Japan. Exotic, futuristic, traditional. It’s on everyone’s bucket list, because it has so much to offer. The main question is, when is the best time to go to Japan? We outline each season for you, and what you can do to make the most of your trip during that time!
When is the Best Time to Visit Japan?
Which season has the best weather? What festivals are the most interesting? What kinds of food are eaten each season? These are all great queries. And the answers? Anytime is the best time. All four seasons in Japan have their pros and cons. Spring is green and warming up, so it’s not uncomfortable and there’s lots to do. Summer is hot and muggy, but the festivals and fireworks are amazing. Fall, with the beautiful tree leaves in various shades of yellow and orange is a magical time to be in the country, and winter is cold and snowy, but the skiing and bathing in hot tubs makes it all worthwhile!
To help you plan your trip to Japan, we’ve asked travel bloggers to add to our two cents, and now there is this list of all the fantastic things to do in this amazing country all year long. Let’s get to it!
Spring in Japan
Hanami season, spring season in Japan, first welcomes the flowering plum trees, then the much anticipated cherry blossoms, wisteria, roses, and on and on. This country loves flowers, and the parks, castle grounds, and city green spaces are always meticulously cared for, highlighting the most beautiful blooms.
Spring in Japan brings out the sun and the mild, but warmer, temperatures, perfect for biking and hiking. You rarely need to break a sweat, yet you can enjoy all the greenery from the mountains to the sea. Luckily, it’s not quite rainy season, but of course the showers come through a little here and there, just enough to wash off the pollen.
During this perfect time to travel in Japan, there are plenty of places to go and activities to enjoy. Our favorites are the special spring festivals, like the Daruma Fair and Market as well as the Baby Cry festival, and social gatherings under the flowering trees, as well as biking along the coastal trails. We have a gorgeous coast in Kamakura, and we can’t wait to get out there each day and enjoy the warmer temperatures and light breezes.
Nara’s Cherry Blossoms
Imagine a soft breeze on the first warm day of spring. Everything is quiet as you gaze upon an ancient temple and pink cherry blossoms flutter through the air like tiny butterflies. This is Nara at its best.
Nara is a popular destination and you won’t have it to yourself, but there are moments when the crowds clear at Todai-Ji that allow you to experience the serenity that must have been felt when this temple was first constructed. The giant Buddha will fill you with awe and contribute to overall peaceful setting at Todai-Ji.
If you’re looking for a bit of excitement to spice up the tranquillity of the place, try your luck squeezing through the Buddha’s Nostril. You can’t miss this pillar that will have people lining up to see if they can squeeze their bodies through small hole.
Supposedly, anyone who can get through is guaranteed enlightenment…I don’t know about that (I made it through and don’t feel any wiser for it), but it’s still fun. When you’re ready for more beautiful cherry blossoms, take your lunch over to Nara Park.
Here, you can find a quiet space under a cherry tree while you watch the famous deer frolic about. These deer were once considered sacred beings (now they have been demoted to national treasures, but that’s still pretty sacred if you ask me). Seeing them sleep, eat, run, and play amidst cherry blossoms only adds to the magic.
Japan is full of excitement, weirdness, and awesome things to do. Nara in the springtime is a chance to experience the softer side of Japan.
by Jennifer at The Rainbow Route
Shimanami Kaido Bike Ride (near Osaka)
A great activity to do in the Spring time is the Shimanami Kaido Bike Ride between Imabari and Onomichi in the Seto Inland Sea – this area is easily accessible between Hiroshima and Osaka.
After collecting our bicycles from the Sunrise Itoyama Guesthouse in Imabari and having them adjusted to suit our various sizes, we set out to complete the first 20 km of the Shiminai Kaido Cycling Route. One of the great things about the route is that you do not need a map, it is very well sign-posted and the road grades have been built with cycling in mind so most of the hills and expressway on ramps are relatively easy to ascend.
We really enjoyed travelling over the 4 km Kurushima Bridge, and seeing the fog progressively lift as the day went on. Cycling across Oshima Island was lovely – at our slow bicycle speed it had a great combination of beautiful views and the small village feel throughout, although we could also see signs of houses having been abandoned, an issue which is prevalent across rural Japan townships.
The hill in the middle of the island was a steady slog where we definitely had to rest to recover our heart-rates to normal levels, and from there we moved back onto the flatter lands before crossing the bridge to Hakata Island, our final destination.
