When is the best time to go to Japan?
The fist question I usually get asked when someone is thinking about going on a holiday to Japan is, when is the best time to go?
The Four Seasons
The Japanese will tell you that Japan has four seasons and most westerners usually respond with “Yeh, don’t all countries have four seasons?”
Yes, they do! But, the seasons in Japan are very distinct. Especially when you’re like me and come from Australia. We have hot, hot, hot and a little bit cold. With the odd exception, it is mostly green all year round.
So which season is the best?
Well it depends on what you want to achieve in Japan. Do you want to see the cherry blossoms or do you want to go snow boarding and soak in a hot spring? Do you want to see the most beautiful golden Autumn leaves or go snorkelling in Okinawa? What you want to achieve will determine the best time to go. So lets take a look at each season.
Spring – March to May
During March it can still be quite chilly so you will still need to bring some warmer clothes to Japan. Even April can be quite cold, I got caught out one year and it snowed during cherry blossom season in Tokyo.
Cherry blossom seasons usually starts at the end of April and can run into late May. The Japanese news usually has a running update of where the blossoms are. If you have a bilingual TV in the hotel you’re staying NHK usually has a live translator if you’re interested in watching. The cherry blossoms usually start blooming from southern Japan which is warmer and move towards northern Japan over the course of the season.
It is also still cool enough at this time of year to enjoy a nice soak in a hot spring at the end of the day.
This is also one of the busiest times to be in Japan. Especially watch out for Golden Week which runs from April 29th until May 5th. It’s a collection of public holidays which all fall at the same time making trips on the shinkansen (bullet train), tourist attractions and booking a hotel a nightmare.
Summer – June to August
For the first part of Summer, June to July, it rains and rains and rains and rains. After it stops raining, it rains some more. Then from to July and August it gets incredibly hot and humid.
This is not the most fun time to be in Japan. I’ve gotten heat exhaustion every summer I’ve been to Japan. A Japanese doctor I met in a bar a few years back recommend Pocari Sweat to replace fluids and salts, should this happen to you.
So what is good about this season?
Well back in 2003 when I was living in Japan I took a holiday to Kyoto, which is one of the worst places you can go during summer. It’s just so incredibly hot. The positive was, there were barely any tourists. I was able to take all these amazing pictures of shrines and castles with not a soul in them. So if you don’t mind the heat and don’t like tourists this might be the best time to go for you.
Another thing that is great about summer in Japan are the Beer Gardens. They are usually on the top of department stores or hotels. They charge a flat rate and enjoy nomitabeohudai, all you eat and drink, usually from 5pm to 10:30pm.
Autumn – September to November
This is my favourite time to go, especially between October to November, the weather is really comfortable, you may need a light jumper/sweater in later October through to November in the evening but the days are generally pleasant.
Around late October to November is also when the leaves turn beautiful golden, red and yellow colours. Kyoto, especially around Kyomizu Dera district or any mountainous area just looks beautiful at this time.
During November it might just cool enough to enjoy an Onsen (hot spring).
The negative is that this is also typhoon season, so there may be delays if you are flying or travelling by bullet train during a typhoon.
Winter – December to February
Where I lived in Hiroshima, it would snow around February. Only a couple of days though. It was magical for us Aussies that have never get to experience snow often. The British and Canadians were always amused at us Aussies running around playing in the snow and throwing snow balls at each other.
It is very cold at this time of year, it can go as low as minus 15 degrees up in Sapporo. You will definitely need to bring thermal underwear. The Japanese also have these heat packs called hokkairo which you can get cheaply at any convenience store that can also help to keep you warm. Seats on trains have heaters under them also, it is that cold!
If you like snowboarding or skiing then this is the best time to go for you.
If you don’t like winter sports but are interested in the snow, then I would recommend the Sapporo Snow Festival which runs in the first week of February. Check the website below. It is magical.
Of course do not forget this is the best time to enjoy an onsen (hot spring) to warm those bones after being out in the freezing cold all day!
North vs South
Japan is a very long country so bear in mind the North is much cooler than the South. Sapporo in the summer can be quite pleasant and Okinawa in the winter can be quite warm. So if you do visit in the more extreme seasons a trip to either end of the country might offer relief to the elements.
|Spring||6°C / 44°F||15°C / 58°F||15°C / 58°F||22°C / 70°F|
|Summer||21°C / 69°F||27°C / 78°F||27°C / 78°F||29°C / 83°F|
|Autumn||12°C / 52°F||19°C / 65°F||19°C / 65°F||25°C / 77°F|
|Winter||-5°C / 26°F||6°C / 42°F||6°C / 42°F||17°C / 62°F|
What is the best time for you?
Now that you know a little more about each season. What time do you think is the best for you to visit Japan? If you’ve been to Japan which season was it? How was it? Leave a comment below.