For many people, Tokyo is a “once in a lifetime”, bucket list type of destination. Because of this, it’s natural to want to plan your Tokyo vacation to the fullest extent possible. After all, who knows when or if you’ll ever find time to come back? One question that often comes up when researching Japan travel tips is, “When is the best time to visit Tokyo”. While it’s impossible to give a definitive answer, the following article should help you to narrow down your choice.
For many, spring is the time to be in Japan. With the iconic cherry blossoms in full bloom and comfortably mild temperatures the daily norm, it’s hard to disagree. However, you would be far from the only person to think this way.
With good reason, spring is by far the busiest tourist season in Japan. While still beautiful, those cherry blossoms are rendered slightly less enjoyable when you’re shoulder to shoulder in a sea of travel photographers with cameras in hand. It’s not just tourists either. Many Japanese people participate in hanami (flower viewing picnics) during the cherry blossom season, transforming once spacious parks into minefields of blankets and baskets.
- It’s hard to imagine a more iconic Japanese sight than temples and gardens filled with colorful cherry and plum blossoms. As you approach the end of the blossom season, you can also experience the “sakura storm”; the petals looking like falling pink and white snowflakes as they drop off the trees.
- Japan’s countryside is at its most lush at this time. Something as simple as a train ride on a more rural route can feel like an experience out of a Studio Ghibli movie as you pass through overgrown tunnels of green.
- The daily temperatures are incredibly mild. Other than a lightweight jacket for the evenings, you can skip packing those bulky warmer clothes and save your precious suitcase space for Japanese souvenirs.
- Once cherry blossom season has passed in late spring, there is a significant tourism drop-off. Crowds are much smaller at popular destinations, and flight and hotel prices return to reasonable rates.
- Space is severely limited. Not only are the cherry viewing spots overcrowded, but hotels in Tokyo tend to get booked up a year or more in advance of the prime season. Unless you book incredibly far in advance and don’t mind the extravagant markups, expect to stay well outside of downtown Tokyo.
- Airlines also love to take advantage of the tourism influx. Ticket prices for March and April tend to skyrocket. If you are heart set on coming to Japan for cherry blossom season, be sure to book well in advance.
- As is often the case, the good and bad must go hand in hand. The sudden explosion of cherry and plum blossoms also means an explosion of pollen. It’s a tough time to be an allergy sufferer in Tokyo.
- Late spring also marks the start of rainy season in Japan. During this time, high humidity and unexpected downpours are a near daily occurrence. Of course, life doesn’t stop when it rains here, but it could put a damper on any outdoor activities you have planned.
Summer is festival season in Japan. From energetic street parades with pounding drums and portable shrines, to some of the world’s largest fireworks displays, it’s impossible to beat the energy and excitement of summer in Japan. Of course, that’s assuming you can stand the heat. With humidity levels often reaching over 80%, it can feel a bit like swimming on dry land. But if you can persevere through the perspiration, there are plenty of reasons to choose summer for your Tokyo vacation.
- Summer is the perfect time to enjoy Japan’s ample coastlines. Head to well-known resort areas like tropical Okinawa, or lay out on the manmade shores of nearby Odaiba in Tokyo Bay.
- Tokyo is a paradise for lovers of the arts. At any given time, there are hundreds of awe-inspiring exhibits being held throughout the city. No time is more active, however, than summer. Have your pick of trendy gallery showings and small venue concerts from local artists, or take in some of Tokyo’s bigger exhibits like teamLab Borderless.
- Take part in the summer festival tradition known as “mastsuri”. Soak up the local culture while enjoying classic Japanese street foods like karaage, yakisoba, and takoyaki.
- Japanese locals tend to head into the countryside for vacation, meaning the consistently crowded Tokyo will have a bit more breathing room than normal.
- Many of the most popular Tokyo attractions offer discount packages during the summer holidays. Help stretch your vacation budget a little further by saving money on admission prices.
