, especially if you go to rural areas or hiking into the mountains! smilie

 

No high season in autumn, but:

While there are no long vacations in autumn, popular spots can get very crowded on the weekends during the autumn color peak!
Especially Kyoto can be crazy, so try to avoid the weekends during that time!

 

 

Is winter the best time to travel to Japan?

Compared to the other seasons winter can be rather boring. Especially in regions with no snow. Japanese gardens are not very beautiful during that time. Most trees have lost their leaves, so landscapes are quite monotone.
However, in regions with a lot of snow you can enjoy a beautiful snow scenery!

best time to travel to japan winter

Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture in January 2011.

Another problem with winter is that most tourist facilities close earlier and the sunset is around 5pm! Nevertheless there are some reasons why you might want to visit Japan in winter:

 

Illuminations in December and January

Around Christmas time many cities will put up breathtaking illuminations. One of the most famous illuminations can be seen in Kobe, the Luminarie.

best time to travel to japan winter

Illumination at JR Hakata Station in Fukuoka (December 2012).

 

Snow Monkeys of Nagano

One thing you can only fully enjoy in winter are the snow monkeys in the mountains of Nagano who love bathing in the hot springs while tourists have to freeze. It was certainly one of my highlights and I recommend you go there during winter time!

best time to travel to japan winter

 

Hot springs – Onsen

Onsen are great at any time, but especially in the cold winter months they’re a great way to warm up.

best time to travel to japan winter

One of the “hells” of Beppu in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu, in December 2009.

Mt. Fuji

While you can’t climb Mt. Fuji in winter, it might be the best time to take great shots of the holy mountain. Winter days are very cold, but clear, so chances are high that the shy mountain won’t hide behind clouds!
I recommend the area around Lake Kawaguchi (Kawaguchiko) in Yamanashi Prefecture. There are also a few onsen there.

best time to travel to japan winter

 

Yuki Matsuri in Sapporo in February

Another highlight is the snow festival in Hokkaido that takes place in the second week of February.
Awesome and huge snow sculptures can be observed. There are other snow festivals as well in winter. Or you could try to visit the “snow monsters” in Yamagata Prefecture.

 

Enjoy a warm winter in Okinawa

If you don’t like cold weather, then Okinawa is a good alternative.
It will be too cold for swimming or snorkeling, but you won’t need a winter coat.
Just don’t make the same mistake that I did. Don’t go during late December / early January. The weather was horrible almost every single day!
Going in early December or late January seems to be a better idea.

best time to travel to japan winter

Cape Manzamo on Okinawa’s main island in December 2012.

 

Avoid “Nenmatsu”:

From around December 29th to January 4th it’s not the best time to travel. Most Japanese people have days off and try to go home to visit their families. It’s another “high season“. Accommodation and transportation will cost more and you should book well in advance!
Also, a lot of institutions (museums, castles etc.) will have closed during that time – so please plan accordingly!
On the other hand it’s a great chance to observe “hatsumode” – the first shrine visit of the year – or to celebrate “omisoka” (New Year’s Eve) and “shogatsu” (New Year’s Day) with the Japanese.

 

What do you think is the best time to travel to Japan?

What’s your favorite season in Japan and why?
Was there any time when you had a bad experience in Japan and wouldn’t recommend others to come to visit?
Please share your experience with us! smilie

77 Comments

  • Hi, your post is very very helpful and I’d like to ask you for further advise if I may.

    My friend wants to go to Osaka during the last two weekends December. I was planning a trip to Osaka for the first two weeks of April.

    Would like to ask you if comparing these two periods, other than temperature, which has lesser crowds? And would weather be very gloomy in late December?

    This is my first time there so I’d like to know which period would suit my interest best. Hope you can help!

    • If I had to choose, I’d ALWAYS go for April!
      Osaka (the city center anyway) is always crowded, but expect more crowds in spring because of the cherry blossoms.

      Nobody can predict the weather. It could be gloomy, but it also could be sunny and nice. Osaka doesn’t get THAT cold and there’s rarely any snow.
      In December, you’ll see a lot of lovely illuminations everywhere, so that could be nice, too.