After a great morning cycling we were happy to return our bikes and grab some well earned lunch while waiting for the bus to take us to our next destination. We definitely felt energised by the experience of travelling more slowly through such a beautiful location within Japan.
The full Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route is a 80 km journey, where you should plan to take 2-3 days if you want to do the whole route from start to finish including local sightseeing.
In our case we only had time to do a section of the route, so we did the first (and most scenic!) 20 km section from Imabari to Hakata as a family. The great thing is that you can get a one way bicycle hire (make sure you get a bicycle which has 21 gears – you need them for the hills!), and there are also buses which travel regularly along the route so it is very easy to travel one way to one of the bicycle drop off points and then catch the bus the rest of the way.
There is also a same day luggage forwarding service in either direction, however your luggage can only be delivered to another hotel at either end so ensure you pre-book accommodation at each end to be able to use this service. Otherwise you can use the normal next day luggage delivery services if required.
by Anne at Japan Travel Planning
Cherry Blossom Viewing in Kyoto
A fantastic way to enjoy spring in Japan is to go cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto. This historic city not only has plenty of blossom viewing locations, but it welcomes in the season with great fanfare. Throughout Kyoto, visitors can see hanami parties (blossom viewing parties) in action. People lay down tarps or blankets and gather under cherry trees for picnics.
A popular place for hanami parties in Kyoto is Maruyama Park. It’s a festival like atmosphere with locals coming dressed in their finest traditional clothing to have photos taken under the large weeping cherry tree and enjoy snacks from the food stalls.
A tasty way to enjoy spring in Japan is by indulging in the cherry blossom flavoured treats, like sakura soft ice cream, that are popular this time of year. These pink delicacies are a delicious way to reenergize after visiting Kyoto’s many cherry blossom locations.
Some great sakura walks in Kyoto are along the Philosopher’s Path, Shimbashi Street, and the Hozu River in Arashiyama. Even at night, some cherry trees around the city are festively illuminated by floodlights so they can be admired after dark. Night or day, Kyoto is a wonderful place to enjoy the Japanese tradition of cherry blossom viewing.
by Rhonda at Travel? Yes Please!
Sake Tasting in Suwa (near Matsumoto)
Sake tasting in Suwa. Suwa is a city on Japan’s Honshu Island. It sits on the shore of Lake Suwa and is in the Nagano prefecture of Japan. This ancient city nestles beautifully on the edge of Lake Suwa and is both a fascinating and tranquil place to visit. If you plan to visit Japan in spring, then you may be in for the occasional rain showers.
Looking for the best thing to do in Suwa on a rainy day? What better than to indulge in a Sake tasting tour. When in Suwa, we recommend taking a visit to the venerable Masumi Brewery. Here you will spend a couple of hours enjoying a very personal and highly informative introduction to Japanese sake.
I can guarantee it will leave you fascinated about the history of this wine and the different varieties available. After entering into the little wooden building and being given your very own sake glass (seems a bit small I agree, but take my word for it, sake is powerful stuff!), you will slowly make your way around the heavily scented tasting rooms led by a well-informed guide.
You will be offered a variety of Sake wines to taste, starting from the cheapest to the very expensive. Yes, of course, you will prefer the latter! You are under no obligation to buy the wine, you are simply there to enjoy the wine and the calmness that only a Japanese host can provide.
You will leave the building feeling warm and slightly fuzzy inside you will be glad that you now know all there is you know about Japans favourite tipple. The rain has now stopped – time to wander leisurely around the beautiful lake!
by Liz at It’s a Drama
Kinosaki Onsen (near Kyoto)
Kinosaki Onsen is a hot spring resort town just 2.5 hours by train from Kyoto or Osaka. Onsen towns are a unique Japanese experience and are where locals come to relax. You stay in a ryokan (traditional inn), sleep on a futon in a tatami mat room, and enjoy delicious multi-course meals served in your room.
After putting on the provided yukata (cotton kimono) and geta (wooden sandals), you head out into the streets to hop from one onsen (hot spring bath) to another and soak in the steaming waters. Kinosaki Onsen has seven public onsen which are all included in the free pass you get with your accommodation.
