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Best time to visit Japan

Colorful moments celebrate the sights and sounds of Nihon.

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From vibrant cherry blossoms exploding in early spring to enchanting winter stillness, the best to visit Japan depends on what you’re searching for. And with over 300,000 annual matsuri, or festivals, chances are you’ll end up dancing in the street any time of year.

Best time of year to visit Japan

Peak season

Nature dictates the best times of year to visit Japan. Travelers flock to see blush-pink cherry blossoms in the spring and rich, golden maple leaves in the fall. Mild weather with low rainfall and humidity also make these peak times for visiting.

But transportation and accommodation prices spike from late April through early May due to the influx of cherry blossom sightseers. And keep in mind Japan consists of a whopping 6,852 islands from north to south, so the trees bloom at slightly different times depending on your location. Plot your route in advance to determine the best time to see pretty pink trees in their full splendor.

Holidays

The Golden Week is a string of four national holidays occurring within one week from late April to early May. Celebrate nationwide festivals like Shōwa no hi (the birthday of late Emperor Showa who ruled during World War II), Kenpo Kinenbi (Constitution Day), Midori no Hi (Greenery Day), and Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day). You might want to avoid amusement parks during Golden Week, though, as they tend to get packed.

Obon and New Year’s Day are two other peak travel periods. Obon, a Buddhist holiday when ancestor spirits are said to return, occurs in mid-July or August, depending on the region. Observers pay respects by lighting lanterns to guide spirits along the way.

And during the new year in Japan, most businesses shut down, bōnenkai parties are thrown and temples are visited for prayer and meditation. Expect more crowds in public places — the Meiji Shrine alone attracts millions of visitors from January 1st to 3rd.

Off-season

Japan’s off-season coincides with the rain, which generally occurs from early June to mid-July but varies by region. Expect humidity, heat and moisture — and cheaper hotels and flights.

Excluding the new year, December, January and February are the quietest months. Temperatures are lower but the weather is dry and sunny. Travelers can expect shorter queues at temples and museums and lower prices overall.

Pro tip

Japanese plum trees, called ume, bloom brilliantly throughout February in the Kyoto and Osaka regions. Ume emit a strong, sweet smell, and although less popular than cherry blossoms, are nonetheless honored by the Japanese.

Events and attractions

Typically organized by local shrines or community members, matsuri usually include traditional dances and costumes. More than 300,000 matsuri are held in specific cities or regions each year.

Three of the biggest festivals in Japan include:

  • Gion Matsuri (Kyoto). Japan’s biggest block party originated in the year 869 as a purification ritual meant to appease the gods. Now it lasts throughout the month of July, culminating in gigantic parades on the 17th and 24th. Revelers dress in yukata, or colorful traditional robes, and enjoy food and beer from street vendors.
  • Awa Odori. From August 12th to 15th, more than a million people gather to dance in the streets of Tokushima City wearing straw hats and lightweight cotton happi and yukata. Newcomers can join the Niwaka Ren dance troupe for lessons in traditional dance before taking the stage. As the Awa Odori saying goes, “The dancing fool and the watching fool are both fools, so why not dance?”
  • Yuki Matsuri. Sapporo’s winter wonderland runs from late July to early February. See hundreds of snow sculptures for free and a dazzling spectacle of colorful lights if you visit Odori Park at night. Frolic through the Tsudome Site which features a snow maze, snowman building area and three snow slides.

Bottom line

The best time to visit Japan depends on which region you’re visiting and what you want to see. Consider drafting an itinerary first to pinpoint exactly which matsuri, temples and natural splendors you don’t want to miss.

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