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When Is the Best and Cheapest Time to Visit Japan in 2021?
From skiing in Hokkaido to sunbathing in Okinawa, there's such a huge range of things to enjoy in Japan throughout the year. However, weather extremes and surges of tourists at certain times of the year can be seriously disruptive if you don’t plan ahead. This article will cover the best time to visit Japan to see highlights like cherry blossoms and autumn foliage, as well as specific dates to avoid and some budget travel tips for amazing experiences in the off seasons.
Table of Contents
- Understanding the Climate and Seasons of Japan
- What Are the Best Times to Visit Japan?
- What Times Should You Avoid When Visiting Japan?
- Cheapest Times to Visit Japan: Tips for Off-Peak Visits
- Can I Travel to Japan in 2021? Traveling After the Coronavirus
- Travel Smart and Enjoy Your Time in Japan!
Understanding the Climate and Seasons of Japan
While Japan is not the largest country by area, it has an extremely varied climate. Its northern areas such as Hokkaido see long, snowy winters, while its southern Okinawa islands (shown as the "Ryukyu Islands" in the above photo) have sunny, subtropical climates. Popular tourist destinations like Tokyo, Osaka, and the Mt. Fuji area are located on the Pacific Ocean side of the country. These areas see four distinct seasons, with hot, humid summers and cold winters.
For visitors, this means it’s best to consider not just the season but the climate of the specific areas you plan to visit. A winter trip to snowy Hokkaido will be entirely different to a visit to the Okinawa islands. Your destination will also impact when you can see seasonal highlights like cherry blossoms or autumn foliage.
If you like to think ahead, we've prepared month-by-month guides to the climate and seasonal highlights for major tourist destinations in Japan. Check them out for info about exactly what to expect, what clothes to pack, and what to do to make the most of the season!
- Guide to Hokkaido's Weather & Climate
- Guide to Tokyo's Weather & Climate
- Guide to Yokohama's Weather and Climate
- Guide to Kyoto's Weather and Climate
- Guide to Fukuoka's Weather & Climate
- Guide to Okinawa's Weather and Climate
What Are the Best Times to Visit Japan?
Cherry Blossom Season: March - April
Spring in Japan is synonymous with cherry blossoms, which bloom all over the country around April each year. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful times to visit Japan, and the sight of Japan’s cities and parks tinted in shades of pink draws visitors from all over the world.
Cherry trees only bloom for around two weeks, with the much-anticipated full bloom period lasting as little as a few days. However, because of Japan's varied climate, the trees bloom in a wave through the country over the course of around a month. To ensure you’re timing your trip just right to see the trees in full bloom, it’s best to check our cherry blossom forecast (yes, Japan forecasts the cherry blossoms!). Also be aware that popular tourist areas like Tokyo and Kyoto can get very busy during this period, so book your accommodation and other tickets well ahead if you can. To avoid the worst of the crowds, you can also check out our roundups of little-known cherry blossom spots in Tokyo and Kyoto.
If you can’t catch the cherry blossoms, spring in Japan has plenty of other flowers and scenery to offer. Plum blossoms are in bloom around February and March, while wisterias, tulips, roses, and nemophila bloom around April and May. While these flowers aren’t quite as prevalent as cherry blossoms, we're confident there will be more than enough beautiful flower fields, gardens, and parks to satisfy you!
Festival Season: June - August
If you’re interested in Japan’s matsuri (festival) culture, summer is the best time to visit. Japan’s “big three” festivals are the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto (July), Kanda Festival in Tokyo (May), and Tenjin Festival in Osaka (July), but festivals are held throughout the country in the summer months. Japanese matsuri are important religious and cultural events, often with public performances like parades and dances to enjoy. The festive atmosphere, chance to dress up in summer robes called "yukata", and festival food and games are another highlight, particularly if you’re visiting with kids. To learn more about Japan's matsuri culture and when the dates fall, read our comprehensive guide to festivals in all 47 of Japan's prefectures!
Summer is also an amazing time for fireworks! Many of Japan's top firework shows usually happen during the summer months, drawing in spectators from all over Japan and even abroad. Some are so popular that you need to reserve the best viewing spots well in advance! Food stalls will often be set up near popular spectating spots, so even if you choose not to attend a festival, you can always have your fill of Japanese festival food at a firework show.
