Bringing together the best of Summer and Autumn in a single month, and with plenty to see and do, September is definitely one of the best times to visit Japan.
Table of contents:
Let’s get straight to it - September is a great time to visit Japan. While early September is still considered part of the summer, the end of the month is already drifting into autumn. As a result, you get the best of both worlds and a time of year that is arguably a match for Japan’s famous cherry blossom spring season for international visitors. Instead of sakura, you have beautiful autumn leaves and fall colours, plus it’s generally less busy than spring or summer. There’s also lots to see and do, from festivals and fireworks to sports, flower viewing, and more. In this guide, we’ll reveal our recommendations for the best things to do in Japan in September, why it’s such a good time to visit, what kind of weather to expect, and how best to get around with the JR Pass.
Reasons to visit Japan in September
Cooler than hot and humid July and August, drier than June, the month of water, and quieter than cherry blossom season and Golden Week, which both take place in the spring, September, like Goldilocks’ favourite porridge, is just right. While the beginning of the month can still be quite hot, temperatures begin to get cooler as the month goes on, and depending on where in Japan you visit you could find autumn has come early. Hokkaido in the north of Japan, for instance, regularly gets golden autumn leaves and cooler temperatures by September. At the same time, it’s still possible to have a beach holiday, if you’re a sun worshipper, too - just head south to the likes of Okinawa and Kyushu. You can read more about this in our guide to Japan’s beautiful beaches.
Thanks to the JRailPass for unlimited travel on the country’s domestic trains, you can actually do both and have two different kinds of holiday in one! Want to enjoy the beach before heading north for a spot of autumn foliage viewing? Consider it done. Japan’s rail network is the fastest and best value way to get around.
Temples, shrines, parks, and other visitor attractions across the country should also be much quieter as residents have gone back to work and school by September and the month is generally less popular for tourists compared to peak times of year. This is a win-win for international visitors who choose September to experience Japan, as it means a much better chance of enjoying what this magical country has to offer, without the distraction of huge crowds and long queues. Fewer people doesn’t mean less to do either - September is packed full of exciting things to do as we’ll explore below.
Top 10 Things To Do in Japan in September
Japan is a place where there is always something happening. September is no exception and you’ll definitely have no shortage of attractions and activities to experience. Here are our recommendations for the best things to see and do during September, while exploring the country with the Japan Rail Pass:
1.) Maneki-Neko Day
September 29 is Maneki-Neko Day! You’ve probably seen white and red figurines of the famous ‘lucky cat’ on television or in photographs of Japan, without knowing what it was. The phrase Maneki-neko comes from the word ‘invite or greet’ combined with ‘cat’. It is sometimes described as the ‘beckoning cat’ and is considered a symbol of good luck. The origins of Maneki-neko figurines with one paw raised up date back to the Edo period. There are various stories about how this tradition started, from cats welcoming visitors to cats warning feudal lords to take a safer path during a lightning storm. Either way, these little cats became symbols of welcome and emblems of good luck. When visiting Japan, you’ll likely see thousands of these cute statues. Maneki-neko have become so popular in Japan over the centuries that they’ve given the lucky cat their own special day in September. While you’ll see Maneki-Neko all over the country, you can celebrate this fabulous feline during your September holiday to Japan by visiting Tokyo’s Gotokuji Temple in Setagaya Ward, which is officially known as the lucky cat temple. This beautiful three-storey wooden pagoda is a lovely place to visit in its own right and can be reached from Shinjuku station by taking the Yamanote line to Gotokuji station.
2.) September festivals
Matsuri, Japan’s traditional festivals, take place across the country all year round. They’re a great way to experience a unique part of Japanese culture and there are several fantastic festivals you could attend in September. The Kishiwada Danjiri Festival in Osaka is known for its portable shrines which are pushed through the streets at high speed during a spectacular procession. Another amazing spectacle is the traditional horse archery of the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Reitaisai, which also takes place in September. Look out for Fukuro Matsuri in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Kaze no Bon in Toyama, Seto Festival, and the Okuma-kabuto festival in Nakajima of Ishikawa Prefecture too.
