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 perfect 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. Be aware that the first week of May is called Golden week, and consists of a series of public holidays and is usually quite crowded.
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 Tokyo, 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.