Japan is resplendent through the year, warmly inviting visitors to its abundant shores. Each season is distinct, offering unique experiences, but it’s really up to you to decide what you want to see, in the climate that you enjoy most. Let’s look at the seasons closely, so you can decide for yourself and choose when is the best time to visit Japan.
Spring (March – May)
Celebrate Hanami with the crowds that flock to revel in the blooming of the iconic pink and white cherry blossoms, from late March to early April. The weather is mild and there isn’t too much rain.
Summer (June – August)
Hot and damp best describe summers in the lower elevations, especially with the commencement of the rains. However, head to the mountains for cooler climes and lower humidity. Hokkaido is an ideal summer destination. The season sees some of the best festivals (matsuri), keeping things lively and colourful. Don’t miss the breath-taking sight of the floating lanterns, guiding the spirits back to their world during the Obon in mid-August.
The Gion Matsuri in Kyoto is very famous, complete with enormous floats in a procession, while Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri on the 24th and 25th of July every year honours the deity Sugawara through fireworks and ceremonial floats. Catch the Sendai Tanabata Festival held from August 6th – 8th, which celebrates a starry love story by decorating the city with colourful and symbolic washi papers.
The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is by far one of the most spectacular Japanese festivals in August, featuring huge illuminated lantern floats. Witness Japan’s largest dance festival, the Tokushima Awa Odori, from 12th – 15th August, which honours the spirits of ancestors through folk dance.
Autumn (September – November)
September is typhoon season, so be warned! But beyond early October, the weather improves dramatically, with lower rainfall and pleasing warmth. Towards November, it gets cooler and drier. However, autumn steals the show with its blazing colours that spread like fire from the north to the south. Koyo-viewing from the warmth of an outdoor onsen is an exceptional experience! A must-do during fall, which is my best time to visit Japan.
The 350-year old Takayama Autumn Festival occurs in October, illuminating the autumn skies with chochin lanterns on floats. The Niihama Taiko Festival and the Nagasaki Kunchi Festival also occur in October. Catch the rare autumn fireworks show at the Chichibu Yomatsuri Festival in Saitama near Tokyo in December or the cultural demonstrations at the Meiji Shrine Autumn Festival in November.
And don’t forget to clear your calendar for the much-awaited F1 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka between 7th and 9th October 2016.
Winter (December – March)
Winter erases the blazing autumnal shades to cover the mountains and countryside in striking white monochrome. It’s cold, but also dry, perfect for winter sport indulgences. Revel in the much sought after powder snow in the mountains in Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps, or visit Nagano for its snow monkeys. Admiring winter’s beauty from the warmth of an outdoor onsen is the quintessential Japanese experience.
The Sapporo Snow Festival in February is Japan’s biggest winter event, boasting elaborate snow and ice sculptures. The Otaru Snow Light Path festival in February is a 10-day winter tradition where the streets of Otaru are illuminated with snow candles and statues, offering a magical winter scenery.
The Asahikawa Winter Festival in February boasts the biggest snow-statue in Japan, while the Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival presents an enchanting vision of softly illuminated igloos, serving delicious rice cakes and warm rice wine. Don’t miss the Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri in January, a sake-drenched, powerful festival combining snow and fire, which crescendos with the burning of a massive wooden structure. Now, is winter the best time to visit Japan?
Now that you have an idea about what to expect through the year, you can plan your trip accordingly, taking note of the temperature and humidity beforehand, so that your vacation will be everything you always dreamed of.