When to go to Japan

Japan is a year-round destination, with each season bringing its own unique highlights. This means there’s no ‘best’ time to visit – it all depends on where you want to go, and what you want to do while you’re here.

Month-by-month

January and February are the coldest months, which is great for avoiding crowds in the cities. It’s also the best time to hit the ski slopes, when the mountains of northern Japan are smothered in powder snow.

Spring runs from March to May, bringing with it the beauty of cherry blossoms in bloom (sometime between mid-March and mid-April). Seeing the country transformed into an ethereal sea of delicate pink petals is mesmerising, but comes at the cost of large crowds and high prices.

Mid-June to mid-July is the rainy season, another quiet time with less-than-ideal weather. July and August are the hottest months, which combined with high humidity can make sightseeing uncomfortable. Summer is also festival season though, making it one of the liveliest times to visit.

September can bring typhoons, as summer shifts into autumn. October and November are among the most pleasant months in Japan, thanks to the comfortable weather and stunning colours of autumn leaves, although there is a corresponding increase in visitor numbers. December is another quiet month – apart from at the ski resorts – as winter sets in again.

Tohoku Iwate volcano and farm

Tohoku Iwate volcano

Festivals and events

Japan loves a festival, and there are far too many amazing events to list them all – check what’s happening in the cities you’re visiting so you don’t miss anything.

New Year is celebrated from the end of December through the first week of January – it’s a big holiday, so lots of shops, restaurants and attractions close. If you’re here on New Year’s Eve, head to a temple or shrine to ring in the New Year the traditional way.

February is the peak time for snow festivals, the most popular and impressive of which is the Sapporo Snow Festival with its enormous pop-culture-themed snow statues.

Cherry blossom season in March-April brings a raft of hanami (flower viewing) festivals, where people picnic on tarpaulin sheets under a ceiling of petals and drink until the early hours. Shortly after this comes Golden Week, an extended national holiday best avoided due to the huge crowds and high costs.

Summer is Japan’s true matsuri (festival) season. Some of the best include Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri, Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri and Tokushima’s Awa Odori. Whichever you attend, expect lively dancing, elaborate floats, traditional music, and some jaw-dropping fireworks displays.

In later months festivals tend to tail off, although there are special events for autumn leaf viewing. Christmas is not a big holiday here, but you can expect to find celebrations in bigger cities.

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