Of course, since Japan is an island country, summer is also a great time to visit its many coastal resorts and islands. Visitors flock to Okinawa in the south and the Seto Inland Sea area in the summer to soak up some sun and scenery. In Japan, many beaches are closed for swimming and surfing outside the summer months, so if you’re dreaming of a beach getaway, check these dates in advance. For beach holiday inspiration, we've covered TripAdvisor's top 10 best beaches in Japan here!
Fall Color Season: October and November
For many people in Japan, the fall color season is just as an exciting time of year as the cherry blossom season. The change of the trees signals the end of a long, humid summer, and in October and November (and sometimes even December), people in Japan flock to parks and gardens to see stunning red maples and brilliant yellow ginko trees. Many shrines and temples hold special evening viewings on their grounds, and "otsukimi", or moon viewing festivals, are also a popular activity at this time of year.
An autumn trip to Japan has many benefits: while popular autumn color hotspots may be busy, the scenery is stunning, and the weather can be more comfortable than the winter and summer months, too. This milder weather makes it easier to enjoy all kinds of foods, including local autumn delicacies such as persimmons, grilled Pacific saury, and roasted sweet potatoes.
For more about fall foliage spots and dates for different parts of Japan, we highly recommend checking out our nationwide fall foliage forecast. Keep in mind that the Okinawa islands have a subtropical climate, so you won't find any fall foliage spots there.
Ski Season: December - April
Japan’s mountainous geography is paradise for fans of winter sports. The ski season in Japan falls around December to April, with major resorts clustered around the Nagano area in the Japanese Alps and the northern island of Hokkaido, which is particularly prized among ski fanatics for its high-quality powder snow. There are around 500 ski resorts big and small throughout the country, including world-class resorts like Niseko in Hokkaido and Hakuba in Nagano. For more information on these, we've put together a guide to some of the best resorts for powder snow in Japan.
One highlight of a ski trip to Japan is the abundance of natural hot springs, delicious food, and great sightseeing to round out your trip. Here are some fantastic open air hot springs in Hokkaido to get you inspired!
Do be aware that the winter season coincides with New Year's, which in Japan means a peak in domestic travel and scheduled holidays for many shops and attractions. Keep that in mind as you plan any activities from around December 29th to January 5th.
What Times Should You Avoid When Visiting Japan?
Public Holidays: Domestic Travel Peaks
Just like Thanksgiving or Christmas in other countries, Japan has certain times of the year where domestic travel peaks as people travel home to celebrate the holidays with family. Japan’s work culture also means that many people plan their travel around certain clusters of public holidays, particularly Golden Week, where some 20 million people travel in Japan. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, it’s worth considering avoiding these four domestic travel peaks:
- Golden Week: April 29 - May 5
- Bon Festival (Obon): August 13 - 15
- Silver Week: September 19 - 23 (Note: This occurs every couple of years when two public holidays in September align to form a five-day holiday)
- New Year's: December 29 - January 3 (Note: Japan doesn't have any official Christmas holidays, so this is actually like Christmas and New Year's combined)
*Please note that the exact dates of these holidays will vary from year to year.
If you do travel during these times, be prepared for very busy planes and bullet trains, traffic jams on highways, and peak pricing for accommodation (particularly true for Golden Week).
If you know your trip is going to coincide with these dates, book ahead where possible. If you can, staying within major cities and avoiding inter-city travel around the beginning and end of these periods will help minimize the hassle. When you're planning, refer to our up-to-date Japan Holiday Calendar for all the public holiday info you need to know.
Japan’s rainy season, called "tsuyu" or "baiyu", typically falls between June to mid-July. While you may picture heavy monsoonal rain, Japan’s rainy period doesn’t mean you’ll be battling non-stop downpours every day. However, if you’re planning a lot of outdoor sightseeing, the rain and accompanying early-summer humidity can get in your way. Here are the average dates for the rainy season in Japan at popular spots, but keep in mind you can also expect some extra rainfall as the weather cools in September and October, too.
Okinawa: May 9th - June 23rd
Fukuoka: June 5th - July 19th
Kyoto/Osaka: June 7th - July 21st
Tokyo: June 8th - July 21st
Nagoya: June 8th - July 21st
Sendai: June 12th - July 25th
Hokkaido: Doesn't have a rainy season
For everything else you need to know about tsuyu before your trip, including sights in Japan that are actually best seen during this time, check out our guide to Japan's rainy season!
