Ask locals what time of year is best to visit Japan and you’ll get a different answer every time. Each season is loaded with festivals, delicious regional cuisine, distinct weather shifts, and an atmosphere that’ll have you sighing with nostalgia until next year.
Here are the best times of year to visit Japan.
Japan’s cherry blossom season is iconic. Every spare patch of grass transforms into a springtime picnic spot. Pink petals rain down from the trees when the wind blows, blanketing the cities like pink snow. The air is pleasantly warm without the humidity of summer, and new leaves are busting from every tree and bush.
Locals take to the outdoors armed with picnic blankets, a packed bento-box and a bottle of fine sake to enjoy social drinking parties (called Hanami) under the blossoms. The blossoms are only in bloom for one week, so make the most of your time while they last! Crowds tend to be unavoidable in the most popular spots, but if you go during the week before work finishes, finding the pefect spot under the blossoms shouldn’t be too hard.
Autumn is just as incredible as cherry blossom season in Japan and a lot more long-lasting. For a full month the mountains turn a bright bright red dispersed with bursts of orange, while the leaves of Ginkgo trees that commonly line the city streets transform into the most brilliant shade of yellow-green.
There is no shortage of foodie delights in Autumn, with chestnut-flavoured sweets becoming commonplace and regional specialties like tempura maple leaves making their debut. Crowds are not that bad, especially in the more unexplored parts of Japan like Shikoku. Be sure to bring a jacket, because it can get chilly at night!
Spring signifies a major seasonal change in Japan. Once the cherry petals start to fall, they give way to new green spring leaves. Branches devoid of leaves or flowers burst into life and the whole country feels like it’s teeming with newfound energy.
The temperatures in May are moderate, with days being warm and sunny and nights being the perfect time for a relaxing soak in an onsen (hot spring bath). This is the perfect time of year to visit if you want to beat the crowds and snap the best landscape pictures.
Escape from the growing summer heat by going up North to Hokkaido, home to Japan’s highest quality food produce and the most beautiful gardens. Drive along Hokkaido’s Garden Path to visit the famous Mishima garden of striking pink flowers that look like moss and spend a day outside exploring the extensive Tokachi Millennium forest that contains seven themed gardens.
If you visit Japan summer, you’ll get the chance to witness astounding summer matsuri (also known as summer festivals) and firework displays bigger than you ever thought possible. But avoid July – especially in southern Japan – as summer is in full swing and it can get unpleasantly hot and humid.
Visiting big cities like Tokoy, Kyoto and Osaka is eye-opening. But if you’re looking for something deeper, something that truly exposes you to Japan’s cultural nuances, consider going to a city that’s a little less mainstream.
Regardless of the season, Japan has so much to offer beyond famous temples and well-documented streets.
Ramen is one of the most delicious foods in the world.
A ramen apprentice spends around 5 years in training before opening their own restaurant. A ramen chef will dedicate their life to perfecting the perfect bowl of ramen. And a single bowl of ramen can take up to 60 hours to prepare.
When you sit down at a steamy ramen restaurant counter, expect to devour food that speaks to your soul. Broth laced with umami flavour, thick slabs of slow-cooked pork, soft noodles that bounce like energetic springs, gooey eggs with yolk the colour of sunshine, and vegetables that taste of the earth… this is Japanese fanaticism at its best.
Sapporo – the capital of Hokkaido and home to some of Japan’s best ingredients – is where you’ll find a mecca of miso-style ramen restaurants. Over at Kuroko, we’re long-time fans of the hidden gems and the tiny hole-in-the-wall spots – here are our top 3 ramen restaurants in Sapporo and where to find them.
Menya Yukikaze is famed among locals for their creamy miso-based broth. Small and dingy from the outside with only 12-13 seats, you’d never guess this restaurant churns out some of the best ramen in Sapporo.
The ramen broth is dark yet delicate with shredded chicken rounding out the savoury flavour. A thick rectangular slice of charisu (slow-cooked pork) and an appropriate pile of local vegetables are placed on top for a mouthwatering presentation. Visit in the evening for a quick dinner before exploring the city.
Opening hours: Monday-Saturday in the evening.
Address: 4-2-6, LC Jyuichibankan 1F, Minami 7 Jonishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
Menya Saimi is the most popular ramen restaurant in Sapporo. The owner trained at the famous Sumire restaurant before opening Saimi 10 years ago. Since then, this ramen spot has become so popular that the local train station installed a sign to direct hungry ramen tourists to their destination.
As the most popular miso ramen in Sapporo, most worry it’s overrated (it’s not) and not worth the 30-minute wait time (trust me it’s worth it). Homemade noodles, a hint of fresh ginger in the soup, and a melody of salty and sweet make this ramen exceptional to even untrained pallets.
