Timing is everything when it comes to stopping to sniff the cherry blossoms, but is spring truly the best time to visit Japan?
The best time to visit Japan all depends on what you’re hoping to do, see, and experience. Some of us aspire to experience hanami, the Japanese name for the viewing of cherry blossoms. But, others of you might also want to shred some of Japan’s best slopes. On the other hand, autumn has some of the most pleasant and pristine climate and temperatures. So is that the prime time to book your flight? Summer boasts some of the best festivals and beach time. Sadly, we all can't take a full year to experience all that Japan has to offer. Or, if you do, let me in on your secret. Instead, we will walk through each of the seasons in Japan and figure out the best time to visit Japan for you. But before we can get there, we need to understand the different regions of Japan first.
The Regions of Japan
When nestled next to China, it is easy to compare the two countries and see Japan as small and uniform. While Japan may be small, it is also mighty and diverse. Japan is composed of thousands of islands, which makes climates and their zones vary greatly. Most of the country is actually densely forested mountains, causing huge populations to be centered in the cities.
In the north, the mountainous island of Hokkaido will often be quite a bit colder than the southernmost islands of Okinawa archipelago. On the main island of Honshu, which is home to Kyoto and Tokyo, you will have more of the assumed four season rotation. That being said, the main island is cut in half by the Japanese Alps. For you, that is a plus. It means there is always a natural mountain escape nearby the big city. So, now that you’re beginning to get acquainted with the possibilities within one country, let’s talk about one of the best times to visit Japan: winter.
Winter in Japan
For the more budget conscious and anti-tourist traveler, winter is your season. With temperatures hovering around freezing, the cold keeps many potential visitors far away. This allows you to see much of the country without the throngs of tourists that usually touchdown. But, if you’re into snowboarding or skiing, this is definitely the best time to visit Japan. With the snowy mountains of Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps to play on, why haven’t you bought your ticket already?
So, before you get too excited about Japan in the winter, take into account the holidays. New Years in Japan is an incredibly popular tourist time as the season has a special aura to it. That being said, even the locals are given extra time off after Christmas through mid-January. So, it is very common for shops, museums, restaurants, and other attractions to be closed during the peak holiday time. Additionally, accommodations may be more expensive with locals on vacation, especially when it is popular to reserve the same place year after year.
One of the loveliest draws of winter in Japan is soaking in a mountain onsen. These natural hot springs are marvelous spas built around the natural hot water spurting up. While often found up north, the one most central on the main island is Kanazawa. Here, you’ll get more than just a hot soak. You can often find the wild snow monkeys also going for a dip! So, if you’re hoping to see the temples and city untouched by tourists and maybe shred some powder, winter is the best time to visit Japan for you!
Springtime in Japan
Ah, the breathtaking cherry blossoms. We cannot predict the beginning of this natural phenomenon perfectly. But, generally, the trees in southern Japan will blossom in late March. About a week after they start opening is considered the peak season. For more northern cities and towns, they could be as late as May. The cherry blossoms are definitely one of the best times to visit Japan, although you have to be okay with crowds. On top of the cherry blossoms is what Japanese called ‘golden week’. Think of this as spring break for them. The last week in April and into May, many Japanese will be traveling. So, expect higher prices and crowded transportation during this time as well.
So, if you’re willing to brave intense crowds and risk the fickleness of Mother Nature and her blooming schedule, then by all means travel during cherry blossom season! Springtime also boasts the best weather. You will avoid the humidity of summer, but be stuck with the rest of the fair-weather tourists. May is the best spring month if you are alright missing out on the cherry blossoms but still want the best weather. Also in May is the Takayama Matsuri. This festival is a beautiful display of shrines and floats that are pulled through the streets of old town Takayama. So, most travelers may not think spring is the best time to visit Japan due to the crowds. But, if seeing the iconic sakura is on your bucket list, then come on over.
Summer in Japan
From June to September, Japan is thriving with life, but also humidity. The festivals of Japan can be such an exciting draw, pushing summer to potentially be the best time to visit Japan. Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri, Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, and Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri are all well worth the time, effort, and planning to see. You will also find it quite enjoyable tosimply walk around the cities and towns in Japan. The neighborhood parties, known as matsuris, can be quite enthralling. Summer is also the season of fireworks in the country, so late nights by the river are a common occurrence during this season.
If you’re already coming from a home country or climate of heat and humidity, you might as well push through it in Japan too. I suggest this because you'll be able to experience the joys of summer. Just keep in mind that you may need to pace yourself and build in some extra relaxing days if you try and go too hard here in the summer. If you are solid of summer in Japan, perhaps you’d like to try out some hiking in the Alps. The higher elevation keeps it cooler, and you will have vividly green scenery. Speaking of keeping things green, the rainy season is typically mid-June through mid-July. While you won’t experience the torrential downpours of many countries, you should still be well prepared with rain gear. It’s fair to note as well that typhoons will peak during late summer, and you’ll want to avoid those.
If summer isn’t the best time to visit Japan for you, then perhaps the fall foliage will draw you in instead.
Autumn in Japan
Dubbed as the most delightful time weather-wise to visit Japan, September through November in Japan can truly be glorious. The summer temperatures truly start to cool off for good in October, which spurs the picturesque foliage to begin coming out. This beautiful sight will draw many tourists, but they are often spread out throughout nature so you can still typically have room for yourself when out and about. That being said, it can often be just as difficult to find accommodations during this time, similar to the cherry blossom season.
Overall, the quietest month to visit Japan is often November. With fewer festivals and no major Japanese vacation times, this is the best time to visit Japan for the introverts. You will have cheaper flights and transportation, as well as have an easier time finding the best hotels for you.
Upcoming Dates to Note
The summer Olympics will take place in Tokyo in 2020. This will lead to a major surge of tourism, athletes, and coaches flooding the city and surrounding country in the months leading up to and around summer. So, if you’re able to spend the money ahead, you could have a once in a lifetime experience at the Olympics. However, most would not consider that the best time to visit Japan if you’re hoping to see more of the culture and ambiance of the country.
The best time to visit Japan completely depends on your budget and sightseeing desires. Whether you’re a winter sports adrenaline junkie or a fall foliage connoisseur, you’ll have to choose what is best for you.
If you’ve been seeking out adventures, you can enjoy the winter sports, hot springs, and even secret sand dunes in the winter of Japan, while enjoying a slower tourist season and lower prices. The brilliant display of cherry blossoms is a massive draw in spring, though. But, is it worth the crowds and price? That we cannot decide for you. If you have your kiddos free for the summer and you’re willing to push through the heat, then Japanese gardens will be most beautiful just after the rainy season. But, for those of you who love the dazzling colors of fall, autumn is hands down the best time to visit Japan. If you have an extra travel voucher for Japan, this is the article for you. So, choose your path accordingly, but regardless of when you go, Japan will capture you with its natural charm.
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