When is the best time to visit Japan? What are the must-see highlights in Japan during each month of the year? Read on for our expert month-by-month guide.
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Japan is a special place and high on many people’s dream travel destinations for the future. Its culture and landscape are unique and diverse, and every month offers something different for visitors. As such, deciding when to visit can be a challenge - simply because each month has so many interesting highlights and must-see activities. To help, we’ve put together a detailed guide to each month of the year so you can work out which month is the best fit for you. Our recommendations take you right across this incredible country, from Edo period villages to futuristic megacities, from the snowy north to the subtropical south. As always, the best way to get around is using Japan’s world-famous domestic trains with a JR Pass for unlimited rail travel.
Reasons To Visit Japan
From the country’s fascinating ancient traditions and historic culture, with its temples, castles, shrines, samurai and geisha, to the excitement of its futuristic neon metropolises, with all their sights and sounds; from the serene, awe-inspiring beauty of Japan’s island landscape with snowy mountains in the north, subtropical beaches in the south, cherry blossoms, lush forests, rice paddies, and much more in-between, to the country’s legendary food and drink and world-famous dishes like sushi and ramen to enjoy – what’s not to love? It’s also very safe, clean, and as we mentioned above, it has one of the best domestic rail systems in the world to help you get around and explore. The weather is also excellent and just as diverse as the landscape and culture. Whether you love white-sand beaches and tropical islands, rugged mountains, lush forests, rivers, and lakes, or snowy winter resorts, Japan has it all. For more on the country’s weather, read our guide to Japan’s Weather and Seasons: Deciding On The Best Time To Visit.
Japan: A Month by Month Guide
Every month of the year in Japan offers something unique and special for visitors. Let’s take a look at our must-see highlights and recommendations from January to December.
January is very special because of the New Year celebrations, which are considered the country’s most important national holiday. While Shogatsu is the overall name of the celebrations there are many special traditions to look out for such as Hatsuhinode, Hatsumode, Omamori (good luck charms) and Shishimai (a traditional lion dance). Hatsuhinode is the first sunrise of the year. This beautiful tradition sees people gather at special locations with a good view of the horizon to catch the hatsuhinode, as they believe a glimpse of the sunrise will help ensure good fortune and happiness in the coming year.
Alongside celebrating the New Year, other January highlights include Kyoto’s Sanjusangendo Archery contest - held on the second Monday in January each year, which is known as the Coming of Age Day. Food lovers should also look out for Kitami Yakiniku Winter BBQ Food Festival, Fukubukuro mystery bags and the January Sales, and Dondo Yaki on either 15 January or 18 January, which is the annual tradition of burning last year’s lucky charms. Finally, in both January and February, you’ll find winter festivals and illumination taking place right across Japan. For much more on the month of January, read our detailed guide to Things To Do In Japan in January.
There are lots of highlights in February to look out for. It’s the beginning of Plum Blossom season, which can rival the famous Cherry Blossom for beauty. February also sees Setsubun events take place across Japan. To mark the end of winter, this tradition sees people gather at shrines to throw soybeans at people dressed as ‘demons’ or ‘bad spirits’ to banish the past and look forward to the new year beginning with the spring. This ritual is called ‘mamemaki’. There are also traditional foods associated with the event such as the ‘lucky sushi roll’.
The Otaru Light Festival also takes place every February. Each year, the snowy town of Otaru in Hokkaido puts on Japan’s most beautiful candlelight festival. If you visit Otaru during February, you’ll find the snow-covered streets aglow with more than 120,000 candles. This beautiful festival is well worth a visit. February is also Mount Fuji Day. The iconic mountain is one of Japan’s most famous and celebrated landmarks and most visitors plan to see it during their visit to Japan. Mount Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes area has a huge amount to offer and is also popular if you enjoy climbing and hiking. However, if you want to climb it, you’ll have to wait until later in the year. Like in January, the country’s winter illuminations and festivals continue during February including the famous Sapporo Snow Festival, which has been running since 1950. For more on things to do this month, read our full-length guide to the month of February in Japan.
