When’s The Best Time To Visit Japan?

Well, that’s a tough question. For me, if someone put a gun to my head and asked me: “When’s the best time to visit Japan?” I’d easily say “winter” (and not because I hoped this psychopathic traveler / Tofugu reader holding a gun to my head would freeze to death). No, I truly think winter’s the best time to visit Japan, but that’s because I like winter a lot. But, there are many things to take into account for when you visit Japan, and everyone has their own priorities. I’m hoping this post will help you to choose the best time to visit Japan for you depending on what you like (or don’t like).

The Wind, The Rain, & The Temperature

The thing about the weather is that it really depends on what you like and what you don’t like, as an individual. For me when I’m planning a trip to Japan, if I’m traveling I’d prefer it not to rain. That being said, I don’t mind if it’s super cold, which is why I make most of my trips to Japan during the winter (very low rainfall, cold). Then again, other people might like a few extra degrees in the temperature column, but would be willing to risk a little extra rain. Luckily, there are graphs for that.

Source: World Weather And Climate Information

*Note: These graphs are for Tokyo. I figured that would be a good “average” / “where most people go anyways” sort of place to start. Visit the website cited above for more info on individual cities.

The top graph provides information on rainfall in Japan. The second has to do with temperature. As you may have noticed, in general, the lower the temperature the less rain. So, if you want less rain, you should travel to Japan in January or December (February isn’t bad either).

So why does it rain a ton in September? Well, that’s typhoon season. Why’s it so rainy in June? Well, that’s rainy season. These are things that you need to know when visiting. If you don’t do your research, you could end up thinking it’s nice and warm and dry in August only to find yourself stuck in your hotel room during a typhoon. That would be no fun.

These are just general recommendations, though. Let’s get into the seasons more intimately.

The Seasons

Each season of Japan has its pros and its cons. It’s just a matter of what your preference is. One funny thing many Japanese believe is that they’re the only country with four distinct seasons. While I agree they have four distinct seasons, the “only Japan has them” part is probably just a bit of… well… plain lies. But, since they are fairly distinct, I thought it would be good to lay each season out for you so you can figure out which one seems like a good fit for you.

Spring

photo by morning_rumtea

The spring season is okay in terms of both rain and warmth, that is until you hit the rainy season which tends to pop up at the end of spring in June. To me, April and May are fairly good times to visit, not just because of the weather but also because of cherry blossom viewing (big deal in Japan).

If you want to do cherry blossom viewing, you’ll want to arrive in late March or early April. Depending on where you are it may be prime time to view them or not. It’s a lot like a cherry blossom wave that sweeps from the southern part of the country north, so if you’re showing up late just travel up towards Hokkaido and maybe you’ll catch up. Their best viewing time doesn’t last too long.

Spring also has Golden Week, aka “OMG WHY MY MANGA NO UPDATE???” week, which is April 29 – May 5. A lot of people travel during this time, so it’s often good to avoid it if you can.

Besides this, though, you’ll find mild weather… not too hot and not too cold, as well as not too much rain (unless you’re there too late in the spring). It’s not my favorite time to go to Japan, but not my least favorite. I’d say out of all the seasons it ranks 3 of 4, so at least one thing is worse for me personally.

Summer

Photo by 刀哥

You would think that summer is the best time ever to visit Japan. Right? Right??? Well, in terms of my own opinion, I’d have to respond “wrong.” I mean, look at the dude above. If that didn’t scare you away, maybe this will.

The thing about summer is that it’s hot. Like, really hot. On top of that the humidity is pretty terrible too. If it’s not raining tanuki and kitsune due to typhoons (September is mega typhoon season) the humidity will feel so thick that it might as well be. That being said, I’m talking about the lower elevations. That’s pretty much all the big cities in Japan. Plus, the farther south you go the worse it gets.

Of course, you could visit the mountains during the summer (perfect temperature, lower humidity) as well as Hokkaido. In fact, the one saving grace about summer is Hokkaido. Go there during the summer, it’s absolutely perfect. As long as you avoid any typhoons (they don’t make it up that far north for the most part) the weather is comfortable, it doesn’t rain too much, and did I mention it’s basically perfect? Mmmmm, melons!

In terms of my personal ratings, though, summer ranks 4 out of 4 for me. Although it can be nice if you go to the right places, overall it’s my least favorite time to be in Japan, though I’m a wuss when it comes to heat and humidity. One saving grace, perhaps, is that you can catch Obon in August. But yeugh. So hot and humid.