Your hotel might also have a private onsen available for mixed gender use (ideal if travelling with family or a partner of the opposite sex). You’ll need to be aware of onsen etiquette (you must be completely naked and shower thoroughly before getting in the bath), but once you get over any initial apprehension, it’s a very relaxing experience. Some of the onsen have multiple baths (and even saunas) to enjoy and many have garden views.
Spring (usually early April) is a lovely time to visit Kinosaki as the cherry blossoms are in bloom along the pretty canals and it’s still cool enough to appreciate the hot spring baths. It’s also much less busy than Kyoto, so you can enjoy the blossoms without fighting crowds.
by Erin at Never Ending Voyage
Cherry Blossoms in Hokkaido
by Sarah at Fernweh Sarah When people think about seeing the cherry blossoms in Japan they mostly focus on cities like Kyoto. However, if you are a bit late for the cherry blossom season, don’t worry, just go up to Hokkaido, in the north, and you can still see it up to a month later than in Kyoto (May)!
A perfect place to see the cherry blossoms is Maruyama Park in Sapporo. In fact, this park was modeled after an equally named park in Kyoto. Maruyama Park is huge, almost 70 hectares and lies at the foot of Mt. Maruyama. It’s popular for its rich virgin forest where there are lots of wild animals, including some incredibly cute squirrels.
Don’t worry, they won’t steal your lunch – in fact, one of the best ways to explore Maruyama Park during cherry blossom season is to bring along a picnic! You will see many locals do the same. In order to get to the park, just take the Tozai metro line to Maruyama-Koen – it is less than five minutes walking from there to the entrance of the park! Admission to the park is free – in fact, there are no gates or anything like that!
I hope, you will enjoy this secret stop as much as I did! Not only is Maruyama loved by locals for its stunning cherry blossom trees, it is also home to one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan, the Hokkaido-Jingu Shrine. When you visit, you won’t want to miss it!
Cherry Bossoms in Osaka
My favorite place in Japan to see cherry blossoms in spring is Shukugawa near Osaka. Shukugawa River runs through Shukugawa Park where over 1,700 cherry trees line both sides of the river, draping prettily over the edges into the water. They also run parallel to the riverside trees, forming a spectacular tunnel of flowers.
When some petals have fallen, creating a rosy carpet, you are surrounded below, beside and above by pink cherry blossoms. It’s stunning. This park is not on the regular tourist trail, but it is most definitely a popular spot with locals, and in fact made it on the list of the top 100 spots in Japan to see cherry blossoms. People spread blue tarpaulins under the trees early in the morning to stake a claim for their friends, family or coworkers.
The thing to do when cherry trees bloom is to have a hanami – a picnic under the trees – so rows of stalls set up nearby selling obento lunch boxes, sake, beer, noodles, toys and more. It’s incredibly festive way to enjoy the spring blooms. Shukugawa Park is on the Kobe JR line about 10 minutes from Umeda station in Osaka. So, hop on the train, gran a sake or beer, spread out your tarpaulin or blanket and enjoy the spring cherry blossoms alongside dozens of local Japanese people.
by James at Travel Collecting
Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route (near Toyama)
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, best known for its “Great Snow Wall”, is a major spring-time attraction in the Japanese Alps, often dubbed as the “Roof of Japan”. The event takes every year when the snows are cleared from the mountains, and it will continue between April and June, as any earlier and the route will be hidden beneath thick snow, and any later and it will be melted. It also coincides with Golden Week in Japan, so it can be rather busy at peak times.
The Alpine Route is more or less a string of transport that navigates the Japanese Alps starting at Toyama, where a funicular train brings you up the mountains to reach a roadway in the higher peaks of Mount Tateyama. From arrival there is then a bus route through the Alpine Forests and snowy mountain backdrops before reaching the famous Snow Wall which is a 20 meter Gorge of Snow cut into the mountain roads.
It is possible to then turn back from here, or stay for some skiing and snow sports, however I recommend continuing to follow the network of cable cars ropeways and trolley busses that climb up, over and cut through the mountains to the final attraction of the route at the Kurobe Dam.
by Allen at Live Less Ordinary
The Setsubun Festival (Tokyo)
Setsubun is a bean throwing festival which takes place in Japan each year to highlight the beginning of spring. The festival usually takes place on February 3rd or 4th depending on the Lunar calendar and it is widely celebrated throughout Japan.