Kyoto also sees Seiryu-e Matsuri – the Blue Dragon Festival – held in September. This colourful and lively festival features a large Japanese Dragon puppet and a parade to honour Seiryu – one of four divine beast protectors of Kyoto’s borders and an incarnation of the goddess Kannon. It takes place at Kiyomizu-Dera, Kyoto’s ‘pure water temple’, which is a beautiful Buddhist temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site with a wooden stage famous for its amazing views, especially in the autumn (as pictured above). An incredible place to visit all year round, Kiyomizu-Dera and the Seiryu-e Matsuri make Kyoto a perfect destination in September. Getting to Kyoto with your JRailPass is easy from either Tokyo or Osaka too. Both cities are connected with Kyoto by the JR Tokaido Shinkansen. From Osaka you can also take the JR special rapid train on the JR Kyoto Line. Read our Experts’ Guide to Japan’s Summer Festivals for even more matsuri ideas.
Japan’s summer months are famous for festivals and fireworks, and both continue on through September. If you’re looking for a dazzling light show to welcome you to Japan, then you’ve come to the right country.
In September, events include Nagahama Kita-Biwako Great Fireworks Festival on the 17th, a large fireworks show at Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki on the 18th, and Kita Hanabi Taikai in Kita City, Tokyo. For more on Japanese fireworks, read our guide to Hanabi.
4.) Video games
Japan is a country where ancient traditions and cutting edge culture meet. While temples, shrines, and traditional matsuri are amazing, you might also want to experience 21st Century Japan. Video games are among Japan’s biggest exports and the month of September sees the Tokyo Game Show 2021 take place - one of the biggest computer game exhibitions in the world. From 30th September to 3rd October, the gaming world will descend on Tokyo, and with several days open to the public it’s a must for fans. Alongside this, Japan is generally a mecca for gamers with a huge amount to see and do. After all, it is the home of Nintendo, Sony, Sega, and many more. For more on video games, read our guide to Japan for Gamers, Otaku and J-Culture fans.
5.) Sumo tournament
Sumo is quintessentially Japanese. Big, bold, steeped in tradition, and completely unique. There are six official national sumo tournaments in Japan, each lasting 15 days, and one of these - the Sumo Tokyo Basho - takes place in Tokyo each September at Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium. Attending a match is an unforgettable way to get up close and personal with Japan’s national sport. Tickets for the national sumo tournaments should be bought in advance from Japan Sumo Wrestling’s official website, or other accredited vendors, although a small number of balcony tickets are sold on the day. Tickets vary in price from ringside seats, which place you closest to the action, to traditional box seats with cushions, to balcony seating. For a detailed introduction to everything you need to know read our Guide to Sumo. Sumo isn’t the only sport to enjoy in September either. It’s also the Japanese baseball season, and you can catch F1 Racing in September too.
6.) Climb Mt. Fuji
The first week of September is the last week of the climbing season on Japan’s iconic and spectacular Mt. Fuji. If you’re feeling adventurous, it could be a perfect time to see this amazing mountain up close and personal. There are four routes up the 3,776 metre tall Mount Fuji, which vary by difficulty. The official season for the Yoshida Trail ends in September, so if you’re visiting at the beginning of this month you’ll have to be quick. For a detailed guide, read our article on Climbing and Hiking Mt. Fuji.
7.) Autumn foliage and flower gazing
While not as famous as the cherry blossom, Japan’s autumn foliage is just as beautiful. Whether you’re heading off the beaten track for a hike through one of Japan’s lush forests, exploring one of the country’s amazing national parks, or just having a picnic in a city park or green space, the autumn foliage will provide a beautiful golden backdrop. Like cherry blossom season, autumn foliage viewing has become so popular that it has special phrases associated with it, such as ‘koyo’ which means ‘red leaves’, and Momiji-gari, which is ‘red leaf hunting’. Highly recommended autumn foliage viewing locations include Kamikochi in the northern Japanese alps, which is famous for its beautiful koyo, Kawaguchiko in the Fuji Five Lakes area, Nikko, Nara, and Arashiyama in Kyoto. Hokkaido also ranks high on the list as autumn tends to come early on Japan’s northernmost island.