Fall/Autumn

Photo by Cristiano Betta

As soon as typhoon season is over (early Octoberish), Japan gets pretty nice again. Rainfall drops considerably and the temperature is still fairly warm. Although it can be a little tricky at times, arriving in mid-October is often pretty sweet timing. You get the warmth of Japan without as much rainfall (though there still may be some).

Possibly a little safer is November, though if you want any warmth make sure to do it in the early part. November is even less rainy, though it’s a little colder. Notice a pattern here?

I think for a lot of people autumn is the way to go. If you don’t like the cold and you don’t like to rain, autumn is generally superior to the kind of similar spring season. Although this depends your location, autumn means cheaper flights as well. Autumn ranks 2 of 4 for me, meaning you can probably guess what’s coming next…

Winter

Photo by dishhh

…is coming.

Winter is totally my favorite. I love the cold and am very happy to not travel while it’s raining. When you come to Japan in December or January, you’re basically guaranteed an (almost) rain free existence, unless you get really unlucky. It is cold, though, so be sure to pack accordingly.

There are some times in winter that are better than others, though. A little before Christmas the kids get out for a winter holiday. You may not want to travel during this time (so get to Japan in early December for peaceful not-too-busy traveling). Also, New Years is a huge deal in Japan. This could be a good thing or a bad thing for you. If you want to participate in the festivities, head on over to a big temple and party like it’s 1868 again. If you don’t like all the hotels to be full and all the trains packed, avoid the New Years time. Pretty much everything is closed the few days after New Years too, so you have to take that into account. To me, I love it, but it’s not for everyone.

Another big event is the Snow Festival in Hokkaido. This is a week of snow-related fun, but it’s very crowded and very cold. Not for everyone, but definitely the kind of event that you should go to if you can!

Besides these times and places, traveling tends to be pretty slow. You’ll find that many big tourist attractions aren’t as busy as they normally are, and while this can be a great thing because you get the whole place to yourself, it can also mean there is less lodging available too (for example, on Cat Island you can go there in the winter and get the whole island to yourself but there’s no place to stay).

And of course, if you’re into winter sports (skiing, snowboarding, competitive snowball fighting) winter is pretty nice in Japan. I’m not into those kinds of things, but if you are it may make for a more interesting trip.

For me, Winter ranks number 1 out of 4. It won’t be #1 for you, necessarily, but I think it’s overall the best time to visit. Just don’t get caught in a snowdrift and freeze to death while visiting Jesus’ grave, okay?

When Will You Travel?

Photo by xlibber

You definitely know yourself better than I know you. But, the above is how I feel about travel with a little bit of non-winter-bias thrown in to boot. All the seasons have their good points. Sometimes it’s price, sometimes it’s the festivals, and sometimes it’s the weather. You’ll have to decide what’s the most important to you. No matter when you choose, though, I’m sure you’ll have a great time. It’s not like a little a lot of humidity will ruin a whole trip. Humidity has its good points, right?

So what travel experience do you have to share? What times have you found to be really good for you? What about times when you should stay away? Post them down in the comments to let others know how you feel and maybe you’ll help someone out with your advice!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620908571 Katie Senn

    紅葉!! You have to see it, so I think autumn is the best time. Winter can be nice as long as you’re prepared for the heating situation (layers, layers, layers, particularly in Tokyo, because it seems like places that deal with cold weather more regularly are generally full of all the heaters and futons you need to stay warm). Summer is a bit too hot for my tastes, but if you can see sakura in springtime, that’s also good…

  • kuyaChristian

    I personally am considering shooting around late June-early July and/or late November [Thanksgiving week] due to yoyo contests that I want to go to. Not only that, I want to go sightseeing around. Is it still a good time? Especially around that time in the summer, since well…it’s hot and humid.

    I live in a hot and dry area here in California. O:

  • Ruben

    Spring, autumn, winter I like them all ! As long the rain isn’t too extremly it’s ok !

    Summer is no good for me.
    Summer would be cool to say to others: I’m going to Japan, that’s a tropical country, yay ! And when I get there: phieuw it’s kind of euhm…too hot ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/dennmart Dennis Martinez

    I just visited Japan for three weeks towards the end of September. That first week I was in Tokyo was really humid, with temperatures almost reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I was sweating like crazy every time I stepped outside. I chalked it up to being used to the super-mild Bay Area weather. The only time I felt comfortable with the weather was when the remnants of Typhoon Jelawat passed by. Not a good start.

    However, my second and third weeks in Japan were pretty awesome, weather-wise. The humidity had gone down considerably, it didn’t rain as often as I thought (maybe 3-4 times, and only for a short while) and it was really comfortable to go out and walk around. Note that these weeks I went from Tokyo to Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyushu, so maybe the change in location helped with this. However, the day before I returned to the U.S. towards the end of October, I spent one last night in Tokyo and the weather was much better this time around.