In Japan, setsubun is an important event as not only does it signify the start of spring, but it is also considered a chance to ward off evil spirits and to bring good fortune. And how exactly do you get rid of these evil spirits? Well, with roasted soybeans of course! Setsuban festivals are held at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines all over Japan.
In Tokyo, Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, is one of the most popular places to celebrate. Leading up to the event, you will notice endless displays of roasted soybeans (fuku mame) and demon (oni) masks on display in convenience stores so make sure to pick some up.
These play an important role in the festival as the soy beans are literally thrown at anyone wearing a demon (oni) mask. Don’t forget to shout Oni wa soto (demons out) and Fuku wa uchi (good fortune in) as you throw the beans. Check out hotels in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo
by Ciara at A View Outside
Wisteria Festival at the Kameido Tenjin Shrine (Tokyo)
If you are visiting Tokyo during the spring, make sure you include Kameido Tenjin Shrine in your Japan itinerary. From mid-April to early May it hosts a famous wisteria festival, as its hundreds of wisteria trees bloom and the delicate lilac flowers descend from trellised tunnels.
Japan has more than 20 native species of wisteria and this is one of the city’s best spots for seeing them bloom in spectacular style. The dates of the festival coincide with the Golden Week national holidays, so I would recommend going early to avoid the crowds who are drawn here. Entrance is free and the gardens are open 24 hours a day, and sometimes beautifully lit up at night.
The shrine is located 15 minutes’ walk from Kameido Station, off Kameido Tenjin-dori Avenue, and its side streets are lined with stalls offering freshly prepared food. The recently restored shrine was founded in 1646 and its attractive gardens, which have inspired artists, are also filled with plum trees, turtle ponds and an iconic red arched bridge.
Sitting in front of the ornate temple is a bronze statue of a cow, symbolic in the Tenjin faith, which you can touch and stroke for good luck. From the shrine you have a fantastic view of the Tokyo Skytree tower, which you can visit afterwards as it is only a short walk away.
by Claire at Backpacking Bella
Spring Hotel Recommendations
Summer in Japan
To be completely honest, summer in Japan is my least favorite season. The weather has become hot and muggy, often unbearably so. You will find yourself taking multiple showers to get some relief, but then as soon as you leave your air conditioned house or hotel room, the humidity hits you like a wet sponge and you want to turn around and live in your shower, not to come out again until October.
Mugginess aside, though, there are so many fun things to do in Japan during the summer. Baseball season hits the country at a fevered pitch, and really needs to be experienced first hand to truly understand it. Fireworks dominate the summer nights, and of course there are plenty of festivals to enjoy, especially after a day at the beach.
June is the dampest month of the year, and you need to be prepared for rain. However, there are so many fun museums all over the country, like the TeamLab Borderless Digital Museum or the Matsumoto City Art Museum highlighting Yayoi Kasuma’s amazing creations, that you can escape the heat and the rain, and still have a fantastic time.
If you love the heat, fireworks, beaches, or baseball, you will definitely want to plan your time in Japan for those summer months!
Enjoying the Sun at Momochi Beach in Fukuoka City
Okay so it’s not totally natural, but the one kilometer stretch of golden sand smack, bang in the middle of Japan’s seventh biggest city isn’t something to be sniffed at on a hot summer’s day.
We particularly love Marizon, the tiny cluster of shops at the end of the boardwalk which looks like it’s been dropped straight out of a 1960s surf movie– it’s all stripy awnings and beach chairs serving ice creams, hot dogs or seafood just screaming to be slurped down with an ice cold Asahi. Momochi Beach is also directly underneath one of Fukuoka’s main attractions, the 234m high Fukuoka Tower.
Head up there when it opens at 9.30am, then spend the rest of your morning lazing on the sand watching the world go by – with average temperatures of 27-30C in summer, Fukuoka doesn’t suffer the sweltering summer heat of cities like Tokyo.
If you have more time, a short ferry ride will take you to the pretty beaches of nearby Nokonoshima Island, or, jump on the train west for an hour to investigate the pure white sands of Anego No Hama beach – this is known as the singing beach as the sand squeaks as you walk on it. There are only 20 such beaches left in Japan.
by Helen at Differentville
Try Unagi, a Summer Dish in Japan
Unagi, freshwater eel is a Japanese dish that is served year round, but it is especially popular during the summer months because it is thought to increase stamina and heat resistance, something very useful in the hot and humid Japanese summer.
