Ah, so you want to travel to Japan, do you? But when should you go? Do you want to see festivals? Do you want to see the sakura trees? What about hiking Mt. Fuji? Unfortunately, you can’t see it all in one go as Japan is very seasonal, but there are still plenty of things to see and do throughout the year. Rain, sunshine, or snow, Japan offers a variety of scenery. Now the question is what time of the year would you prefer? Well here is my short guide to every season of Japan to assist you in your travel planning.
While summer has a lot to see, prepare for uncomfortable humidity and large crowds. Summertime is a time of festivals, when the Japanese come out of their houses to celebrate the sun with dancing, singing, worship, and fireworks. It’s the most exciting time of the year because you get to see traditional practices done by the local Japanese and they don’t mind if you watch or even participate. Shrines are carried around the city, yukatas (the summer version of a kimono) are worn, and fans are an essential accessory during summer. Also, if you arrive anywhere from the end of July to the first week of September you will be able to climb Mt. Fuji, but be prepared for the change in weather as it can be extremely cold at the top.
If you head outside of the city during your time in Japan you will be able to enjoy the natural wonders of the fall foliage that surrounds the area. The reddest reds, the most vibrant oranges, and the most golden of yellows. This is also the last time that you will be able to get some hiking in amongst the foliage. Japan has many mountains throughout the country and therefore there are many hiking opportunities. Take a look at this guide for more information on different hikes in Japan.
Even though there is snow on the ground and it’s f***ing cold outside (I’m from California, remember?), Winter can produce some lovely scenery in Japan. The snow that falls on top of the temples gives it a much more natural feeling rather than the tourist kind that you get when everything is surrounded by travelers with cameras.
If you are prepared to be nude in front of strangers, this is the best time to visit an onsen. Look for one that’s outdoors because there’s nothing quite like being in a hot bath surrounded by snowy mountains. A great one near Tokyo is in Hakone but there are plenty of options when you head north or south. If you are able to, make your way up to Hokkaido for the snow festival where they build large ice sculptures.
Probably my favorite season in Japan and the most popular time to travel to Japan for this is when the cherry blossoms, or sakura, bloom. The blossoms in Tokyo are nice and it’s great to see or participate in the hanami parties surrounding the area, but I highly encourage you to make the trip north up to Hirosaki Castle in Aomori. Aomori is known for their delicious, very large apples so when they trim the sakura trees, they use the same methods as the apple trees to make the blossoms grow larger and more full. The sakura trees are carefully watched, better than any weather station, so make sure you check the cherry blossoms report of Japan for when the trees will be in full bloom. If you just miss it by a week, don’t worry, the view of the pink blossoms covering the lakes and walkways is also another sight to see.
Bonus: Rain comes around when Japan is confused about what season it wants to be, like a teenager going through puberty. Usually between winter and spring, summer and fall. If you arrive in Japan and you find that the days are rainy, do not be discouraged. Leave your hotel and grab an umbrella. Carrying an umbrella around just in case is such a local practice in Japan that when you exit the building you will hardly see anyone without one. Many businesses also cater to this practice with plastic bags for your dripping umbrella or racks to store your umbrella at the front of the store.The rain causes the lights outside to be brighter and the different colors of the umbrellas make for some excellent photography ops so don’t forget your camera.
Also, don’t be surprised if your umbrella suddenly goes missing– there are umbrella thieves out there and it’s the only thing that is stolen in Japan.