March sees the beginning of Spring in Japan and is another month packed with things to do. As the weather begins to warm up again, Japan’s beautiful countryside comes to life. March, April, and May, is the world famous Cherry Blossom season, which attracts millions of visitors to Japan each year. Depending on the cherry blossom forecast for the year, and where in Japan you’re visiting, you can begin to enjoy this beautiful sight from mid to late March, making it a great time to visit. Japan loves festivals (known as matsuri in Japanese) and March has several to look out for. Hina Matsuri (known as the ‘Doll Festival’ or ‘Girls Day’) happens in March as well as Higashiyama Hanatouro and Omizutori, a traditional Japanese festival to mark the arrival of Spring.
Strawberries are known as the Queen of Spring fruits in Japan and March is a perfect time of year to pick and enjoy the country’s delicious strawberries. There are lots of strawberry farms across Japan and several close to major cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto. If you’re visiting Japan this March and would like an afternoon picking and eating strawberries in the Spring sunshine, try Ichigo no Sato Farm in Tochigi Prefecture, which is one of the most famous areas in Japan for producing strawberries. Finally, March sees the Spring Sumo Basho - one of six Grand Sumo Tournaments in Japan throughout the year, making this month a great time to experience this unique and quintessentially Japanese sport first-hand. For more on the month of March, read our guide to The Top Ten Things To Do In Japan in March.
April is arguably most famous for the Cherry Blossom season. Cherry blossoms or ‘sakura’ might just be the most famous and most popular flower in Japan and this is a country that seriously loves and appreciates its flowers, plants, trees, shrubs, and greenery. Central to the appreciation of the Cherry Blossom, which blooms just once a year at the same time for around two weeks, is Hanami or ‘flower-viewing’. This practice is directly associated with the sakura and involves much more than gazing at the beauty of these iconic trees. It regularly involves picnics, parties and gatherings in parks, gardens, temples and at well-known sakura viewing spots. Cherry blossom season is a time to celebrate and socialise with friends, family, colleagues, and visitors from around the world, gathering together under the bough of the cherry blossom tree. You’re likely to hear more than a few cries of ‘kanpai’ (cheers) during the day at hanami parties as people bring out bento food, beer, and sake, play music, read poetry and dance to celebrate. In April, at the height of Cherry Blossom season, you can also enjoy ‘Yozakura’ as well as Hanami. Yozakura is basically Cherry Blossom appreciation and celebrations at night.
April is one of the best and busiest times for festivals, both Spring related and otherwise. Festivals (or ‘matsuri’) taking place in April in Japan include Inuyama Festival in Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture, with its gigantic three-storey floats and Takayama Festival in Gifu prefecture, which is generally considered to be one of the three most beautiful matsuri in all of Japan. The latter is a 15-minute walk from JR Takayama station in Takayama City in the Japanese Alps. You can find out much more about the country’s tradition of matsuri by reading our guide to the Top 12 Festivals in Japan. Love sports? April is a great month to experience one of Japan’s most favourite sports - baseball. Baseball is surprisingly Japan’s most popular sport and has been since its introduction in 1934. Baseball games in Japan feature crowds of lively and passionate fans chanting and proudly wearing their team colours. It’s an interesting break from the reserved behaviour you’ll usually witness from day to day, which is why it’s such a great addition to any visit. The Nippon Professional League starts up at the end of March, so April is a great time to enjoy the excitement of the baseball season. The last few days of April are also part of Golden Week in Japan (we’ll have more on this below). For more on the month of April, read about Why April Is Amazing For Visiting Japan.
A popular month for visitors, May is also a great time to see the Cherry Blossom although this tends to be the end of the season, depending on where you’re visiting. Don’t worry though as May has plenty more to offer. Children’s Day takes place each May in Japan. This special day celebrates exactly what you’d expect from the name - children. Previously known as Tango no Sekku (Boy’s Day), this celebration historically honoured only the boys of Japan. Even today, many Japanese people still view the day as an occasion to primarily honour boys. Although the holiday was not established as an official holiday until 1948, the practice can be traced back to the Nara period (710-794 CE). In modern-day Japan, the festival is traditionally celebrated by raising koinobori (streamers shaped like koi fish), to represent each member of the family and to bring luck to their children. Inside Japanese homes, samurai helmets and dolls are displayed, as well as Iris flowers. Traditional snacks for the holiday include kashiwa-mochi and chimaki.