As the story goes, in the Edo Period more than 200 years ago a struggling restaurant owner advertised Unagi as stamina enhancing meal to eat during the day of the Ox (Ushi no Hi), Midsummer’s Day. His promotion was successful and so a tradition was born to eat eel on Midsummer’s Day, by doing it is said that you will have more stamina and endurance during the rest of the year.
In more recent years scientist was even able to prove that the richness of the eel in vitamins, calcium, and protein was stamina enhancing, and so there really is a very good reason to have some delicious Unagi in summer in Japan.
There are different ways to prepare Unagi and you will most likely find it as Unaju or Unagidon, grilled eel in a thick and sweet sauce served on rice. In my opinion, the most delicious variation of Unagi is Nagoya style Hitsumabushi.
by Lena at Nagoya Foodie
Additional Reading: What to eat in Japan Food Guide
Taking a Pirate Boat Ride on Lake Ashino (Hakone)
Have you always wanted to rub shoulders with pirates whilst you sail merrily on their ship? Although this isn’t exactly Pirates of the Caribbean, sailing on a replica pirate ship is possible during the summer months in Japan and it’s really easy to include on your Tokyo itinerary.
A popular day trip from Tokyo, Lake Ashino (known more commonly as Lake Ashi) is located in Hakone and is about 1.5 hours from the country’s capital. If you’re incredibly lucky, Mt Fuji will be the picture-perfect backdrop as you sail from one side of the lake to the other with a pleasant summer breeze gently beating against your face.
Even if the warmer weather causes clouds to form around Japan’s most famous volcano rendering her invisible, it’s still a wonderful way to discover this volcanic region. Rolling emerald hills surround the lake and you’ll sail past the famous Hakone-jinja torii.
What’s more, you can have your photo taken with the ship’s captain or a cheeky pirate (although they are a plastic models!) There are currently three 18th century replica ships that sail across Lake Ashino daily for tourists. Complete with stunning wooden interiors from bygone eras, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time during your journey. A cruise takes around 30 minutes, leaving port around every half-hour.
Tickets can be purchased as one-way or return, with most visitors to Hakone opting to use the popular Hakone Free Pass that covers this journey. Be sure to add a cruise on Lake Ashi during your summer visit to Tokyo!
by Alyse at The Invisible Tourist
Try Lavender Ice Cream (in Hokkaido)
The lure of Lavender ice-cream and flower carpeted hills had us heading to explore the island of Hokkaido in Japan over Summer. The capital of Sapporo is where you leave the city on the Lavender Express for day filled with flowers, more flowers and the most delicious ice-cream you’ll ever taste!
Just like everything in Japan the flower fields are perfect and meticulously ordered. The usually green rolling hills are covered in rainbows and such a beautiful sight to see. The main flower fields are in Furano and Biei and the best way to see them is to buy a day pass for the train that gives you unlimited travel to and from the area on both train and bus.
The flower fields and farms are open from June to September with the bets viewing being in July. The bonus of this ticket is you get to visit the amazing Blue Lake as the last stop before heading back to Sapporo.
by Brownwyn at Smithsholidayroad
Autumn in Japan
As the hot weather begins to fade, once again Japan is blessed with mild weather that lasts well into November each year. The only minor inconvenience (sarcasm intended) is that it can also be typhoon season. Japan is surrounded by water, and typhoons occur rather frequently, but only about twice a year are there large typhoons that may disrupt your travel.
I have been through many typhoons, and it is important to be away from the coast, on higher ground, while you ride out the storm. Even with the threat of a typhoon or two, during the four months of fall, Japan during autumn is my absolute favorite. Japan is full of gorgeous, well-maintained trees, and the fall colors are spectacular. There are plenty of places to go to really enjoy the foliage and the love of being outdoors.
This is a popular activity and the Japanese have a special word for it, “koyo.” Some of the best places to see gorgeous fall foliage is the parks in Tokyo, Kyoto, the Mt. Fuji area, and of course the Japanese Alps to name a few. You really can’t go wrong traveling during autumn, the weather is just about perfect everywhere so you can be outside or inside, you can hike, climb, explore up and down mountains and gorges, enjoying being outdoors again.
Some of our favorite places to go in fall, other than the ones listed below, are Hakone, Hokkaido, any city in northern Honshu, Nara, Nikko, and so much more.