It’s not just the fall leaves you’ll see either, September is a beautiful season for a number of flowers in Japan, making it a great time for a walk amongst the wildflowers. Recommendations include Kinchakuda Higanbana Field in Saitama Prefecture. The Higanbana or red spider lily is one of the flowers most associated with autumn in Japan. The Choyo no Sechi Festival - a chrysanthemum festival in Kyoto - is also held on September 9.
8.) Surf’s Up
Japan has lots to offer those chasing the summer sun this September, especially when it comes to beaches and watersports. Japan’s islands have some of the world’s finest beaches dotted around them and with so much water, there’s a huge amount of fun to be had. Surfing, paddleboarding, parasailing, diving - you name it, Japan is a hotspot for water sports of all kinds. At the same time, if relaxing on a beach with a good book is more your speed, then Japan does this very well too, and in September you’ll have the bonus of quieter beaches thanks to most residents being back at school or work, and fewer tourists than in the peak months.
9.) Tsukimi - Moon viewing
Traditionally celebrated in the month of September in Japan, tsukimi dates back to the Nara period (710-794 AD). Tsukimi means ‘looking at the moon’ and this festival takes place across Japan every autumn. Traditionally, tsukimi was celebrated with music and poetry while appreciating the beauty of the moon. Later, rice offerings were made to express gratitude for a good harvest. Today’s celebrations bring these customs together. When people gather at a window or balcony to view the moon, it is described as a tsukimidai and is decorated with rice dumplings known as tsukimi-dango, seasonal offerings such as edamame, chestnuts, and pumpkins, with taro bulbs and pampas grass to represent the rice harvest. You will also find moon viewing udon noodles as pictured below - delicious! Tsukimi sees seasonal events taking place across Japan to celebrate the Harvest Moon, including locations such as Tokyo Tower, Ise Grand Shrine, Himeji Castle, and many more. For a detailed guide, read our article on Tsukimi: Japan’s Autumn Moon Festival.
10.) Sample September's seasonal dishes throughout Japan
While every month in Japan is a great month for food lovers, September is notable for the Tokyo Wagyu Show. Wagyu beef is said to be the finest quality beef in the entire world and it is unique to Japan. The Tokyo Wagyu Show is a special event held over five days in September in the city’s Hibaya Park. You’ll get the chance to taste wagyu from across Japan. From steak to burger and everything in between, if you enjoy meat then this show is for you. Of course, it’s not just wagyu that’s on offer during September. Japan is a paradise for food lovers, with amazing dishes such as sushi, tempura, ramen, and much more to sample. From street food to michelin-starred fine dining, Japan has it all. Find out more in our Beginners Guide to Japanese Food and Regional Dishes. September is also kyojo grape season in Japan and you’ll find farms in Nagano, Wakayama, and Yamanashi where you can pick and sample grapes.
- Still unsure whether September is the best time to visit? For a month by month description of Japan’s weather and seasons, read our article, When Is The Best Time To Visit Japan?
- Meanwhile, if you love the autumn months and would like to know more about Japan at this time of year read our dedicated guide to Japan in Autumn.
- Whenever you choose to visit, it’s super useful to stay connected to the internet and not just to upload selfies to social media. Whether you need language tips or directions, investing in a PocketWifi device for constant internet access and high speed unlimited data is highly recommended.
- If you’re planning a September visit to Japan and it’s your first time in the country, why not make life easier by using our Meet & Greet service on arrival? It’s like having an expert on Japan as your personal assistant. We’ll take care of you from the moment you arrive.