In May, there are also several major festivals or ‘matsuri’ to look out for across Japan. These include Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo, Sanja Matsuri, Mifune Matsuri, Ohara Matsuri, and Aoi Matsuri in Kyoto, among others. May is a month for celebrations and holidays. At the end of April and beginning of May, Japan celebrates four holidays within one week – Shōwa Day (29 April), Constitution Memorial Day (3 May), Greenery Day (May 4), and Children’s Day (May 5) – formerly Tango no Sekku (Boy’s Day). This special week of holidays, from 29 April to 5 May, is referred to as Golden Week, and most of Japan takes a well-deserved holiday due to the ongoing festivities. As such, it’s quite a unique and special time to be visiting the country. You can find out much more, including a detailed guide to each of the holidays that make up Golden Week, in our dedicated guide, What Is Golden Week? May is reportedly the best time of year to view the famous ‘Blue Pond’ in Hokkaido, which is located near the Biei River. No one knows the exact reason for its incredible blue colouration (although it is apparently due to natural minerals dissolved in the water) but what’s certain is that it makes for a beautiful and enigmatic location to visit during May. For more on the month of May, read our guide to Having A Marvellous May in Japan.
The month of water! June has a reputation as being the height of Japan’s rainy season, but it actually has a lot to offer. No sunshine? No problem! Japan has a huge amount to do indoors in June (and every other month). From Kabuki to Anime, world-class aquariums to arcades, shopping to sumo, traditional ryokan to relaxing onsen and hot spring resorts, there’s always something to do in Japan, whatever the weather. If it does rain, why not head inside, and enjoy some Kabuki - traditional and highly-stylised Japanese theatre that’s as quintessentially Japanese as Sumo wrestling and sushi. It’s ideal for when the weather is less than perfect and you’re getting the chance to experience one of the country's most authentic and historic cultural displays. Why not try Kabukiza in Ginza, Tokyo? You can even book a special five-hour performance which will give the weather plenty of time to improve.
Otaue Rice Planting Festival is one of the country’s most famous and historic rice festivals and has reportedly been celebrated every year in June since 211AD. The festival takes place in the Kansai region at the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, and it is believed the celebrations help improve the chances of a successful rice harvest. In June, Fuji Kawaguchiko Herb Festival takes place at two venues (Oishi Park and Yagisaki Park) around beautiful Lake Kawaguchiko - one of the famous Fuji Five Lakes - and offers food stalls, views of Mt. Fuji, purple lavender flowers, and more, for thousands of visitors each year. June also sees the Fussa Firefly Festival take place on the edge of Tokyo. Water sports are also a good recommendation during the month of water. You could also consider paddle boarding, sea kayaking, and, which are possible in Miyajima, Hiroshima, near the iconic Itsukushima Shrine – one of Japan’s most famous landmarks, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and home to the famous floating Torii Gate. Finally, if the rain is an issue why not head south to subtropical Okinawa? June can be a surprisingly good time to hit the beaches of Okinawa given the fact that it's not as hot or as busy as July or August. And if you’re the energetic type, how about some water sports? For more on the month of June, read our guide on June In Japan: Why The Month Of Water Is A Hidden Wonder.
This month, Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji opens to visitors. July is the official start of the climbing and hiking season with four routes which vary by difficulty. The official season for the Yoshida Trail - arguably the most accessible - opens July 1st and lasts until September 10th. All other trails open on July 10th. During that time hikers can enjoy amenities, such as mountain huts, medical supplies, food and drink, and guided tours. Hiking Mt. Fuji is no mean feat however and must be taken seriously. Our guide to Climbing and Hiking Mt. Fuji has more information.
