For many, the cost of flights, food, and lodging coupled with the lengthy travel time make Japan a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Thus, picking the perfect time to visit is absolutely key. While cherry blossom season is a rightfully popular and unique time to visit, there are several factors to consider that can either make or break your best time to go. National holidays, high prices, weather, and what types of experiences you want to have while on vacation should all be taken into consideration. Since much of this relies on specific seasons and even months, we've made it easy by breaking down what you can expect, month by month, when visiting the Land of the Rising Sun. In fact, there's so much going on at any given time during the year, you're likely to find that you can't go wrong -- or just once.
Snow usually blankets the ground in central Japan by now, making both January and February a perfect time to check out the famous snow monkeys in Nagano, grab serene stills of temples and castles covered in snow, soak in a steamy onsen, and really appreciate that piping hot bowl of ramen or udon. Plus, there's less traffic at all the touristy spots, giving those who brave the cold a much more personal experience of Japan's famous sites. In northern Japan, January -- after the New Year's holiday -- marks a prime time to hit the ski slopes. January also marks the Sumo New Year Basho in Tokyo, and cherry blossom season kicks off in Okinawa as trees are already beginning to bloom.
February marks the official start of diving season in Japan. Sea turtles, sharks, seahorses, and manatees can be spotted all season long, but divers willing to brave the lower temperature waters of February will have the highest chances and best conditions for spotting humpback whales. Humpbacks start becoming more elusive come mid- to late March and disappear completely from late April through the end of November. Aboveground, on Japan's central and northern islands, February is typically Japan's coldest month. Most folks can be found keeping warm inside cozy izakayas or soaking in an onsen, while others indulge in winter sports, even pilgrimaging way up north to Sapporo's fun Snow Festival.
March is one of the most popular times to visit Japan, thanks to warming temperatures and the start of the much-anticipated cherry blossom season. By mid-month, several areas of central Japan will start to see budding blooms on the trees, signaling the celebration of hanami (a.k.a. flower viewing). This is an extremely festive and cheerful time to be in Japan and a great way to experience one of the country's most social traditions. Typically, the blooms will only last around two weeks, and some people choose to follow them as they bloom their way up to Hokkaido through April. Expect nightly parties, tons of jubilant drunkenness on blankets under the cherry blossom boughs, and hotels to be pricey and booked.
March and April are also two of the best months to visit Okinawa. During this time, most tourists will be concentrated in the central and northern prefectures in order to experience the cherry blossoms, which are likely to be finished blooming in Okinawa by March. Those interested in a sumo match may want to head to Osaka in March for their annual Sumo Spring Basho.
Okinawa's temperatures begin to heat up and remain hot and humid in April, with average temps in the low 90s through September. Divers should also mark their calendars as mid-April through May is the only time you won't see either humpbacks or manta rays in the water. April's rising temperatures also signal the end of Japan's ski season. March's expensive prices and booked hotels stay steady through April, so we highly recommend booking travel and planning well in advance to get the best deals and hotels.
If you're looking to celebrate the beauty of flowers, but can't make it to Japan during the March-April cherry blossom season, come in May (or head to Hokkaido, where the last of the cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom). You'll be met with pink, white, and purple hues from several of Japan's other flowers, like azalea, wisteria, and iris. However, we recommend skipping a visit that falls during Golden Week (the last Sunday in April through the first week of May). This is a week of compensatory holidays when most of Japan takes off work and several businesses are shut down. Flights, trains, hotels, and other activities often soar in prices and quickly become booked up. It's also worth checking out specific dates for Tokyo's Sumo Summer Basho, to either attend or snag a hotel before they get snatched up. Visitors to Okinawa should be warned that May is typically the wettest month.
June and July
Typhoon June is a thing; this month kicks off Japan's rainiest weeks. Heavy rain can often be expected through July, though the rainy season can last up until September. June also marks Nagoya's turn at the Sumo Basho, while the already-wet Okinawa area will start seeing typhoons in June that can last through August.
Those looking for a chance to climb Mount Fuji can start planning their hikes from July 1, when the mountainside opens back up for climbers. Late July through late August has the best weather conditions for climbing, but you'll also find that this is when the mountainside is the most congested. (Even though it's summertime and the weather is hot elsewhere, it still reaches freezing temperatures on the summit, so prepare accordingly.) Music lovers should take into account that Japan's largest music festival, Fuji Rock Festival, kicks off the last weekend in July at the Naeba Ski Resort in Yuzawa, Niigata, and features both national and international artists. Previous performers have included Bjork, Queens of the Stone Age, Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, Deadmau5, The Cure, and Arcade Fire.
The massive Japanese holiday of Obon lands in the middle of August, and is a fun and vibrant time to visit Japan. Obon is an event in honor of the dead. It is a time when the Japanese believe the living and dead can be reunited to eat, drink, and be merry together. Expect streets to be blocked off with festivals and tons of dancing. It's practically a given that hotels will be booked well in advance, so don't be surprised if you see those unable to get a room happily sleeping on the floor of train stations. August is also Japan's hottest month, no matter which island you find yourself on, though the highs can vary greatly, reaching into the 90s on Okinawa and just 72 in Hokkaido.
By the second week of September all of Mount Fuji's hiking trails are closed. Weather during September can be somewhat of a wild card, with scattered showers and fluctuating weather that leans on the warmer side, especially in the southern prefectures. However, you'll find considerably cooler temperatures creeping into the northern prefectures. It's also the start of Okinawa's high season, which lasts through December, and the Sumo Basho returns to Tokyo.
October and November
October and November are a gorgeous time to visit Japan. Falling temperatures start in Hokkaido during October, and the warm colors of autumn start to slowly push their way down the islands of central Japan. This is also the end of diving season in Okinawa, though several people still flock to the islands for its warm temperatures and beautiful beaches. The fall landscape and temperatures make it an excellent time to visit the deer in Nara, too.
December breaks in winter for Japan and snowfall is common. As it gets cold enough for snow to stick to the ground, ski slopes begin to open across central Japan and Hokkaido. It snows nearly every day in the winter on Hokkaido. The warmest temps only reach about 30 degrees, while the coldest plunge to a frigid 15 degrees. While you'll definitely need to bundle up, don't let this deter you. Winter is one of the most stunning times to visit Japan, when temples and landscapes are often covered with picturesque blankets or dustings of snow. However, keep in mind that there are a ton of activities and holidays in Japan between December 29 and January 10, so it's best to time your visit around these dates to avoid full occupancy in hotels, overcrowded public transit, and higher room rates. Temples are often inundated over the New Year’s holiday, so its best to arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds. Visitors during the week between Christmas and New Year's should also double-check to make sure museums and tourist attractions and points of interest are actually open.
If you aren't quite ready for winter, head to Kyushu where fall is just starting to breach the island in December.
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