    Based off my experience, I’d choose the second half of October / first half of November as a great time to visit Japan. I’d love to visit Japan during Sakura, but the thought of all those people – even more than when I was in Tokyo – just turns me off to the idea.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Well, June = rainy season, so there’s that :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/cesar.gomez.7 Cesar Gomez

    sounds like a plan

  • Ruben

    As long the rain isn’t too extreme it’s ok !
    Spring, autumn, winter, I like them all.

    Summer is no good for me !
    Cool to say to others: I’m going to Japan, it’s a tropical country ;)
    But when I get there: It’s euhm…phieuw…too hot !

  • Mescale

    The best monthy is Martober.

  • gogogotchi

    I really enjoyed my visit to Japan in autumn. I just came back from travelling across Japan for five weeks starting in mid-Oct. I had only experienced 2-3.5 days of rainfall on my trip (maybe I just lucked out….^^). The one day I went out to Yokohama, it poured super heavily but that was the only time I experienced heavy rainfall. The other days of rain were tolerable. Again, like the person below, I was moving to another city every 3-5 days though so that might’ve helped with no rain situation. I went from Tokyo > Shirakawa-go > Kyoto/Osaka/Nara > Naoshima > Hiroshima/Miyajima > Fukuoka > Yakushima > Fukuoka/Saga/Karatsu > Nagoya > Tokyo.

    I experienced amazing weather, clear skies, slight breeze, sunshine, and no humidity at all (felt like a good summer day in Vancouver). Thanks to this, I saw some of the most amazing sun sets/rises…I totally get why Japan’s known as the “Land of the Rising Sun.” The clear skies also allowed me to catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji when I was on the shinkansen…which I hear is rare to see so I was happy about that. When it got around to November, the coldness started to seep in mostly in the evenings and early mornings.

    It just gets so warm when you get onto the trains! I’m amazed how much the Japanese were able to wear but I definitely saw the extremes of some ladies almost wearing nothing to others wearing their full on winter gear. I just went around in cardigan or hoodie and would have a light jacket on me at night. Then again, maybe I’m better suited fo the cold coming from Canada.

    I went during the time when the tree leaves were just starting to change so I’m sure if I went 2 weeks later, it would’ve been quite beautiful but I still caught glimpses of it and I was pretty happy with what I was able to see.

    I visited once in mid-May till June back in 2008. It was slightly humid and tolerable but it rained a lot more and it was just always kind of cloudy.

    Like you’ve written it’s totally up to what you want to see. I wanted to see more matsuri/festivals as I have never experienced it before and so I planned my trip around that and managed to see 3-4 of them. Autumn has quite a number of festivals, and being in Japan, there are bucket-loads of people (anytime, anywhere), and I’d rather not be crammed with them on the trains or on the streets in the summer humidity/heat.

  • kuyaChristian

    Is it like good rainy? Or is it obnoxious kind of rainy? I grew up in the Philippines, a tropical country, so I’m no stranger to the rainy season and I actually want rain ’cause Southern California doesn’t rain here that much.
    It’s just the matter of if it’s good rainy or obnoxious rainy.

    How about November though? Still good? :P

  • ZXNova

    I originally came from Illinois, and from June – September, it’s very hot, reaching about 105 degrees with high humidity and a chance of tornado, so I believe I could handle summer traveling, but I personally would travel in winter, cause it’s my favorite season. And the post convinced me even more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shaun-Krislock/553071502 Shaun Krislock

    Dennis, don’t let the crowds stop you from enjoying Sakura season in Japan. The trees are pretty much everywhere, and the crowds are mostly bad just in the parks where people are partying on the tarps (which would be fun too!). I had a wonderful experience walking all around Kyoto during *full* bloom and it was amazing.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Especially Martober Threeve through Eleventeen. I hear that’s when it’s really party time.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I like November, especially earlyish November.

    June is just rainy… Not sure if it’s obnoxious rainy or not, though. Definitely not typhoon rainy. Maybe normal (heavy) rainy? Haha.

  • sizzle

    I put my vote in for fall, I’m in Japan now, and I can’t get over how lovely the foliage is. Spring is great too, but it can be tricky to time it right for the sakura. If you don’t mind cold and love onsen, and/or skiing/snowboarding, then go in winter. The winter here isn’t that harsh in my opinion (but I’m from Minnesota).

  • Antisthenes

    Winter? No, won’t send anyone to Japan in winter until they heat and insulate their private buildings here. Japanese have been here longer than Europeans (and other non-Natives) in my Canada, but we figured it out in less than a few centuries! Completely unacceptable.