Opening Hours: 11:00 am – 3:15 pm 5:00 pm- 7:30pm. Closed Mondays and two times randomly per month.
Address: Menya Saimi 5 Chome-3-12 Misono 10 Jo, Toyohira Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido
This one’s not a single ramen restaurant, it’s a collection of restaurants. Yokocho alley started back in 1951 when Japan was still recovering from WWII and cheap, fast food was in high demand. It’s where miso ramen originated and now hosts 17 renowned ramen restaurants.
Pass under the bright neon street sign and into a slower time when food was pure and wholesome. Each restaurant has a big board with pictures of their signature ramen to help you choose your favourite toppings. Go with an empty stomach and big eyes, and you’ll leave happy with your trousers just a little bit tighter.
Have you ever taken the time to just be in nature? Taken a deep breath in a simply let all the tension of modern day life leave your body? Hokkaido in summer has a tendency to overwhelm your senses in the most delightful way.
Most Australians know Hokkaido for its powdery ski slopes, famous Sapporo beer, and downright incredible snow sculpture festival. And fair enough — all those things are amazing!
… But have you seen the gardens in summer?
Japanese locals flock from all over the country for the sight
Row and rows of lavender bushes swaying gently in the fragrant breeze. Perfectly manicured lawns rimmed with tulips more yellow than the sun. Flowers packed so tightly together they look like
Thanks to its northern position, Hokkaido has the best weather in Japan during the summer season. It’s warm, but not too warm. Humid, but not too humid. And there is just enough rain to paint the alps a striking green.
Along the Hokkaido Garden Path, striking gardens framed by mountain ranges dot the countryside. The route is more than 200 km long, starting at Asahikawa and winding past Furano and Tokachi.
Here are the best two Hokkaido gardens that you won’t want to miss on your trip.
Kazuo Mishima is the type of person the world needs. After retiring from the agriculture industry, he set to work transforming the hillside near his house into a beautiful celebration of nature.
The garden grew out of Mishima’s imagination and desire to create “a kind of paradise created by the flowers”.
Now tiny Shibazakura flowers (nicknamed pink moss) blanket the hill in the most fantastic shades of pink. Each flower was grown from seedling and more continue to spread over the grass.
Mishima opens up his private residence to visitors when the flowers start to bloom. His goal? To share a love of flowers.
With seven themed gardens (and one goat farm), it’s no surprise that this massive project won the Grand Award and the International Award of the Society of Garden Designers Awards in 2012.
Designed around a carbon-offset theme, the collective gardens take on a massive scale that reflects Hokkaido’s diversity and size.
A personal favourite is the earth garden. Great swathes of thick green grass stretch endlessly into the distance, merging the garden with neighboring mountain ranges.
The scenery is meticulously beautiful and a true homage to the awe of nature.
The best time to visit the Hokkaido Gardens is in early summer around June. The weather is just right and all the flowers are blooming in their prime.
If you’d like to join me (Rika) on a guided small group tour to Hokkaido, click here to read more.
In feudal Japan, 47 loyal Samurai gave their lives to protect the honour of their master. Walking around the picturesque city of Ako in the temperate Hyogo prefecture, you’d never guess the city had such a dramatic past.
In the present day, Ako is a small city with a sister-city program that transcends continental borders. On the 10th of December, a delegation from Rockingham City in Australia joined Ako officials for 7 jam-packed days of talks and events.
The 21 year-long sister city agreement has been key in growing friendship, opportunity, and cultural understanding between Japan and Australia. This year, Kuroko was responsible for conducting and interpreting the entire program.
Far from your average dry and tedious conference, each day was filled with highly productive talks, debates, and negotiations. But we didn't spend all day in the boardroom. After talks, officials visited the Hyogo governor, Earth pharmaceutical corporation, Kansai University, local businesses, and communal facilities. It was wonderful to see how open communication between two cultures sets growth in motion.
It was an honour for us to be a part of this yearly event. Through translating, we discussed major topics with real impact. Rubbish disposal, recycling, and future exchange programs began to take form. Climate change, employment, economic development, tourism, aged care, and disability facilities were debated and possible solutions were discussed. It was thrilling to communicate not only the facts but also the emotion that transcends language.
To finish the trip, officials participated in the annual Gishi festival -- celebrating the momentous sacrifice of those 47 Samurai some 300 years ago.
We have learned how understanding and peace start from local micro-actions. A short chat about recycling can morph into a city-wide movement thousands of miles away. Witnessing the genuine friendship and warmth emanating from Ako was the highlight of this assignment.
If you’d like to arrange an official delegation to Japan or a custom tour, please get in touch using the contact form below.