The best times to visit Japan are in late autumn and early spring, when the temperature is mild, prices are decent and crowds are few. November has crisp, refreshing weather and the last of vibrant fall foliage, while March welcomes the beginning of cherry blossom season before masses of people arrive in April for Golden Week.
That said, some of the best Japanese festivals take place during the summer, while winter has world-famous skiing. So you should consider which activities are top on your list before booking your trip to Japan.
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.
Golden Week in Japan 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.
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.
The cheapest time to fly to Japan is in November, when flights are up to 18% cheaper than the yearly average, according to data from Skyscanner. Budget travelers should avoid July, when rates can spike up to 14% higher than average.
You should also be able to find good deals during the winter months, when tourism slows throughout the country (except at ski resorts). Look for cheap hotels and tours in mid-January, February and March.
- Cherry blossom trees start blooming in southern Japan in late March. To avoid the crowds and get good travel deals, go to Fukuoka and Hiroshima in the last week of March instead of Kyoto, Osaka or Tokyo.
Like the US, Japan has four distinct seasons, with cherry blossoms in the spring, street fairs and festivities in the summer, leaf peeping in autumn and plenty of snow (especially in the mountains) during winter. Before planning your trip, take a look at the average temperature to make sure you’ll be comfortable.
|High||31° F||32° F||39° F||53° F||64° F||71° F ||77° F ||79° F||72° F||61° F||47° F||36° F|
|Low||18° F||19° F||26° F||37° F||46° F ||55° F||63° F ||65° F||56° F||44° F||33° F||23° F|
|Rain||16 days||15 days||13 days||8 days||7 days||6 days||8 days||8 days||9 days||12 days||14 days||15 days|
|High||50° F||51° F||56° F||66° F||74° F||78° F||85° F||88° F||81° F||71° F||62° F||54° F|
|Low||35° F||36° F||41° F||50° F||59° F||66° F||73° F||75° F||69° F||58° F||49° F||39° F|
|Rain||3 days||5 days||8 days||9 days||8 days||11 days||10 days||8 days||12 days||8 days||6 days||3 days|
|High||49° F||51° F||57° F||67° F||75° F ||80° F ||88° F ||89° F||82° F||73° F||63° F||53° F|
|Low||36° F||38° F||43° F||52° F||60° F||68° F||76° F||76° F||69° F||58° F||48° F||40° F|
|Rain||10 days||8 days||10 days||9 days||9 days||12 days||11 days||9 days||9 days||6 days||7 days||9 days|
Average yearly temperatures sourced from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in February 2021.
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. If you travel to Japan to see ume in February, you should be able to get cheap flights and accommodations, avoid the crowds and still see some gorgeous blooms.
Cherry blossom viewing in spring and red maple tree hikes throughout the fall are among the most famous seasonal events in Japan. But if you’re looking for man-made fun, consider swinging by another seasonal celebration.
- What are matsuri? Matsuri is the Japanese word for festival. 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.
- Takayama Spring Festival. The annual festival of the Hie Shrine is held in mid-April. A dozen floats, called yatai, topped with dancing mechanical dolls parade through Takayama’s old town streets.
- Sanja Matsuri. Tokyo’s high-spirited, three-day festival in May celebrates the founders of Asakura’s Sensoji Temple. Hundreds of mikoshi, sacred religious shrines housing deities, are marched through the neighborhood to bring Asakaura’s businesses and residents good fortune.
- Fuji Rock Festival. The biggest rock festival in Japan features over 200 artists performing pop, rock and electronic tunes. Though originally held at the base of Mt. Fuji, it’s now held at Naeba Ski Resort just north of Tokyo.
- Gozan no Okuribi (Daimonji Festival). Kyoto’s mountain bonfire display is the grand finale to the Obon festival, where spirits of ancestors are said to visit living relatives. Five fires are lit around the city to usher the souls back to the spirit world. Gozan no Okuribi, roughly translated, means “send-off fire.”
- 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?”
- Naha Ohtsunahiki Festival. For a unique spectacle, head to the tug-of-war competition held the second weekend in October. The rope weighs over 27 tons and is nearly five feet thick. Spectators can also enjoy parades, live music and fireworks at Okinawa’s largest festival.
- Sumo Kyushu Basho. In mid to late November, famous sumo wrestlers compete to reach the highest rank of yokozuna. The 15-day tournament is held in Fukuoka, on the north shore of Japan’s Kyushu Island.
- Sapporo Snow Festival. This sculpture festival features ice and snow sculptures throughout the city. Admission is free, though you can pay to join specific activities at the festival.
- Setsubun Mantoro. Known as the festival of wishes, it takes place in Nara, just east of Osaka. Thousands of lanterns light up Kasuga Taisha Shrine, as locals and tourists alike stroll through the magically lit forest to celebrate the transition from winter to spring.
- Anime Japan. Japan’s the birthplace of anime, so it makes sense one of the largest anime conventions in the world takes place in Tokyo. Hundreds of film and TV production companies, game developers and toy makers join anime enthusiasts at workshops, seminars and exhibitions. Tickets cost 2,200 yen in advance.
- Yuki Matsuri. Sapporo’s winter wonderland runs from late January 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.
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.
Traveling during COVID-19
The CDC continues to advise caution when traveling within or outside the US, However, it no longer requires self-quarantine or a COVID-19 test
for fully vaccinated domestic travelers as of April 2021. International travelers need to get tested three days prior to flying out of the US and within three days after returning, even if you are fully vaccinated. It recommends that you delay travel if you’re not fully vaccinated to protect yourself and your family from getting or spreading the virus.
If you’re planning a trip outside the US, bear in mind that many countries have placed restrictions on US tourists. Check the US embassy website for updates before booking international travel
Is Christmas celebrated in Japan?
Though Christmas isn’t technically a Japanese holiday — only about 1% of the population is Christian — you might notice a general festive atmosphere if you visit Japan on December 25th. It’s seen more as a romantic time of general good cheer, rather than a religious occasion. Most businesses treat Christmas in Japan as a typical working day.
How much snow does Tokyo get?
Typically less than two inches per year. The city’s averaged only 9.6 snow days in the last 10 years.