The information below is based on normal conditions!
But side note. As of November 2020 it has been reported that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (err… Tokyo 2021) COULD possibly see a more “normal” type of event. If you are thinking about planning for the Olympics, then be sure to see this post on where to stay in Tokyo based on the sports you want to watch.
Now, is there really a bad time to visit Japan?!
Chances are, no matter when you go, you will leave Japan with good memories!
It really depends on what you’re looking for, as you could come up with a reason NOT to visit Japan for every month of the year.
So, below are potentially some of the WORST things about traveling in each of the months.
Now this does NOT mean there aren’t good things about each of these months too!
But sometimes, it’s all about managing your expectations.
And, some of these WORST things could actually be why YOU would think it’s the BEST time to go to Japan!
Some of this also has to do with crowds. If you are undeterred by crowds (because you recognize that Japan is popular for a reason!) then some of this may not apply!
Also keep in mind that increased domestic travel and foreign travel can lead to higher prices for flights to Japan and accommodation costs.
This could also lead to more difficulty in finding reasonable accommodation prices the longer you wait to book your hotel or place to stay.
As an example, there was one hostel in Tokyo that I booked a month in advance. It was the night before I was flying out of Narita airport, so that was fixed.
Well, I booked another hostel in Tokyo just a day before I arrived there, and the most reasonable one I could find with very good ratings was nearly double the cost! (Around US$25 vs around US$50.)
And, this was in the same neighborhood of Shinjuku (a popular area in Tokyo), and these stays in Tokyo were 3 days apart.
To be fair, the higher priced one was a Friday night for the weekend, but still!
See more about staying in hostels in Japan.
And when speaking of climate, one more thing to keep in mind is that this is just generally speaking.
The quick list of best places to visit on your first trip to Japan!
…or places to highly consider visiting!
Okinawa isn’t typically on the itinerary of a first trip to Japan, mostly probably because it’s kind of way out of the way compared to the rest of the classic Japan route.
What months might you NOT want to travel to Japan?!
This is generally speaking when conditions are normal!
January, February, March
In some places it’s COLD, there could be snow, and both of these things can also lead to an increased risk for travel delays.
And since it’s cold, there’s a lack of greenery in many places.
With the cold also comes the necessity of having to pack cold weather clothes. That means more luggage. (And if you live in warm weather climate year-round, it might mean having to shop for winter clothing!)
And if you’re planning your trip to Japan based on times that might see less crowds, you’ll want to think about Japan’s major holidays.
But it’s not just Japanese holidays you need to think about!
A big part of Japan’s foreign tourists come from China.
With China being a short flight from Japan, this means that Chinese holidays can also lead to a few extra people on the golden route of Japan.
One of the biggest holidays in China is the Chinese New Year and there’s vacation time to go along with it.
The date of the Chinese New Year varies each year, and it can be any time from the middle of January to the middle of February.
In 2019, it’s February 5. In 2020, it’s January 25.
The end of the school year for Japan is March, and beginning of the school year is April.
This could lead to domestic travel being on the rise and a few more crowds with school being out nationwide.
This is also around the time of cherry blossom season and it seems that everyone, domestic and international travelers, wants to see the cherry blossoms in the famous places.
This could also lead to an increase in crowds. Increase in crowds can mean increased prices.
(Who says that cherry blossom season is the worst time to visit?! Well, if you don’t like crowds… See some pictures here of cherry blossom season crowds.)
End of April and beginning of May is Golden Week in Japan.
This is basically a time of several national holidays.
Exact dates of Golden Week can vary each year based on whether certain holidays fall over the weekend or during the week.
The 3 main holidays are on April 29, May 3, and May 5.
This can lead to a big increase in domestic travel in Japan around these dates.
In 2019, Golden Week was 10 days long: from Saturday, April 27 to Monday, May 6.
See more public holidays in Japan.
This is generally considered rainy season.
August is usually the hottest month of the year.
And, it’s not just hot. It’s hot and humid.
There’s a good chance you’ll be doing a lot of walking when you’re in Japan, and you might consider heat and humidity to be a miserable combination.
As I write this on an August day in 2019, it’s reported to get to a high of 39C (102F) in Kyoto.
It’s also summer vacation in Japan.
There’s also a major holiday in Japan in August, called Obon.
In 2019, Obon is around August 13-15, and if you’re looking for dates to avoid, it could be good to avoid travel the weekends before and after these dates, as well as during the week.
Among other things, that can mean that train travel can get crowded. This includes the super fast shinkansen bullet train in Japan.
On August 10, 2019, it was reported by the national news program in Japan (NHK) that reserved seats for these bullet trains were at capacity. (All booked up!)
And the non-reserved seats (which also exist on most bullet trains) were reported to be at 160% capacity! (aka standing-room only and crowded!!)
I don’t remember if they were talking about Tokyo only, but it’s safe to say you can expect crowds over most, if not all, of Japan!
August and September are said to be the peak of typhoon season, although the official meteorological typhoon season is June to November.
So what makes this the worst time to go to Japan?