    May or October, full-stop. In both months the temps are ideal in the cities, the kids and Salarymen are not on holiday (but beware of ‘Golden Week’), but you can go into the mountains in May to still get blossoms, or in October to see colours. May and October are also the only two months a visitor might not realize there is no insulation or central heating.

  • Antisthenes

    Kind of like the rainy season in ‘Forest Gump’: never ending, until it does.

  • Michael

    I went to Japan this February, It was relatively cheap flight wise and the weather was chilly but no rain. Had the best time ever, I want to go back, feels like it was ages ago.

  • Lizzy

    I definitely recommend avoiding typhoon season. I went to Japan end of September and we landed in Tokyo just before a typhoon hit. All the trains stopped and I had no idea how to get into Tokyo. There’s a bus but my brain was so fried after traveling for over 23 hours I couldn’t figure out where to buy tickets. I broke down and took a cab for 23,000 yen, ouch!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dennmart Dennis Martinez

    Maybe being somewhere other than anywhere near Tokyo will make the experience much better. I’m seriously planning on going for the upcoming Sakura season, so hopefully I won’t have as bad of an experience as my head makes me believe :) Thanks for the comment!

  • Kate

    I went to Japan for two weeks in July this year for a conference. Holy cow it was hot. I’d been before in January and April, so I thought it would be okay. It wasn’t. It got to the point where I was re-planning my movements so I’d spend as much time underground and indoors as possible, and not have to walk more than a block outdoors. Because Summer heat = terrible. Thank god for all the cold vending machines everywhere. And a whole lot of places, instead of giving out tissues with their on-the-street advertising, would give out crummy paper or plastic fans. I don’t care if I looked like an idiot using them so enthusiastically. It was freaking hot.

  • Corbin

    Living in Oregon, you HAVE to like bad weather xD

  • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.englishman Kyle Englishman

    I’ve only been to Japan once. I went last April, right after Easter. I think it was the second week. It was prime sakura season in Tokyo. The crowds were really not that bad. I had no trouble finding a hotel, riding trains, etc. I did boatloads of sightseeing in addition to the whole hanami thing. I didn’t have problems with crowds at any of the attractions, museums or parks i visited. You should GO. Ueno park and Shinjuku park were both fantastic and free. The Hama-rikyu garden is gorgeous too but there is a small fee. You can take a ferry tour from there up the sumida river to Asakusa which I would recommend.

    Also, it was comfortable in the low to mid 70s Fahrenheit the whole time. It didn’t rain either, which was pretty sweet. I LOVE rain, but not if I have to walk around in it and stay wet all day.

  • Eadwacer

    Keep in mind that the North to South extent of Japan in latitude is like going from North coastal Main to South coastal Georgia. What’s a good season in one part of the country might not be so good in another.

  • http://www.teachingengrish.blogspot.com/ Judith

    Maybe because I live here, but the suggestion to come in winter makes me think you also hate rainbows, candy, and other nice things. I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to come to Japan in the winter, particularly the nice icy rainy windy February. I have to wear layers and layers of clothing. The cold permeates your body here. Summer here in Osaka runs at like 70-90% humidity at times, so unless you enjoy losing all your bodily fluids by sweat, it’s not a good idea either. But if you like festivals, there is something happening every single weekend and you’ll likely see some really entertaining events and people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=807045124 Sally ‘Misa’ Blake

    This was useful to read! My next trip to Japan is in late March early April (20th March – 5th April) so hoping to catch the cherry blossom season. Last time I went in June, and although it’s meant to be rainy season it didn’t rain much! (Although I’m from England which is raining probably around 80% of the time, hah.) Agree about the heat in summer though… was very humid, a lot of the Japanese people where wearing jackets at that time so I assume they are more used to it than I was.

  • http://www.facebook.com/philipp.kirsch.940 Philipp Kirsch

    I plan to visit Japan in Martober, too.
    I’ve read in various articles that it is supposed to be the best time to travel.

  • stefafra

    I was in Kyoto a couple of weeks between July and August, I was there for a conference so I could not choose the time of the year.

    Pro: not too many tourists around, and it is unagi season. And festival season too, and if you are lucky you see fireworks…
    Cons: It’s HOT and HUMID. And full of mosquitoes.
    So yes, I think summer it’s not the best season….

    It was still a lovely trip.. after I got a bit used to the feeling of being in a giant tropical greenhouse.