Climatic Extremes: Mid-Summer, Mid-Winter
Another factor to keep in mind is climate. While internationally speaking, the Japanese climate does not typically go into extremes of heat or cold, spending your day sweating or shivering can impact how much fun you’re having. In the peak of summer, temperatures in cities like Tokyo and Osaka will reach the high 30s (80s in Fahrenheit), often with intense humidity that can make the days feel hotter. In winter, on the other hand, it can dip below zero (32°F).
Your tolerance for this will depend on the environment you were raised in. If you’re coming from a warm part of the world, Japan's winters can be tough to handle. You might have to factor in the cost of buying cold weather clothes that you don't need at home. On the other hand, even people from warm countries can find the hot and humid summers in Japan intense, so if you're from a cooler climate, you might find a spring or autumn visit a safer bet.
Typhoon season, which peaks in August and September, can also present issues for travelers. Japan's building codes and infrastructure are built to handle these types of storms, so there is no need to reconsider a summer trip simply because of them. However, if you are in Japan from May to October, be aware that public transport, shops, and attractions may temporarily close if a typhoon is predicted. In severe cases, power outages and other disruptions are possible. So that you're not caught out, we recommend installing the Safety Tips app from the Japan Tourism Agency. This app gives early warning alerts in multiple languages for typhoons, earthquakes, tsunami, and other adverse weather events.
Lunar New Year
One element some overlook when planning a trip to Japan is the timing of other international holidays. For example, in 2019, a little over 50% of visitors to Japan came from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, all of whom celebrate Lunar New Year in late January or early February. While Japan doesn't celebrate the Lunar New Year, the holiday period means that sightseeing areas can be a bit more crowded with sightseers and tour groups taking advantage of the holiday.
Cheapest Times to Visit Japan: Tips for Off-Peak Visits
Some of the most beautiful times in Japan, like the cherry blossom season, can mean dealing with crowds and paying a premium for flights and accommodation. On the flipside, while some people may consider a rainy day a vacation disaster, others don't mind the rainy season if it means seeing the hydrangea-dotted temples and brilliant green foliage without the crowds.
If you’re budget-conscious, paying attention to the high and low seasons in different parts of Japan can be a profitable exercise. For example, the ski season in the Japanese Alps is justifiably busy with winter sports fans, but a trip in the low season offers breathtaking scenery, hot springs, and stays at luxurious resorts at lower prices. In recent years, more and more ski resorts are offering activities like glamping or adventure sports to attract summer visitors, too.
Winter in Okinawa can also be a great escape if you need a break from the cold, and flights and accommodation will be cheaper to boot. While it might be a little chilly for swimming, you can indulge in fresh seafood, explore the fascinating Ryukyu Kingdom (the former name for Okinawa) culture, and enjoy your run of gorgeous ocean scenery, including Japan's earliest cherry blossoms! Check out our guide to 50 things to do in Okinawa for more ideas.
Low seasons are the cheapest time of year to fly to Japan, so think outside the box to free up some extra funds for souvenirs!
Can I Travel to Japan in 2021? Traveling After the Coronavirus
After years of booming international tourism in Japan, the impact of the coronavirus has resulted in an almost complete reduction in travel activity. Travel bans are in place in many countries, including Japan, who are currently restricting entry to non-Japanese citizens who have spent time in affected areas. Currently, a two week self-quarantine period is also required for people arriving into Japan from overseas.
With the situation constantly changing around the world, it's hard to say for sure when we will be able to travel normally again. Before planning, we recommend you check the up-to-date status of travel, visa, and quarantining restrictions here: https://www.japan.travel/en/coronavirus/
We have been covering the coronavirus situation in Japan in our dedicated resource page, Traveling Safely in Japan. Here you'll find the latest information about the situation on the ground, including public health measures, closures, and links to official resources in English.
Travel Smart and Enjoy Your Time in Japan!
Japan's culture and geography really does mean that there's something to enjoy whatever time of year you visit. When thinking about when to come, it's good to consider practical matters like your tolerance for heat or cold, and also what excites you about Japan. If it's gorgeous scenery, consider the cherry blossom or autumn foliage season. If you're interested in Japan's unique culture, a trip full of the music, dance, and local traditions of Japan's summer festivals might be the right pick for you. On the other hand, if you'd like a relaxed trip without crowds, maybe you'd prefer to visit Japan during an off-peak season instead.
Now that you have a sense of when the best time of year to visit Japan for you is, it's time to think about where to go! If you're still deciding, check out our comprehensive guides to some of Japan's most popular locations for inspiration:
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