You’ve heard of the wonders of cherry blossom season in Japan. Have you been told, though, of the beauty of the changing leaves in autumn? Or of the other flowering trees, the plum blossom season? Have you considered visiting a snow-dappled ryokan during the deep chill of winter?
Before you purchase tickets on that international flight, check out our comprehensive guide to the seasons of Japan. You’ll then be able to choose the best travel time to suit your unique needs.
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Japan seasonal highlights
When contemplating when to go to Japan, you may want to keep in mind typical weather conditions as well as seasonal highlights. Each season in Japan holds a magic all its own.
In the spring, the plum and cherry blossom seasons paint the countryside and parks in shades ranging from red to pink to white.
Unique festivals are held each summer, and forests are inflamed with brilliant red and orange foliage in the fall. Winter brings with it sports such as skiing and snowboarding.
Seasons in Japan
Japan’s long, narrow island chain stretches from cold northern latitudes to subtropical, equatorial latitudes. Understanding the changing seasons on Japan’s various islands will help you to choose the ideal location and time of year for your vacation.
Seasons in Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu (main islands). Spring occurs from mid-March to May, with temperatures of 40º to 65º Fahrenheit (5º to 20º Celsius). Summer temperatures of 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (21º to 32º C) mark the months of June through September. Autumn, from September through December, offers mild temperatures of 50º to 70 ºF (10º to 21º C). Winters last from December to mid-March, with temperatures ranging from 30º to 45º F (0º to 8º C). The mountainous regions of Honshu are, of course, colder, with snowier winters than the bulk of the island.
Seasons in Hokkaido. The northernmost island of Hokkaido has longer, colder winters than the other islands of Japan. It also enjoys milder summers.
Seasons in Okinawa and other small southern islands. The southernmost reaches of Japan are subtropical in climate. Okinawa, for example, has long summers, and is relatively warm even during the winter months.
Spring in Japan
Spring travel in Japan is beautifully garnished by the plum blossom season, from mid-February to mid-March, and cherry blossom season, from mid-March to mid-April.
When planning your vacation, keep in mind that the peak times for a profusion of blossoms are unpredictable; warm weather may cause blooms to peak early, cold weather to peak late, or a heavy rain may knock the blossoms from the trees. Golden Week is another busy time in Japan, lasting from late April through the first week in May.
The cherry blossom season and Golden Week are a highly popular travel time for Japanese residents as well, so large crowds are likely, and accommodations and transportation may have higher prices and be more difficult o acquire.
Make any spring travel plans well in advance to ensure adequate accommodations. Temperatures are unpredictable in the spring, so bring your winter coat as well as warm-weather wear.
Summer in Japan
Summer in Japan brings with it one of the highest densities of festivals in the world. Fireworks displays also take place throughout the country.
Summer can be a crowded time for tourist destinations. The rainy/typhoon season, combined with the rising temperatures of July and August, make for a hot and humid outdoor climate. If hot weather is an issue, book your reservations in a mountainous region, such as the Japan Alps, or on the northern island of Hokkaido. These areas experience milder summer weather. Torrential rain is usually not a problem even during the rainiest parts of June and July. At times, stormy weather caused by typhoons may delay travel to and from Okinawa.
Autumn in Japan
Autumn foliage is a real treat for travelers. The largest crowds accumulate during the month of November.
Among the best locations for viewing the brightly colored leaves are Arashiyama on the outskirts of Kyoto and the Japanese Alps on the island of Honshu. Many who travel in the Arashiyama district ride the Sagano Scenic Railway, which offers huge windows and a leisurely speed, perfect for autumn sightseeing.
The largest crowds accumulate during the month of November. If you wish to avoid the crowds, consider visiting in early December. The trees will retain much of their color, but he peak tourist season will have passed. Plan your trip in advance to ensure the availability of accommodations.
Winter in Japan
Winter is a wonderful time to visit Japan if you wish to avoid the crowds that often accompany the warmer seasons. This also makes it the cheapest time to plan your travels, so long as you avoid the holiday season.
Keep in mind that airports, train stations, accommodations, and attractions are typically very busy in the days preceding and following New Year’s Day. Hotel and ryokan prices may also be elevated during this time. From Christmas until New Years, many attractions, and even stores and restaurants are also closed for the holidays. Auctions at the famed Tsukiji Fish Market are closed to tourists in late December and early January.
The mountains of Japan offer ample snow for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports. Hokkaido and the Alps of Honshu are among the best places for winter sports. Visiting a snow-shrouded onsen can also be a unique and relaxing winter experience. Most temples and shrines remain open throughout the holidays.
In whichever season you choose to visit Japan, you will not be disappointed by its unique seasonal offerings. And if you’ve traveled to Japan in the past, visiting during a different season can bring new life to your travel experiences.