The Red Buckwheat Bloom and Soba Festival (near Matsumoto)
One of the prettiest, but smallest festivals we’ve been to was in the small city of Minowa, in Nagano Prefecture. It celebrates soba like no other place in Japan. They have the unusual red buckwheat plants, as well as the more common white color.
In the fall, around mid to late September, the red buckwheat blooms and the fields are a stunning fuchsia color. People from all around come to photograph the flower fields during the bloom. On one of the weekends, the town puts on a soba festival, where the end product of the buckwheat is highlighted.
There are local town folk making traditional soba noodles by hand, the cooks have set up huge pots outside the town hall along the building, and of course you can eat as much soba as you can handle. We couldn’t discern a difference between the noodles made with the red buckwheat versus the white, but it didn’t matter. It was all fantastic.
Hiking Kamikochi (near Matsumoto)
Hiking Kamikochi in the autumn is a super way to see the myriad of fall colors in Japan. Located not far from the city of Matsumoto, Kamikochi National Park is in the Japanese Alps. The park itself is free to enter, although if you are using public transport to get here, the combination train and bus will cost around US$30 for the return trip from Matsumoto.
You’ll find extensive trails here and the English speaking staff at the visitor centre will help you to get the most from your stay. Virtually all the trails are easy to hike, with excellent signposting. You’ll find something to suit your abilities no matter what they are. You can even connect several of the trails that will have you hiking for 5-6 hours without backtracking and enjoying all the different views of the valley.
There’s a river that runs through the centre of the valley, and well-made bridges that cross it safely. You’ll also find lovely hotels here, several cafes and restaurants too. The fall colors are simply superb, with wide-ranging vistas and a variety of different trees offering a full spectrum of autumnal shade. Even if you don’t wish to hike, seeing the fall colors is also possible from the visitor centre, or indeed the bus ride on the way to the park.
by Sarah at ASocialNomad
Kochia Viewing at Hitachi Seaside Park (near Tokyo)
The Hitachi Seaside Park is a park located to north of Tokyo which features manicured gardens, vast green spaces and spectacular fields of flowers, blooming at several different times throughout the year. The park also features a ferris wheel, water fountains, several places to set up a picnic and 28 other attractions for families and tourists.
The Hitachi Seaside Park is most well-known for the Nemophelia blooming during the Springtime. But my personal favourite time of year to visit the park is in Autumn, when the Kochia (Summer Cypress) plants turn from green to bright crimson red. This phenomenon is quite a spectacular sight, with 32,000 plants resembling a crimson carpet that blankets the hills overlooking the sea near the city of Hitachinaka.
The Kochia plants remain green for most of the year. Sometime in early October, they begin to change color and turn bright crimson red. This lasts for approximately 2-3 weeks before they change back to their usual color. If there is a particular bloom you are wishing to see, the Hitachi Seaside Park website posts daily updates on the progression of the many blooms and it’s possible to keep track of when the Kochia plants begin to change color.
This way you won’t turn up to the park disappointed! From Shinagawa Station, an 85 minute train journey on the JR Joban line (limited express) will take you to Katsuta Station. From Katsuta Station, buses to the park run approximately every 15 minutes. Entry to the park costs 450 Yen per adult and free for school aged children and under. The park is generally closed on Mondays.
by Amanda at Fly Stay Luxe
Takayama’s Fall Festival and Parade
Takayama is a spectacular place to visit at the foothills of the Japanese Alps. One of the most spectacular celebrations to attend is the Fall Harvest festival in the old parts of the city with stunning parades happening day and night time.
The city is alive with street fairs, food venues, fantastic shopping with streets lined with vendors sharing samples and local foods being prepared. The harvest festival is very popular with locals and people from around the country participating so it is really a lovely and colorful event that is fantastic to witness in person.
Takayama has a beautiful old city vibe with cobbled streets and old neighborhoods that harken to another time of Japan’s history and love of craft, art and good food. Definitely visit here on your way to seeing the Alpine country of Japan.
by Noel Morata
Ride the Sagano Train (near Kyoto)
Kyoto’s historic Sagano Train travels between Kameoka and Saga Station and passes through the beautiful forested Hozugawa Ravine. At the bottom of the ravine runs the Hozu River. The train ride takes about 25 minutes, traveling along at a reduced speed to give you a good amount time to take in the surrounding landscape.