July also features some of Japan’s biggest and best festivals, making it an amazing time to visit if you want to experience a Japanese matsuri for yourself. Gion Matsuri is one of the most famous festivals in all of Japan and takes over the city of Kyoto during July, with parades, street parties and plenty of food to be enjoyed. The festival dates back to 869 and the grand procession of floats - Yamaboko Junko - is so spectacular and so significant to the people of Kyoto, and the rest of Japan, that it has been registered with UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. For a full guide to this famous festival, read Experiencing the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto. Also in July is Tenjin Matsuri at Tenmangu Shrine in Osaka, which attracts over 1.5 million visitors each year. For more on matsuri taking place in July in Japan read our guide to Japanese Summer Festivals.
While people in the west often associate fireworks with the winter months, in Japan they’re much more common in the summer. In Japan, fireworks are more than just a light show, they’re an art form known as ‘hanabi’ which literally translates as ‘flower fire’. While historically used to ward off evil spirits and honour the dead, fireworks are synonymous with summer celebrations. July sees one of Japan’s biggest summer fireworks festivals take place - Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival. Founded in 1732, Sumidagawa is the oldest fireworks festival in the world and takes place on the banks of Tokyo’s Sumida River near Asakusa on the last Saturday in July. Summer nights and fireworks go hand in hand! There are lots of major firework displays in Japan over the summer. You can learn more about the art of Japanese fireworks in our Guide to Hanabi. July is also a perfect time to visit Furano Lavender Town in Hokkaido or Hakuba in the Japanese Alps, which both become a flowery paradise in the summer months. For much more on the month of July, read our in-depth guide to Japan in July.
August is hot, hot, hot, and a great time to enjoy Japan’s Best Beaches and Water sports Destinations. It’s also another great month for festivals. The Obon festival, also sometimes known as ‘Bon’ is a traditional Buddhist holiday celebrated in Japan as well as in much of East Asia. The holiday consists of a three-day festival that honours ancestral spirits and pays respect to the dead. While the dates can vary across Japan, in 2021, Obon will take place from between 7th August and 16th August. The busiest days will be the 1st day of Obon (8th Aug) and the following weekend, the 12th and 16th of August, followed by the last two days of Obon (15th & 16th Aug) when people will be returning home. Obon takes place in many different locations in Japan. Popular destinations to visit during Obon include Kyoto, Gujo, and Hokkaido, all of which can be accessed using the JRailPass. Obon represents a great opportunity for photography, celebration, and cultural immersion during your August visit to Japan. Find out more in our guide to Obon: Celebrating Japan’s Spirits. Other major festivals taking place in August include a hugely popular and colourful dance festival called Awa Odori, Aomori Nebuta which features huge colourful floats made out of papier-mache in the shape of characters from Kabuki theatre, historical figures and mythological creatures, and the Tanabata Festival. The latte, often referred to as the Star Festival, is an ancient Japanese summer festival, held in cities and towns across Japan, which celebrates a folk legend of star-crossed lovers. Find out more about it in our guide to The Tanabata Festival for Star-Crossed Lovers. For more on the month of August, read our detailed guide to Things To Do In Japan in August.
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
September is also the month for moon viewing. 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.
Video games are among Japan’s biggest exports and the month of September sees the Tokyo Game Show take place - one of the biggest computer game exhibitions in the world. From September to 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. For more on the month of September, read our full-length guide to Things To Do In Japan in September.
Autumn is well and truly here in October, which makes this month the perfect time to enjoy Japan’s beautiful autumn leaves, which rival the famous cherry blossom. If strolling through a Japanese garden surrounded by leaves of burnished gold, red and yellow sounds like your idea of heaven, then October might be the month for you. October is one of the best months to experience Japan’s beautiful autumn foliage. Like the cherry blossom season, autumn leaf 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. Surrounded by all the golden leaves and pleasant weather, October is also ideal for getting outdoors and enjoying walking and hiking trails. Popular routes for October include the famous Nakasendo Trail, the historic Futabanosato Trail through Hiroshima, and hiking through the atmospheric rural towns of Kibune and Kurama in the northern mountains of Kyoto. For general hiking and walking tips for Japan read our Quick Guide to Hiking.