This means that there could be an increased risk for travel delays and complete cancellations of public transportation services, and possibly flights.
October, November, December
The temperatures start getting cooler, so if you’re not a fan of traveling in cold weather and again having to pack a bunch of cold weather clothes leading to more (heavy) luggage you have to carry around… well, you might consider this to be a bad time to visit Japan.
And, if you come after the changing of the leaves, that could mean less pretty landscape… a lot more leaf-less trees and brown scenery. Just saying. 😉
So sometimes, you can consider the worst time to go to Japan is the time when flights to Japan are the most expensive!
How to find cheap(er) flights to Japan?!
I used this website (partner website) to find the cheapest flight to Japan for my upcoming trip and to book it too.
Sometimes it makes sense to book direct – my preferred way!
But this booking site will search a combination of airlines, including those who aren’t partner airlines, which means that they can help you find cheaper flights by booking individual flights for you as part of one flight itinerary.
This can be especially helpful if you’re not flying out of a major hub with direct flights to Japan.
It pays off to book through this website when they put together a flight itinerary of individual tickets of non-partner airlines or tickets they’ve found separately.
I’ve missed a flight booked through them. A canceled AirAsia flight meant that I missed my Alaska Airlines flight, and the booking website took care of my hotel for my extra overnight stay in the layover city, as well as a new flight.
Check the current price here of flights to Japan for your travel dates.
My flight was canceled because of that September typhoon. But my travel insurance for natural disasters covered my accommodation for the extra days in Japan. So, insurance CAN pay off! 😉
On the FLIP side of the worst months to travel in Japan…
You can also find reasons that you might think these months are the BEST time to go to Japan!
January, February, March
Winter means SNOW! (In some places.)
If you are into winter sports, winter could be a prime time for your trip to Japan!
Nagano was home to the 1998 winter Olympics – have a look at Hakuba for a ski destination in Nagano.
It’s possible that these places can be worth visiting even through March. (Meaning they could still have snow then.)
Even if you’re not into skiing or snowboarding, Nagano and Hokkaido could still be worth visiting for the winter wonderland and snow landscape.
See a sample 10 day winter itinerary with the Japan Alps, and also see a sample 7 day winter itinerary in Hokkaido.
Cherry blossom season!
Spring means PINK!
Well, if you’re a fan of cherry blossoms, this might be the ONLY time you’ll want to go on your first trip to Japan!
Each year, the earliest cherry blossom predictions come in January, and you really have only a narrow amount of time to see them in each city, maybe a couple of weeks.
See the 2019 predictions for the blooming of cherry blossoms with first bloom and full bloom.
June, July, August
Greenery for mountain destinations!
Summer means GREEN!
With all the mountains around, Japan can be a prime hiking destination in the summer, and there are many places you can go that will have hiking trails suitable as day hikes.
You can also find day hikes with nice views when you’re staying in Tokyo and Kyoto too. Japan is made up of mountains so you won’t be too far from a hiking trail!
There are many hikes in Japan that you could call somewhat of a “culture hike” too, as there are trails that you can visit temples or shrines along the way, and/or there are traditional Japanese-style structures along the way. One such trail in Kyoto is the Kurama to Kibune hike where you can hike from temple to shrine.
And if you don’t consider yourself to be much of a hiker, Japan is also full of ropeways or cable cars.
This means that you’ll often find a lift to that stunning scenery.
You may be able to find trails and ropeways year-round in some places, but summer can mean a prettier landscape, at least compared to leafless trees… if you’re superficial like that. 😉
And if you go to more of a mountain destination, you won’t even really need to make an effort for that nice landscape – you’ll be surrounded by it!
Summer also means that you can climb Mount Fuji and stand on the top of Japan!
There’s a climbing season for Mt Fuji, and that also changes each year, but typically it will be from early July to early September.
Even climbing Mt Fuji in summer means that you need to pack for cold weather though – it gets colder the higher you go!
Fall foliage with changing of leaves!
Fall means RED!
Just like there is a cherry blossom season in spring that’s a big deal, there’s also an autumn changing of leaves season that’s a big deal in Japan!
And just like with cherry blossom season, the dates of the fall colors will vary each year based on weather, and they will be different across the country. And yes, this can include December!
To get an idea of possible dates for the changing of leaves, here’s a fall foliage map from a past year.
See what fall colors in Japan can look like too.
So then really…
What time of year should you go to Japan?!?!
This REALLY depends on what you’re looking for and what kinds of risks you’re willing to take!
My vote is for summer!
It can be hot, and there’s a chance of rain and typhoons impacting travel (I was stuck in Japan for a few extra days because of a natural disaster), but I really like the scenery that comes with summer hiking and summer travel!
But again, you will probably have a GREAT time no matter when you choose to go!
You can find all 4 seasons in Japan – winter, spring, summer, fall – and there are places to visit where you can enjoy each season!
Can you really go wrong with a trip to Japan?!
No, no you probably can’t. 😉
HAPPY PLANNING YOUR VISIT TO JAPAN!