With Japan recently announcing its full reopening to tourists, now is the perfect time to start planning your visit. Our expert’s guide will help you plan when and where to visit, and of course inspire you!
Japan is a land of contrast, where skyscrapers sit alongside ancient traditions. It is quite simply a delightful country to visit on vacation and one that never fails to amaze me no matter how many times I return. With a wide range of activities on offer for your holiday to Japan, from hiking Mount Fuji to seeing the Japanese Macaques in Yudanaka, there are many times good times to visit, depending on what you wish to see and experience on your vacation.
Most people associate the best time to visit Japan with the blossoming of the Sakura, better known as cherry blossoms to us. Although the country is beautiful at this time of year with the gorgeous pale pink petals sprouting country wide, it is also the most popular time to visit; not just with tourists but locals too and as such hotels and the best guides get booked well in advance.
The cherry blossom season is important in Japan. There is a yearly Sakura forecast predicting the best blossom sights and best time to visit based on the local weather forecast. The blossom forecast also plays an important role as the local Hanemi Festival, a traditional Japanese custom of enjoying flowers, is based around the blossoming of the Sakura.
The bloom last countrywide typically from the end of March to the beginning of May, though once the trees have blossomed they only last around a week, so it is an incredibly short period of time. There always seems to be a hive of activity with locals gathering underneath the vibrant pink blossoms to enjoy food, drinks and celebrations. If you venture out in the evening you may even see locals enjoying night parties, referred to Yozakura or “night sakura”, locals have picnics and hang paper lanterns among the trees which show the blossoms in a different light. If you are set on seeing the beautiful blossoms on your holiday to Japan, it is best to plan well in advance.
Though the Cherry Blossom season is often thought of as the best time to visit, Japan has far more to offer and can be visited year-round. My personal favourite time to take a holiday to Japan is May into June, though it is best to avoid the first week of May as the country celebrates its Golden Week, one of the busiest times of the years for locals to travel to spend time with family and friends.
Early summer is an ideal time to take a holiday to Japan to explore the countryside; the vegetation throughout the country is verdant and lush, there are fewer tourists and temperatures average between 15˚C (59˚F) to 23˚C (73˚F) with very little rainfall. All of this combines to make exploring Japan’s iconic sights a delightful experience and one can enjoy the sights in relative privacy.
During July and August you can seek a once-in-a-lifetime experience hiking Mt Fuji. The trail opens from the 1st of July to the 31st of August. This short window means it can be busy, so it’s best to hike during the first week of July to avoid the seasonal rush of hikers that follow later in the month. I recommend opting for the two-day journey, stopping and sleeping in a very rustic and basic hut located half-way up the mountain, which makes it a little easier to reach the summit in time for the picturesque sunrise.
However, away from the cool mountain air, the weather on the main island of Honshu is hot, humid and busy in July and August. The schools are on summer break and local travelling for local festivities, so I would recommend heading further afield.
The oft-forgotten northern island of Hokkaido is perfect during a summer holiday to Japan, with a pleasant climate and mountain vistas. The island is a hotspot for those interested in horticulture; there are vast flower fields to explore with vibrant sunflowers, lavenders, lupines, poppies, blue salvias, marigold and other seasonal flowers that bloom in abundance alongside an array of festivals to enjoy. Take some time to walk through Hokkaido’s glorious forests for the ultimate relaxation of ‘forest bathing’ whilst you’re here.
The Japan typhoon season usually occurs during August and September. Though it is still possible to travel during this time, most travellers do avoid these times as this is when the heaviest typhoons can be expected. The tropical southern island prefecture of Okinawa as well as the island of Kyushu and Shikoku tend to bear the brunt of these but Honshu, and its major cities such as Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo can also be visited by typhoons. It has to be said that like most things in Japan, life still goes on for many during this time and as one would expect, disruption after the storm is kept to a minimum.
Autumn is one of the most spectacular times to take a holiday to Japan! Starting in Hokkaido from mid-October and lasting into mid-December on the southern island of Kyushu, the country’s autumn leaves (koyo) turn the country from leafy green to vibrant hues of orange, yellow and red. One of my favourite places to visit in the autumn is Saiho-ji garden in Kyoto, which is best during this time of year when the leaves contrast with the verdant carpets of velvety moss. Alternatively, if you enjoy breaking out into the wilderness, walking with a private guide in Kobuchizawa to the Shojingataki Falls is glorious in the autumn.
This time of the year easily competes with the cherry blossom season for marvellous beauty, with the added benefit of a longer season meaning it’s easier to plan your vacation and you have more chance to see the contrasts as you travel. You will need a jumper as the temperature, especially in the evenings, can get down to single figures.
Find the 10 best Japanese gardens to explore on your holiday >> read our blog
With winter lasting from December to February, there is still plenty to explore in Japan during this time. The northern island of Hokkaido comes alive as snow falls and transforms the countryside into a winter wonderland. The island is known for its incredible powder (which is best in January and February) making it popular with keen skiers and snowboarders alike. It is a great alternative to skiing in Europe and one can easily combine a ski trip with a cultural trip.
The Japanese Alpine region in Honshu also gets a good helping of snow and nowhere more so than Shirakawa-go, a pristine alpine village with huts and chalets dating back 250 years, which on average receives about 417 inches of snow. Just over an hour away in the city of Kanazawa, I recommend visiting Kenrokuen Garden, traditionally regarded as one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens. Seeing it covered in snow is magical! The city escaped much of the bombing that occurred during World War II so much of the original city is still well intact.
Another delight on your holiday to Japan is to visit the macaques (snow monkeys) at their hot springs in Joshinetsu Kogen National Park (Nagano prefecture). It is known as Hell’s Valley due to its steep cliffs, dense forests and the boiling water that spurts from the frozen ground, giving us the traditional onsen that the locals love, and a welcome treat during this chilly time of year! These mischievous macaques while their days away in the warm water of the onsen, grooming each other and playing, giving you the chance to gain insight into the hierarchy of this group of lovable primates.
With so much going on throughout the year, there are so many options for phenomenal holidays to Japan no matter what time of year you wish to travel. No matter when and where, you can be sure to find incredibly polite locals, excellent cuisine and a plethora of sights and experiences to enjoy. Our Asia specialists would be delighted to help you plan your bespoke holiday to Japan, so please do contact us to start your adventure. Or if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so in our Video Library.
Images by kind courtesy of MOEJ (waterfalls), and JNTO (forest and walking images)