The views are spectacular when you travel in the right season. In autumn the fall foliage spruces up the surrounding forest, and in spring there are the cherry blossoms. The train does get busy, and it’s important to pay attention to what seat you reserve, because the seat you’re in can make or break your view.
Make sure you get an even numbered seat on the right side of the car – that’s where the best views are. You can also ask to reserve a seat in the open rail car for the most unobstructed view, assuming the weather is good. A one way ticket is 620 yen, which you can purchase at Saga Station or at JR ticket offices. This is in my opinion one of the best things to see in Kyoto in autumn.
by Paul at Journey Compass
Winter in Japan
Depending on where you are in Japan during winter, the temperatures can range from mild to downright cold. There are plenty of places that you will never see snow and then there are places that the snowfall is extreme.
We used to live in the city of Misawa, which is pretty far north. There the annual snowfall is well over 100 inches per year. We would wake up almost every morning needing to clear our driveway, and it’s not even the most extreme snowfall in the country!
The main problem that winter in Japan brings is the lack of sunshine. Many of the days are overcast and gray, but the temperatures are not too bad. When there’s plenty of fresh, white snow and the thermometer hovers around the 30 degree mark, it makes for perfect skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, and just plain play in the snow weather.
We love it and look forward to it. Japan is one of the best places to ski! Throughout the middle to northern part of the country, there are plenty of fantastic ski areas, and our favorite is a small, lesser-known one called Hachimantai. It’s perfect for skiing with kids. And of course after a day on the slopes, you relax your tired muscles in a hot bath.
If you come to Japan during winter, make sure you try onsen, especially one with a rotenboro (outdoor tub). You will love it! Here are some more suggestions of things to do and places to go during wintertime:
Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani (near Nagano)
One of the most famous things to do in winter is to visit the snow monkeys. It’s on everyone’s list, and by golly it should be. Jim and I have been twice…so far. I could go again and again. Yes, it’s true that you can see the monkeys all year round, but there’s something special about seeing them romp in the snow or have steam coming up from the onsen they love to lounge in.
It can be a bit difficult to find the snow monkey park, unless you take one of many day tours. Tours leave from all the ski towns, so it’s a great way to take a break from the slopes. If you are going on your own, it’s a bit trickier. Once you’ve parked, one of the best parts of the visit is the hike in. Walking on the path through the majestic cedars that the monkeys love, with snow weighing down the branches is magical! Both times we’ve gone we’ve seen monkeys on the path, so that was a bonus.
Once you are in the park, and you pay the fee, everyone hangs out around the hot bath onsen where there is always three or four monkeys relaxing. If the snow is falling while you are there, it’s that much better. Even though you will probably be with a small crowd, it’s still possible to get good photos and enjoy your time there.
Attend a Sumo Wrestling Tournament in Tokyo
Sumo, the iconic Japanese sport is a must-see if you can on your trip to Japan. Every January, there is a sumo tournament in Tokyo. As you enter you notice that the center of the auditorium is a shinto shrine.
Sumo is a sacred act, and the ground must be purified in order to have a match. This is done prior to each bout. Even though the tournament doors open as early as 10:00 am, the real action doesn’t get going until about 2:00 pm when the big name sumo stars battle it out. Before that it’s just the young kids and lower level wrestlers.
While you are there, don’t forget to go downstairs, visit the sumo museum, and grab a bento box full of great food to munch on.
Matsumoto Ice Sculpture Festival
If you happen to be in Matsumoto during their annual ice sculpture festival, make sure you go. It’s in February in 2020. Artists come from all over the world to stay up all one night each year to carve what they hope to be a winning piece. It’s cold, but it’s amazing to watch the sculptures emerge from the ice blocks.
There are plenty of things to do in Matsumoto in addition to the ice sculpture festival to keep you warm and having fun. It’s a great way to spend a winter weekend!
Shirakawago Winter Light-up Festival
Shirakawago is a historic gassho village in the Hokuriku region of Japan. This small town is a living museum with residents still living inside the 300-year-old Japanese farmhouses in a UNESCO heritage site. Visiting this quiet farm village is a unique cultural experience any time of the year; however, winter is the most popular season.