  • I’m planning to go to Japan this May. It’s a pretty much last-minute kind of decision to go but I’d just like to ask is there a difference if I go right after Golden week (May 7) or wait a few more days (like May 17 up) to start the trip? Planning to get the JR Pass and go around Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and maybe Nara. I’m just worried if there might still be a chance of high traffic on the weekend right after the holidays..

    And kudos to this blog! It’s been very helpful. :) Hope to hear from you!

    • There shouldn’t be much of a difference, though I’ve noticed that prices are sometimes still high 1-2 days after the high season.
      I would just quickly check if hotel rooms are available on May 7th and if they’re more expensive than a few days later.
      That’s the best way to find out if it’s still going to be crowded or not. :D

      Enjoy your trip!! ^__^

  • Ugh, maybe I shouldn’t have picked September to go to Japan. Seems like it will be a wet holiday for me. No wonder the air tickets and accommodations are cheap….XD

    • September is not a major holiday season, so I guess that’s why. ;)
      I’m sure you’ll enjoy it nevertheless. My first ever trip to Japan was in September as well. ^^

  • Do you recommend to visit Japan late in September on 23rd this year or early October so I can see a trees color during this time. I’m planning to visit Tokyo for five days and spend 10 days in Kyoto, what you think about my plans?

    Thank you so much for your support.

    • Hi Jehad!
      Sorry to disappoint you, but September as well as October are too early to see any autumn colors in Tokyo or Kyoto. For those places you should come at the end of November.
      If you want to come in late September / early October, you should consider visiting Hokkaido or Tohoku instead where it’s cooler and thus autumn colors out out earlier. :)

  • Hi! I would like t commend you for a very comprehensive blog ^_^ It’s very interesting to know that you actively respond to every question posted here.
    I enjoyed reading the comments :) make me psyched to visit Japan!!!

    I love traveling and most of the time i travel with friends but this time, i might be traveling alone. I am planning to visit Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nagoya). I will be coming from Philippines. Duration of my travel would be 4-5 days only.. Could let me know the best spots to see at these places given the span of my stay.? I would REALLY REALLY appreciate and value your suggestions including the best week to pick.

    I want to fully experience or see the ff:
    a. Autumn perfect foliage
    b. Popular destinations (but not so crowded place)
    c. Japan Culture/tradition highlights

    THANK YOU IN ADVANCE ^_^

    Yana

    • Hello! ^__^

      If you want to enjoy autumn leaves in Kyoto, Tokyo and Nagoya, then the last week of November might be a good choice.
      During koyo season, especially during a long weekend (try to avoid it!) it’s crowded almost everywhere, but ESPECIALLY in Kyoto.
      Kyoto has a lot of breathtaking koyo spots e.g. Kiyomizudera, Arashiyama, Tofukuji … to name just a few.
      I’ve never been in Nagoya during koyo season, but the castles in and near Nagoya are nice. You probably won’t have much time, so you might want to just visit Nagoya Castle.

      Most parks in Tokyo will have autumn foliage. The best spots are outside of Tokyo, though.
      Unfortunately most of them will have koyo much earlier e.g. Nikko or Mt. Takao.

      I don’t know what you’ve already seen in Japan, so it’s a bit difficult to tell you where to go.
      But I’d do 2 days in Tokyo, 1 day in Nagoya and then 2 days in Kyoto.
      You could also just stick to one region and save money. If so, I recommend staying in the Kansai region. There are a lot of great koyo spots. I highly recommend Minoo Park and Katsuoji Temple in Osaka. The park in Nara is also lovely in autumn.

  • Hi, me and my sisters are planning to go to Tokyo from 8-14 february next year.

    Will it cold there? Will we be able to see the sakura? Are there any interesting festivals going on? Its our first time going. So I’d appreciate your help. And can you suggest any cheap and comfy place to stay?