- It’s incredibly hot and it’s getting worse each year. 2018 and 2019 have both seen record high temperatures in Tokyo. It’s so bad in fact that the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games have decided to move their marathon to the far northern prefecture of Hokkaido for safety reasons. On top of that, the impossibly high humidity makes it difficult to breathe and will coat you in a permanent layer of sweat.
- While Japanese people tend to get out of the cities during summer, that doesn’t mean everyone does. In place of highly organized, polite locals, you’ll find an influx of lost and confused tourists doing their best to navigate a city notorious for culture shock.
Autumn - arguably the best season in the world (but being from New England, I’m biased). This is no different in Japan as the summer heat gives way to crisp, cool autumn air. If a comfy sweater, seasonal dishes, and beautiful foliage sound like your idea of a good time, autumn in Japan is for you.
- Like spring, temperatures in Autumn are very comfortable during the day, dropping down to not-quite-chilly in the evening. A lightweight jacket will serve you perfectly fine during your trip.
- Fall foliage is beautiful throughout Japan. In particular, Aoyama-Itchome in Tokyo is known for its massive street lined with ginkgo trees. In autumn, their leaves turn bright yellow before all dropping off all at once.
- In autumn, seasonal favorites like kabocha squash, sweet potatoes and chestnuts take center stage in Japan’s culinary scene. If you’ve never experienced Japanese sweet potatoes before, you are in for a treat. Throughout the city, you can even find food trucks selling whole roasted sweet potatoes for a warm, on-the-go snack.
- As summer transitions into autumn, the cooling temperatures can bring with them some intense weather. September in Japan is peak typhoon season, with massive gusts of wind and downpours wreaking havoc across the country. While Tokyo is usually spared for the worst of the storms, recent typhoons have show this is not always the case.
- The unpredictable weather can make it difficult not only to pack for your, but to decide what to wear each day as well. Often times, the weather will shift wildly and without warning throughout the day, leaving you overdressed or underprepared.
Though often overlooked by tourists, winter in Japan has plenty to offer its visitors. For winter sports enthusiasts, Japan’s powder-like snow make it a must-ski location. Even those staying in the city will benefit from the smaller crowd sizes; from cheaper accommodations to less wait times for popular attractions. However, you will need to bear the many discomforts of Japanese winter in order to reap the rewards.
- Japan’s winter climate supports the perfect conditions for snow-making. The sub-freezing temperatures and dry air result in unbelievably soft, powdery snow. Taking a tumble on the slopes is a lot less scary when it feels like falling into a feather bed.
- Japan’s natural hot springs, called onsen, are the perfect way to relax in winter. Soaking outdoors in geothermal waters while snowflakes gently fall around you is as serene as it gets.
- Every holiday season, cities around Japan take part in a lighting festival known as Winter Illuminations. While Christmas lights are not exactly a new phenomenon, Illuminations are multi-block, highly-coordinated lighting displays with varying themes. In Tokyo, the Tokyo Midtown Illumination is particularly impressive. Each year, it improves upon its theme of Starlight Garden; a dazzling space-themed display. Be sure to bring your camera for some incredible Tokyo vacation photos.
- Japan owes its powdery snow to its dry winter air, but your skin may be less than thankful. Dry hands and cracked lips are the norm for anyone who has to venture outside this time of year. Thankfully, Japanese skincare products are some of the best in the world, so a visit to a local drugstore will add a little moisture back into your life.
- Daylight hours are much shorter in winter; especially so in Japan. Planning outdoor activities can be difficult when the sun sets by 4:00 PM.
- As New Year’s approaches, traveling outside of Tokyo becomes incredibly congested as many people head back to their hometown for the holiday. If you are staying in Tokyo, it’s best to avoid temples and shrines on New Year’s Day, as crowds will be at their largest this time of year.
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Tokyo
Ultimately, what time of year is best to visit Japan is a subjective question; one which can only be answered by yourself. With any luck, the pros and cons listed above will help to make your decision a little easier. While there is no truly “perfect” time to visit, rest assured that Tokyo is an incredible place to visit in any season. To help preserve your Japan vacation memories for a lifetime, contact me about booking a portrait session in Tokyo during your trip.