Japan is truly a year-round destination and has a colour for every season of the year. The question is, what are you feeling today?
From skiing and snowboarding in winter, getting festive in the summer, celebrating with locals under cherry blossoms in spring, to admiring the change of colours in autumn, Japan has something to offer in every season.
Here’s a guide on the different things you can expect in each of the four seasons of Japan
Without a doubt, the best time to enjoy the colours of Japan are in spring. In fact, spring may be the best time to experience Japan, period. Why? Well, winter has ended, the sun is creeping out, and, most importantly, Japan’s cherry blossom trees are ready to unleash every imaginable hue of pink and white all over the country.
Through most of the country, cherry blossom season starts in late March and lasts until early April. However, down in tropical Okinawa, sakura flowers bloom as early as January, and in Hokkaido, you’ll need to wait until May to see beautiful cherry blooms blanket this northerly region.
Wherever you happen to be, though, you can count on it being magical. Keep in mind that the window is relatively short, lasting only a week or so, and the final stage is considered the most beautiful as this is when the white and pink petals float to the ground.
But don’t be fooled: Spring isn’t just about cherry blossoms…
Wisteria flowers, which are found all over the country, also bloom in Spring, colouring Japan in pastel purples and creamy whites. Generally, wisteria bloom from April to May – depending on where you are in Japan.
In southern Kyushu, for example, the best time to see these flowers is in late April. Head to Kawachi Fujien in Kyushu to marvel at 150 trees flaunting 22 different types of wisteria spread out over 10,000 square metres, including two wisteria tunnels if you’re in the area.
In Tokyo, the best place to see wisteria blooming is inside the Imperial Palace East Gardens and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. But it’s in Ashikaga, just north of Tokyo in the Tochigi prefecture, that you’ll find the best wisteria viewing experience, at the appropriately named Ashikaga Flower Park.
Each year, the park plays host to the Great Wisteria Festival which features over 350 colourful wisteria flowers that light-up at night. It’s one of the most popular flower festivals in Japan, and shouldn’t be missed.
Meanwhile, inside the Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki prefecture, come in Spring and you’ll bear witness to an explosion of colour as its meadows bloom with hundreds of tulips, cosmos, baby blue eyes and sunflowers. This usually happens during Golden Week.
Finally, up in Hokkaido, Spring comes slightly later, and it’s in June that you’ll see this northern island burst to life with vibrant colours as flowers bloom all over the stunning landscape – it’s a sight to behold!
Yes, it’s hot and humid, but don’t let the Japanese summer put you off from enjoying what is probably the most festive time of the year to visit the Japanese archipelago. Large scale festivals pop up all throughout the country during the summer months of June through August. These festivals (or matsuri) are quintessentially Japan, meaning: they’re big, bold and colourful.
For the best festivities in the country, head to none other than Tohoku, the northeast region of Japan consisting of the prefectures Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, and Yamagata. Travel here during August, and chances are high you’ll stumble on a colourful festival or three!
For example, there’s the Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri, which sees vibrant paper lantern floats depicting various Japanese gods, mythological creatures, warriors and kabuki actors take over the city’s historic streets and lanes between the 2nd and 7th of August.
Head to Kyoto in July to experience the Gion Matsuri, with the whole month celebrating. The culmination of the festival is the Yamaboko Junko parades, taking palce on 17 and 24 July.
Besides festivals, summer is also about fireworks. Almost every weekend, the night skies over Japan are lit up with impressive firework displays that would impress even the most die-head pyrotechnic fanatic! The Nagaoka Matsuri Fireworks Festival in Niigata and Lake Toya Long-Run Fireworks in Hokkaido are particularly amazing.
Missed cherry blossom season? No worries, because besides spring, an equally colourful time to visit Japan is during September to November, in the Japanese autumn.
Deciduous maple and gingko trees turn all shades of red, brown, orange and gold before shedding their leaves and littering the valley floors and mountain paths with colourful leaves.
As such, the Japanese adore going for hikes during this time, and you’d be advised to do the same too. It’s a tradition known as momijigari and dates back to the 8th century.
In terms of where to go, you won’t regret making the trip to Kamakura in Kanagawa (close to Tokyo) and walking through this historic town. Alternatively, visit Lake Kawaguchi in the Mount Fuji Five Lakes area and hike through this colourful wonderland.
If you’re after colourful characters, head to Shibuya in Tokyo during Halloween and see – literally – thousands of young Japanese sport their craziest costumes, dressing up as everything from their favourite anime and manga characters to celebrities.
Basically, it’s one of the biggest costume parties in the world, and a celebration of all things Japanese!
It comes as no surprise to us Aussies that Japan turns into a winter wonderland each December through February. Japanese powder snow is the stuff of legends, after all, and many skiers and snowboards find themselves drawn to the mountain resorts of Japan each year for some serious tearing it up! Shiga Kogen is one of the popular resort towns, but there are literally over 600 to choose from all over the country.
But what may come as a surprise is that besides skiing and snowboarding, winter in Japan is actually one of the best times to experience Japanese traditional culture.
For example, soaking in a traditional Japanese hot spring, or onsen at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) during winter is the absolute best. Why?
Well, if the appeal of soaking in hot, mineral-rich thermal springs isn’t enough of a reason for you, then perhaps the allure of doing this whilst surrounded by wonderous white vistas (and even the occasional snow monkey) will have you packing your bags in no time. Zao Onsen in Yamagata and Dogo Onsen in Ehime are two of the best onsen resorts in Japan.
Winter in Japan is also the time when cities and towns all across the country adorn themselves with brilliantly colourful displays and lights to celebrate the coming Christmas season.
Check out the UNESCO World Heritage listed thatched-roofed village of Shirakawa-go in Gifu for a beautiful lesson on what the Japanese can do with fairy lights and lamps. You’ll see over a hundred snow-covered farmhouses completely decorated up to the gill which will make you feel like you’re in a wintery dream!
To discover more of Japan through the season, visit the website here.
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