Your definitive map and guide on the best time to visit Japan and its key highlights
Overview: Best time to visit Japan
Japan’s climate can be distilled down into four distinct seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter), and each is culturally important in Japan. Late spring (March to May) and late autumn (September to November) are generally the best times to visit Japan, when there is little rainfall, skies are clear, and temperatures are mild. What’s more, the delicate cherry blossom of spring and vivid hues of autumn leaves are visually stunning.
The colder months, December to February, are less appealing to most visitors which can make travelling at these times cheaper. As well as being less crowded and costing less, many of Japan’s highlights are even better in the winter months.
Here is your guide on what to expect, where and when.
The most famous and popular time to visit Japan is during spring to see the magical sight of the cherry blossoms in bloom. As it is a natural event, the dates of blooming change according to weather conditions each year. The trees start to blossom in the warmer south in late March and peak about a week after blooming. Within two weeks the blossoms start to fall from the trees. In the cooler regions the blossoming begins later and in chilly Sapporo it doesn’t begin until early May. The best time to see blossoms in Tokyo or Kyoto would most likely be the last week of March or the first week of April. If the trees are not blooming, you may be able to travel elsewhere in Japan to catch the season there. As it is a very busy time to visit Japan you will need to plan your visit well in advance.
The end of April and beginning of May marks “golden week” in Japan. During this time there are a number of public holidays and many Japanese locals take holidays at this time. Transport and tourist sites can be extremely busy during this period and it is best avoided if possible. If you do go to Japan during golden week, ensure you book well in advance and expect higher prices. Summer vacation from July to August can also be a busy time for local travellers.
Tokyo is a year round destination, though you’ll need to rug up in winter and bring an umbrella most of the year. June, September and October experience the most rain, averaging about 180mm(7 inches) each month, and even the driest months in Tokyo experience around 50mm(2 inches) of rain. Winter, from December to March sees chilly days averaging around 6°C (43°F), though the temperature rarely drops below freezing. Summer, from June to August, sees temperatures with an average low around 20 - 24°C(68-75°F) and average highs from 22-27°C(72-80°F) but the humidity can make it feel much hotter. The best time to visit is late spring (March to May) and late autumn (September to November).
Less than 100km (60 miles) from Tokyo the climate in Hakone is similar to Japan’s capital, however temperatures are lower and it receives more rainfall year round. In the humid summer months, many city dwellers head to scenic Hakone to escape the steamy city and get some fresh mountain air. While Hakone is considered one of the best places to view Mount Fuji, a clear day is needed for a full view, and the cooler months offer the highest chance of seeing the famous mountain. The official season to climb Mount Fuji is July to mid-September when the mountain is usually free of snow.
Temperatures are pleasant from May to October, however this is also when the most rain falls. From December to March the average low temperature is below freezing and the average high doesn’t reach 10°C (50°F). Snow falls regularly from December to March and there is a ski resort nearby. Many believe that the best time to go is during the cold winter months, when the ancient town of Takayama is most atmospheric, and you can wander the streets with few other tourists in sight. The lively Takayama Festival is held in April and October and is considered one of the best in Japan.
Kyoto is at its best in late autumn (October and November) and spring (March to May) when the temperatures are mild and the skies are clearest. However, having a temperate climate year-round, a visit is pleasant at any time of year. Summer (May to July) can be hot and humid but boasts the Kyoto Gion festival in July, a highlight of Japan’s cultural calendar. There is moderate rain from March to October and June, July and September see the most rain, but it doesn’t rain every day. From April to October the average high is over 20°C (68°F) reaching just over 30°C (86°F) in August and the minimum doesn’t drop below 10°C (50°F) reaching just over 20°C (68°F) in July and August. Temperatures can drop below freezing overnight in January and February.
A similar climate to nearby Kyoto, Hiroshima sees a little more rainfall in June and July. Hiroshima is busiest in July and August, which is also when the heat and rain make it less pleasant to visit, so avoid these months if you can. Spring (April and May) has lovely weather, and crowds flock to see the cherry blossoms around Hiroshima Castle. September has pleasant days but typhoons can sometimes hit, while October or November is the best time to visit with pleasant days and not much rain, as well as autumn leaves. If you don’t mind the cold, winter (November to January) is mostly dry and fewer travellers equate to lower prices.
Beautiful Kanazawa is a little colder than Tokyo, with a lot of rain and snow. Snow falls from December to March, with the heaviest in January and February and many Japanese think that the colder months are the best time to visit as the city is particularly scenic covered in snow. There is around 150mm (6 inches) of rain each month the rest of the year, peaking around 230mm (9 inches) in July and September. Temperatures are warm from May to October. In May and October the average low is around 14°C (57°F) and the high is around 23°C (73°F) while from July to September, the temperatures reach a low of around 22°C (72°F) and a high around 29°C (84°F).
Matsumoto Castle is very popular during the annual cherry blossom season, which reaches Matsumoto around mid-April. Summers are warm with moderate rain from June to September while winters, (November to January) are dry but cold, with a little snow.
The Yudanaka area is best known for the wild monkeys that bathe in the hot springs. While the monkeys bathe year-round, the best time to visit is during the colder months from December to March when there is likely to be snow. The most rain falls between June and October, with May being the best time to go if you prefer warmer and drier weather.
Takamatsu has a warm climate for Japan which rarely gets below freezing with almost no snow. In the hottest months from June to September the average high temperature is around 30°C (86°F), ideal for Shikoku’s water-based activities, with average lows between 19 and 24°C (66 - 75°F). The most rain falls in June, July and September, though it has a lower rainfall than many other places in Japan and rarely affects touring. Spring, from February to April is the best time to go hiking, while late autumn, around October is the most picturesque.
Nagasaki has a relatively warm climate for Japan due to its location in the south. During the coldest months from December to February, average lows are around 3°C (37°F) and highs are around 12°C (54°F). The hottest months of July through September see average maximum temperatures rise to over 30°C (86°F) and can bring plenty of rain. Late spring (March and April) and late autumn (October) boast the best combination of pleasant days and less rain.
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