With its seemingly endless number of activities, historical sites, and year round festivals, there truly is no bad time to visit Japan. From the snowy ski slopes of Hokkaido to the warm beaches of Okinawa and the bustling cultural centers of Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan has something unique to offer every type of traveler. However, due to expensive flights and long travel times, Japan is often a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many travelers. So, deciding on the best time to travel to Japan is absolutely key to planning your dream getaway. Keep reading below to discover your ideal time to travel to Japan!
1) Late December to February: The Best Time to Hit the Slopes
When you hear the words “winter holiday,” Japan may not be the first place that comes to mind. Yet, the blankets of powdery snow, gorgeous mountain views, and small crowds make Japan a fantastic (and underrated) winter getaway. In fact, due to its frequent snowfall and deep powder, Japan boasts some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. With over 600 ski resorts ranging from Hokkaido to the Japanese Alps, Japan is an ideal ski vacation for whole family.
Yet, if skiing isn’t really your style, winter in Japan still has plenty to offer. The months of December through February are prime times to see the famous Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, in Jigokudani Monkey Park located in the valley of the Yokoyu River. During the cold winters these furry monkeys spend their days soaking in their very own onsen (natural hot spring). Enjoy a day walking through the beautiful, snow-covered park and watch the baby monkeys splash around in their very own hot tub!
In addition, because of the cold weather, airline and accommodation prices decrease significantly during this time of year, as do the number of tourists. While the famed landmarks of Kyoto and Tokyo are bustling with travelers during the warmer months, winter visitors get the special opportunity to enjoy the historical and cultural highlights of Japan’s major cities without the stress of the huge crowds. When it gets too chilly outside for you, simply grab a steaming bowl of hot Ramen or head into one of Japan’s traditional bathhouses, where you can relax and soak in the bubbling hot tub for a delicious spa-like experience.
2) March to May: the Best Time to See the Cherry Blossoms
Because of the warmer temperatures, little rainfall, and the much-anticipated cherry blossoms, the months of March to May are some of the most popular times of the year to visit Japan. For a few weeks in the spring, Japanese cities become filled with the bursting colors of blooming pink blossoms. The site is simply spectacular: city parks, historical landmarks, and tree-lined streets are suddenly filled with beautiful, vibrant colors. The blooming of the cherry trees also creates a fun, festive, and celebratory atmosphere throughout the country as the snow melts and spring weather approaches.
However, it’s important to note that, due to the popularity of springtime in Japan, you will likely see higher prices and larger crowds at some of the more famous sites during this time of year. To avoid the throng of tourists, try to travel early in March (at the very beginning of spring) or later in May, after the cherry blossoms have bloomed.
3) June to August: the Best Time for Festivals and Hiking
Summer in Japan is usually quite warm and humid, and, though early June can be full of comfortable temperatures and blue skies, the rainy season typically sets in around the middle of the month and continues through mid July. However, despite the humidity, Japanese summers are one of the most festive times of the year. Fun and lively matsuri (festivals) pop up all over the country during these months. People spill into the streets to get a glimpse of the extravagant processions of colorful floats, as well as to partake in the lively music and dancing and to indulge in all of the delicious, traditional foods. Some of the country’s most notable summer matsuri include Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri, Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri, and the Awa Odori festival in Tokushima--and that’s not including the myriad neighborhood matsuri that take place at different times throughout the country.
In keeping with the festive atmosphere of the season, the Japanese summer is also renowned for its spectacular firework shows. Hanabi (fireworks) are incredibly popular in Japan, and while Tokyo’s Sumida River Fireworks are perhaps the most famous, there are a wide variety of firework displays that take place in neighborhoods throughout Japan during the summer months.
If these exciting festivities aren’t your cup of tea, the summer months are also ideal times to travel to the Japanese Alps or to the mountains in northern Japan. Summer mountain getaways are perfect for escaping the mugginess of the busy cities, as well as for hiking along some of the country’s most gorgeous nature trails.
4) September to Early December: Best Time for Autumn Foliage
As the temperatures cool and the summer rain begins to dry up, the trees throughout Japan begin to change color into spectacularly vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. Autumn brings about some of the most pleasant temperatures of the year, and with those cooler temperatures come some magically beautiful views. The bright autumn foliage serves as extra ornamentation to shrines, temples, and other popular historical and cultural sites throughout the country. It is a beautiful season to enjoy the outdoors, walk the lovely streets, and wander through famous sites.
However, much like cherry blossom season, autumn travel in Japan, which reaches its peak in November, can also bring about large crowds, higher prices, and fewer accommodations. So, if you hope to travel to Japan in autumn, try to go in late September or early December to avoid the scores of tourists!
Japan has something to offer every traveler, no matter the time of year. Have you ever traveled to Japan? When did you go? Let us know in the comments below!