Japan is all about the seasons. Whether it’s the pink hue of springtime when the cherry blossoms come out in bloom, or when the country is bathed in stunning shades of yellow, orange and red during autumn.
Seasons and Weather
The best time to visit Japan is generally in spring or autumn. Spring (March – May) sees a lot of the country ablaze with beautiful white and pink cherry blossom, celebrated with an increasingly popular festival. Temperatures during these months begin to rise and it is before the hot rainy season. Autumn (September – November) sees similar temperatures, which are now a welcome respite from the muggy heat of the summer. The country also now changes into a haven of red and scarlet leaves which contrast strikingly against the deep blue clear skies.
Summer (June – August) sees the start of the rainy season. The rains aren’t seen every day like in some monsoonal countries but when they come they are heavy. The temperature after the rain is generally quite high and can be uncomfortable if you are moving around. Summer also sees lots of great festivals (or Matsuri) in Japan and there are lots of spectacular firework shows going on across the country.
Winter (December – March) is a beautiful time to visit Japan, especially if you are venturing to the ski slopes of Hokkaido or Nagano. These areas are carpeted in a brilliant white coating of fresh powdery snow making the traditional Japanese onsen (hot springs) even more fun to sit in. Nagano is also a great place to visit in the winter because of the resident snow monkeys who appear in bigger numbers at this time of year.
Japan celebrates its highly unique cultural heritage with a number of festivals and special events held throughout the year. Here's our guide to the best of them.
Sapporo Snow Festival
Held in the city of Sapporo on Hokkaido island, the Sapporo Snow Festival is Japan's largest winter event with hundreds of splendid snow and ice sculptures lining Odori Park. Large snow slides are set up Tsudome community dome and visitors flock here in February each year to enjoy the winter wonderland.
Cherry Blossom Festival
Known as hanami in Japan, the traditional custom of 'flower viewing' has become one of the most popular times to visit Japan with cities decorated in beautiful cherry blossom. From the end of March to early May when the flowers bloom outdoor parties are held throughout the country with people heading to parks for picnics.The Cherry Blossom Festival is a particularly good time to visit in terms of weather also.
In Japan Golden Week is a collection of four national holidays that take place within a week including Showa Day celebrating Emperor Showa's birthday; Constitution Day; Greenery Day, a national holiday dedicated to nature; and finally, Children's Day with families praying for the health and success of their sons. During these holidays the Japanese like to travel so trains, hotels and popular sightseeing spots are overcrowded and need to be booked months in advance to ensure availability.
Tenjin Festival in Osaka
Held on the 24th and 25th July every year, the highlights of the Tenjin Festival include processions of drummers, ceremonial floats and fireworks in the evening to honor the deity Sugawara and the Tenmangu Shrine.
Gion Matsuri in Kyoto
Gion Matsuri, the festival of Yasaka Shrine, is one of Japan's most famous festivals with a spectacular grand procession of floats or hoko as they are known in Japanese, which can reach enormous proportions at 25 metres tall. At night the area around the Kamo River swells with food stalls and markets.
Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo
Taking place in mid-May in odd numbered years, the Kanda Matsuri festival honours the Kanda Myojin Shrine with a day-long procession and parades of shrines through central Tokyo. Other events are held over the week.
This annual Buddhist event in mid-August is a time for families to commemorate their ancestors with lanterns, special dances, food offerings made at house altars and shrines in order to guide the spirits on their return to this world.
The annual Autumn Festival held in the town of Takayama is in honour of Hachiman Shrine with a dozen festival floats known as yatai paraded through the streets when the weather is fine. Some of the floats have sophisticated mechanical dolls that perform movements during the parade. The Takayama Festival takes place on the 9th-10th October each year.
A number of important sumo tournaments are held throughout the year and in various cities across Japan. The full year's schedule can be found at www.sumo.or.jp
Baseball is the most widely played and watched sport in Japan with two leagues of six teams competing professionally. Season games are held from late March to October with a game taking place on almost every day of the week.
The F1 Japanese Grand Prix is likely to be held in Suzuka around the 8th October 2017. The circuit is located 50km southwest of Nagoya and with enthusiastic home supporters it's going to a highlight of the F1 calendar.