October is also known for harvest festivals and Halloween. Traditional Japanese matsuri take place throughout the year and October is no exception. October’s festivals tend to focus on the harvest and moon. One of the biggest festivals in October is the Takayama Matsuri in Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture. Held twice a year in April and October, the Takayama festival takes place at Hachiman Shrine and sees beautiful lanterns and floats parade through the night. Other October festivals include the Matsue Suitoro in Honshu, the Asama Onsen Taimatsu matsuri, and the Kurama-no-hi matsuri in the mountains near Kyoto. Meanwhile for Halloween, don’t miss the celebrations at the Shibuya Scramble Halloween Street Party, Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Fest, the Hello Halloween Pumpkin Parade in Omotesando, and of course the Halloween festivals at Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios. For more on the month of October, read our extended feature on Things To Do In Japan in October.
November is said to be one of the best times to visit Kyoto, the cultural heart of traditional Japan. Why? Perhaps it’s the late Autumn light, the golden foliage, the crisp, clear air, or something else particular to November, but Kyoto just seems especially beautiful at this time of year. Kyoto is often described as the Japan of your imagination thanks to its traditional wooden buildings, pagodas, temples, and shrines, and it has a huge amount to offer all year round. November (and December) are also great months to enjoy Japan’s winter illuminations. Some of the best begin in November including Shirakawago Village Autumn Illumination, Ashikaga Flower Fantasy, Kobe Luminaire, Sagamiko Illumillion, Kanagawa, and Kingdom of Light. November is also an ideal time to enjoy the great outdoors before it gets too cold. Japan’s national parks are among the most spectacular in the world and a perfect Autumn destination. For more, read our guide to Visiting Japan’s National Parks. Meanwhile, for sporty types why not explore some of Japan’s amazing cycle paths such as the famous Shimanami Kaido? You can read more about why Japan is such a great place for cyclists in I Want To Read My Bicycle: Japan’s Best Cycle Routes. November through to January and February are also peak months for one of Japan’s other major passions - winter sports including skiing and snowboarding. For more on the month of November, read our detailed overview of the best Things To Do In Japan in November.
Winter is here. December sees Japan indulge one of its many love affairs with all things shiny and spectacular - in this case, winter illuminations and snow festivals. Of the major cities, Tokyo has a huge number of illuminations to see in the run-up to Christmas, but some of the biggest take place elsewhere in Japan. If you love illuminations as much as people in Japan, try Kobe Luminaire or Sagamiko Illumillion festival in Kanagawa, which is said to use six million LED lights in its Pleasure Forest at Lake Sagami Resort. December is also Christmas in Japan. While not a traditional celebration for the country, it is getting bigger every year in Japan and in a uniquely Japanese way. It’s certainly a very special place to spend Christmas. From romance on Christmas Eve to Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Day, Japan has introduced some wonderful new traditions to Christmas. For a more detailed guide to these traditions, read Do People Celebrate Christmas in Japan?
New Year is much more important in Japan, and it all begins on 31 December - New Year’s Eve. The final day of the year, December 31, is called omisoka (New Year’s Eve). In keeping with Shinto beliefs, houses are often thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom, including attics, basements and under tatami mats, to welcome the gods. The big clean-up is known as Oosuji. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bonsho (temple bells) exactly 108 times. This ritual is known as Joya no Kane. Finally, don’t miss out on the chance to enjoy a December visit to winter wonderlands such as Hakuba Valley Winter Resort, especially if you’re into skiing and snowboarding. For more on the month of December, read our guide to Things To Do In Japan In December.
- If you’re still undecided about the perfect month to visit, read our additional guide to The Best Time To Visit Japan for more advice.
- Whenever you travel to Japan, the best value way to get around is using the country’s incredible domestic rail network. For unlimited travel be sure to invest in a Japan Rail Pass.
- When planning a visit to Japan, there’s so much you can learn about the country’s culture, history, food, and more without even leaving your chair. Read our recommendations for The Best Books To Read Before You Visit Japan for more.
- If your planned visit to Japan is 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.
- Whatever month 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.