When is the Best Time to Visit Japan? We Break It Down…
Japan is a fascinating country, so it is absolutely no wonder that its popularity with Western travelers is on the rise. In culture alone, the nation is known for a plethora of different elements, from the weird and wonderful, to fashion and food. However, it is also famous for its natural scenes, including the beautiful cherry blossoms and of course, the iconic Mt. Fuji. With so much to see and do, there’s something to capture your heart at any given time of the year. However, we thought it best to break it down to help you to decide the time of year that will most suit your desires and needs.
In Japan, the New Year brings about plenty of exciting festivities, just like many other places around the world. Celebrations here are known as Shogatsu, and public places are bound to feel a little bit more crowded. It’s an important holiday to the Japanese, and they often gift one another with money or visit temples together. The public are granted access to the Imperial Palace on January 2nd; one of only two dates on the calendar where you can see the inner grounds. Tourists may enjoy New Year’s Day sales –in the past, shops would close around this time, but now it’s the perfect excuse for a spot of retail therapy.
January is also an important time for Japanese people because of a festival called “Coming of Age Day” or Seijin-no-hi. It collectively recognises all of the people in the country who have celebrated coming of age during that year.
While February is typically considered to be the coldest month of all in Japan, this doesn’t at all mean that you should not visit. Skiing fans rejoice; this is the best time to make the most of the powder snow in Hokkaido and other resort locations –you will not be disappointed. There is even an annual event celebrating the snow, with visitors flocking to Yuki Matsuri in Sapporo. The snow festival includes many different attractions and is highly recommended.
Despite the cold weather, early February actually marks the first day of spring in the traditional lunar calendar. Celebrations largely centre around warding off evil!
Spring is in full force by March and it shows. While Japan can offer so much to visitors, it really is worth highlighting its cherry blossom season. Japan is known around the world for its marvelous and magical cherry blossom displays, and you really ought to see them at some point in your life. As the blooming of these beautiful blossoms is a natural occurrence which changes yearly, it is not always possible to predict the exact month, however the onset is typically around late March. Okinawa tends to bloom first, with Northern locations not blooming until as late as May, but it can depend entirely on the weather. No matter where you intend to go, you must plan ahead with your visits.
March is also a good time to visit if you have an interest in anime, one of the most famous exports of Japanese popular culture, anime, as Tokyo plays host to a huge convention called AnimeJapan.
In April, you will probably find yourself preoccupied by the peak of cherry blossom season, as this continues to be a busy time for visits of this nature.
April is also known for some less famous, yet still very exciting events. If you head to Takayama, you’ll find their famous Spring festival. It’s very traditional, and you can enjoy seeing floats lit up with lanterns and even a festive lion dance.
One of Japan’s most iconic symbols are the stunning Geishas, and if you head to Kyoto in April, you will be fortunate enough to witness them in all of their glory at the Miyako Odori Festival showcase. Tickets must be purchased in advance!
Each year, May brings Golden Week, the most significant holiday period of all. While it starts at the end of April, it’s in full swing by May. There are several national holidays within a week, so be warned; it will be very busy. However, it’s an immense amount of fun, officially beginning with Showa Day and ending with Children’s Day. In between, locals celebrate Constitution Day as well as Greenery Day as well, which pays homage to nature.
If you’re in Tokyo in May, you may wish to attend Sanja Matsuri, the city’s largest festival. Over a million visitors descend on Asakusa to see the incredible parade of men and women in traditional dress.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan in June, you should be aware that it’s the rainy season. The skies can get quite gloomy, and you’re certainly not going to find much sun! However, there is still plenty to do. Japan is known for amazing hot springs, or you can venture to temples all over the nation. If being in the outdoors is your cup of tea, hiking season really comes into its own during June.
Yet more events take place this month as well; including a major rice planting festival that’s over 1,700 years old in Osaka, and Yosakoi Soran Matsuri, Sapporo’s annual folk dance festival where you can witness thousands of dancers all over the city and in the parks.
If you’ve always dreamed of climbing the quite literally awe-inspiring Mt. Fuji, you are in luck. On July 1st, the mountain opens itself to climbers. It is quite possible to see it at any time of the year, but to climb, you must wait until this period.
Other activities in July include Gion Matsuri in Kyoto. Here you will see fantastic floats as they make their way through the streets. Again, this is typically a very busy time.
By the end of July, rainy season is almost over in most of the country, and the month itself is hot and humid. It’s a great time if you wish to visit the beach in Okinawa.
The heat and humidity continues into August, and the crowds swell as well because it’s the school holidays. One of the best places to make use of the weather and the outdoors is Hokkaido, one of Japan’s islands.
August also brings O-Bon, a three-day event honouring those who have passed on. Japanese traditional beliefs state that this is the time where spirits return to roam the earth. Offerings are made to graves, and lanterns float away down rivers. It is not a time of mourning; on the contrary, it is one of celebration.
To further add to the celebrations, August typically brings fireworks to Japan! If the opportunity presents itself, head to Lake Biwa Fireworks Festival, which is near Kyoto.
Love warmth but hate humidity? September is a great time for you to visit! However, nothing in this life is perfect, as the month sits right in the peak of Typhoon season with Okinawa, Shikoku and Kyushu especially at risk of extreme winds and plenty of rain.
If you’re looking for things to do, Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri in Osaka is an annual event with festival floats. Alternatively, you could visit Seto, famous for its ceramics. A handicrafts festival is popular in the city (with around half a million visitors) at this time of year.
October is a wonderful time of year to visit Japan, with plenty of warmth and glorious sunshine, without the often difficult to bear humidity.
Autumn is in full swing by this point and leaves the Japanese Alps looking even more beautiful than ever with foliage all around. However, Tokyo comes even more alive at this time of year too, with Roppongi Art Night, held in a multitude of venues and celebrating the Arts, hosting an array of installations and performances. And then, surprisingly, Japan goes wild for Halloween! You won’t regret catching the Kawasaki Halloween Parade.
Continuing with the perfect weather, November is another great month to visit Japan. However, it can get colder in some parts of the nation, especially over in Sapporo.
This month sees the Ohara Festival down in Kagoshima, which will bring crowds in their droves to see a street parade. The Momiji Festival in Kyoto stands out from the crowds, with reenactments and decorated boats seeking to transport you back in time to the Heian classical period.
December is a wonderful time in Japan, but just like many other places around the world, it gets terribly crowded. Christmas is not a national holiday, and yet it is a very busy time of year, with many people taking time off work.
If you are there on December 31st, be sure to stay awake for the New Year’s Eve bells. The temples ring 108 times at midnight, as part of a purification ritual for the coming year, called Joya-no-kane.