  • http://japan-australia.blogspot.com/ Japan Australia

    Many Japanese say that the months of October and November are the best months to visit Japan.
    Autumn in Japan has just about perfect weather with crisp and defined days with beautiful mild weather and clear blue skies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.englishman Kyle Englishman

    Does it really rain Tanuki and Kitsune in Japan? How do the inunekos feel about that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/MrIdowhatIlike Jupiter Bullet

    went there this year in mid April… most Sakura has gone and locals told me I was a bit late T___T, good that there’s still some in Gion, Kyoto but in my 1 week trip, it rained 4 times! definitely kinda ruined it for me but other than that, it’s not too crowded which is good. Most of the tourist probably has gone back home after Sakura Hanami.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Much better than 13月 and its lousy Smarch weather.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    That’s an awful lot of 23s. Might want to consult Jim Carrey.

  • http://twitter.com/sanako_glumpf さなこ-ちゃん

    i actually prefer the summer…evenn though i live in the uk ( not known for good weather) where i live is hot and humid most of the time and i cant handle cold at all…

  • Kate

    Winter is best. Winter in Queensland is so nice and cool and dry and blue skies, and then I can go to Japan in January when Queensland weather is really crappy and humid. If I could afford it I would travel south to north every year just to be in delicious winter weather!

  • http://twitter.com/syafiqkamen Muhammad Syafiq

    if u r MALAYSIAN, summer in JAPAN just a small matter….

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    Base on what I’ve read, the best times to visit Japan are early March to late April (to catch the “hanami” season for both ume and sakura blossoms) and start of October to late November (to catch the “koyo” season of fall foliage). At these times of the year, the weather is generally very pleasant (moderate with low humidity), and you see a LOT of older Japanese going into the country to enjoy nature.

    A big problem with winter in Japan is that parts of the country doesn’t deal well with winter snows, especially if you get the “Siberian Express” winter front storms that can dump a LOT of snow on the Sea of Japan side of the country. I’ve seen videos on YouTube of recent winter snowstorms in Toyama and Shimane Prefectures and they can be quite intense, even though the snow melts away in fairly short order.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Personally I recommend late March to early April for the cherry blossoms and nice temperatures or early May for the cherry blossoms in Tohoku and Hokkaido.
    Even better might be autumn (late November for most of Honshu and Kyushu) and October for most of Tohoku to see the beautiful autumn colors.

    Summer can be extremely hot and humid and if you plan to stay outside the whole day it can be quite tough if you’re not used to the weather. Summer is great for summer festivals, dances and fireworks, though.

    Winter is the season I wouldn’t recommend unless you want to see the snow monkeys in Nagano, want to enjoy Shirakawago in winter or see the Sapporo Snow Festival in February.
    Some Japanese gardens look great when covered in snow, but in regions where it’s simply cold, but no snow, it’s really very boring and ugly!
    Winter is also a good time to see Mt. Fuji as there are many clear days, so a trip to Kawaguchiko might be worth considering while staying in a ryokan with an onsen! (best one with a view of Mt. Fuji, of course)

  • http://www.facebook.com/randall.pennington Randall Pennington

    The three seasons of Japan are (in Kyushu):

    1. Wet, hot and sticky,
    2. Ungodly hot and sticky, and
    3. Bone-chilling cold.
    There are two, two-week anomalies called “spring” and “autumn” that occur at the end of the two extremes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LukeHero Luke Hero

    I’m going to be in Japan over Christmas and New Years soon :)

  • Anthorien

    I’m going this January! I’m prepared to be cold!

  • JoNathan

    I’m be traveling to Japan from 19 Oct to 1 Nov next year if everything goes well.

  • https://www.theleuker.com/ Michael Leuker

    Nice, detailed post! I’ve been living in Kyoto for 4 – 5 years and always recommended people to come from mid-March / April or mid-September / October. You can extend that until May and November respectively if “OK” is good enough for you. You don’t want to come during the winter months, the rainy season or the summer that follows it. This doesn’t take events into account, but what better time to be in Japan than during hanabi or koyo season? :-) Both times – especially spring – more than make up for the horrible summer.

  • AussieJim

    How hot and humid is your average Japanese summer, anyway? I remember NHK declaring a heatwave when it got over 26C for a week a summer or two ago. A week in summer consisting of 26C days here and we’d be complaining that it’s unseasonably cold!

  • Alissa

    If I was to rent a car from the bottom of the country and travel all the way up in 2-3 months, would I be good in term of mild weather and rain if I left at the start of march?

  • http://tokyo.angloinfo.com

    If you will visit Tokyo, anytime is great! It’s like most big cities in that it is well heated and air conditioned. I would guess that a majority of your time will be indoors. I would recommend to avoid the rainy season which is between June 15 to July 15. Hope you have a great trip here!

  • Christopher Fowler

    Thank you – that’s all very useful info – think I’ll come in winter!