    • Hello Amira,
      Yes, February is usually still rather chilly, sometimes even the coldest time of the year!
      In the second week of February there’s the awesome “Yuki Matsuri in Sapporo” (Hokkaido), but that’s too far for you guys.
      One of the most famous, but also a bit dangerous festivals in February is the Naked Festival at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama (near Hiroshima), again probably too far if you only want to stay in Tokyo. ^^;

      In Tokyo you have tons and tons of accommodations you can choose from. Personally I really like the “Toyoko Inn” hotel chain. ;)

  • Hi,
    I’m planning a 9d8n trip to osaka and kyoto from 9-17 dec 15. I’m travelling with kids. Wondering whether the weather will be too cold to do any sightseeing in kyoto. A friend was telling me about wind factor.I guess i can probably run into a cafe or a restaurant in osaka, but kyoto seems a bit “open”.

    Appreciate any advice. Thanks!

    • Hello Karen.
      Kyoto is known for being one of the hottest spots in summer, one of the coldest in winter within Kansai.
      But it won’t be too cold to do sightseeing! You can even go sightseeing in Hokkaido in winter and it’s MUCH colder there. ;)

      So, there’s nothing to worry about.
      You also might want to check out the nearby “Kobe Luminarie“. ^^

  • I might go in October, is there still a typhoon going on?
    I am afraid of the turbulence in the plane if we fly through a typhoon.

    • Nobody can predict the weather. It’s possible that there will be a typhoon in October.
      Planes usually are cancelled in case of a strong typhoon.
      But that shouldn’t hold you back from visiting Japan. ;)

  • Hi, how u can help me out. Plan to visit Tokyo in year 2016 and found that doki doki flea market is quite attractive. Do you know how to get the entry tickets and what is the opening period for it.
    Beside this doki doki flea market, any other flea market worth to visit which will be held in May 2016? Do you think go Disney ocean on 5th May is a good idea?
    Hope to get your advice soon.
    Have a great day!

    • Hello,

      I have never heard of the “Doki Doki Flea Markent”, so I just googled it.
      Apparently it’s held from May 3-5 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
      Although those are the dates for the one in 2015.
      I suppose you can get tickets via the official website (there’s also a telephone number): http://www.makuhari-dokidoki.com/pc/

      I don’t know about flea markets in the Tokyo area. I’ve never lived there. I suggest checking out websites and blogs that specialize in Tokyo. ;)

      I would not recommend going to places that are usually crowded on May 5th because during Golden Week (which is also on May 5th) it’s crowded pretty much everywhere.

  • Hello! I’m travelling to Japan in late November (19th) to early December (6th) and was wondering if there will still be Autumn leaves in Takayama, Kanazawashi, Hiroshima and Kyoto! Thankyou any feed back/advice would be great!!

  • Arriving 15 Jan 2016 in Tokeyo. 4 days later going to Okinawa to visit family. I hear cabs are expensive. Can you please give me idea of what to expect as far as having enough yen to have on hand for cab fare from Marriott hotel at airport to military base lodge. That would be very helpful..This is our first trip to Japan…

    • Hi Judith,
      That’s a very good question. It depends on where you want to go and what exactly you want to do.
      In June you might have to struggle with rainy season, but there are also some beautiful flowers. It’s not so hot and humid yet.
      September is usually typhoon season and still very hot and humid. I’d only recommend September if there is a certain festival you want to attend or if you choose to go to Tohoku and Hokkaido where you might already be able to see the first autumn colors. ;)

  • hi, i had a great time reading your entry especially since i’m currently in the middle of planning my trip to japan this august. but it saddens me that most of the blogs that i read don’t really recommend visiting japan in the summer :( i’m still studying so it’s quite hard to fit japan trip into my schedule and unfortunately the only free time i have throughout the year is from july-august. is it really that bad to travel in august because of the heat and the rain? i’m planning to go to osaka and kyoto.

    • It’s not like you’re going to die or anything, but there are much better times to visit Japan. You have to be careful not to get a heatstroke and maybe need to limit the time you’re outside.
      Summer has its good points as well such as summer festivals, dances and being able to climb Mt. Fuji.
      Kyoto is one of the hottest places in central Japan in summer, so keep that in mind please! :)

  • hai..great blog u have! really helpful
    im planning to go to japan from 28may-6june 2016.do u think its the best because many poeple say that it is raining season.

Leave a Comment