The traditional Japanese farmhouses called “gassho-zukuri” feature a thatched roof. When it snows heavily, the house covered in snow resembles the gingerbread house from a winter wonderland. It is quite the scene to witness. At first sight, it’s nothing like Japan, and you will be wondering whether you are in Japan or Swiss. But as you go into the house museums, it’s as Japanese as it gets with tatami-floor rooms, sliding doors, and Japanese charcoal fire. During the snow season in January and February, this fairytale village tucked in the Japanese Alps hosts its annual Shirakawago Winter Light-up Festival.
This is when the entire town of Shirakawago is illuminated at dusk. The view of illuminated gassho houses from the observation deck is iconic and the perfect reason to draw crowds to Shirakawago. If you are interested in attending the festival, it’s crucial that you plan well in advance. Shirakawago is a tiny town tucked in the mountainous region that is not easy to access from the major cities in Japan, especially during the heavy snow. And to protect the UNESCO heritage site, Shirakawago festival is open to the limited number of people each day.
by Chloe from Chloe’s Travelogue
The Craft Chocolate Market In Tokyo
Visiting Japan during the wintertime is typically a hard sell; outside of the southern islands of Okinawa, Japan gets cold, like, feel it in your bones cold. In most of Europe and North America, this means you stay inside in your pajamas and enjoy a cup of hot cocoa. Luckily, in Japan it means the same thing. In fact, Japan is the unofficial chocolate capital of Asia, hosting massive chocolate festivals every winter.
If you only have a short time to visit Japan, you’ll probably spend most of your time in Tokyo and Osaka, the two largest tourist destinations in Japan. Both of these cities happen to have elaborate annual chocolate festivals. The largest of these is the Salon Du Chocolat, a French chocolate festival which has had versions throughout Japan for nearly two decades. But the most highly-anticipated Japanese chocolate festival is the Craft Chocolate Market in Tokyo.
It’s a 2-day festival held in Western Tokyo; it’s so popular that you need to purchase entrance by the hour. The market is focused on showcasing the best fine chocolate makers from around the country as well as around the world, all available in one place for a limited time. It’s one of the most unique things to do in Japan, and along with the Salons Du Chocolat, it’s a must-do for any chocolate lover visiting Japan in the winter time.
by Max at Dame Cacao
Sapporo Snow Festival
The Sapporo Snow Festival (さっぽろ雪まつり, Sapporo Yuki Matsuri) is usually held the first week of February and goes on for an entire week. All the main events happen on the east side of Odori park and the snow exhibits continue until the west end (it’s a BIG park!). Best of all, it’s completely free to see all the exhibits!
Events happen throughout the day and night! You may find yourself walking into musical performances, light shows, cosplay contests and dance exhibitions. Since it’s a festival, you’ll also be able to experience all types of local Hokkaido foods, drinks (including alcohol) and souvenirs.
Odori park contains all the snow exhibits, but if you take a 15-minute walk south to Hosuisusukino you’ll find the ice exhibits. During the day, the road is open to vehicles but by night they close it down for walking traffic. It’s recommended to see the ice sculptures at night since you can get close without being in traffic. An even better bonus, the ice sculptures are lit beautifully and enhance the lighting at night!
It’s very cold at night, but you can stay warm if you walk through the underground mall! It extends from Sapporo station to Hosuisusukino station. So if you’re planning a visit, try to stay along that street!
by Daniel at Blorg.org
Skiing at Nozawa Onsen (near Nagano)
While Japan may not be the first destination that comes to mind for a winter trip, its world-class skiing at various resorts throughout the country should appeal to adventure travelers and culture seekers alike. The Japanese Alps on the main island reach heights of over 3100m and receive heaps of snow (aka Japow) that blows in from the Pacific Ocean. One amazing place in particular to ski is Nozawa Onsen for its varied terrain, insanely high average snowfalls, and delightful après scene.
The ski hill is named after the quaint, traditional mountain town where it resides which features over 13 different public onsens (hot springs), including one just for your feet! This insanely picturesque town receives so much snow that it’s not uncommon to see people shovelling piles of it off their roofs into the street below, so you need to watch out for heaps of snow falling down on you when you’re walking around!
Perhaps the best part about skiing in Japan, is after a day of slaying japow nothing beats sinking into an onsen to warm weary bones and soak away any aches and pains. Afterward, you can indulge in delicious sake, savory ramen, and traditional oyaki ( a regional specialty of stuffed buns steamed in hot spring water) for a unique après experience. Indeed, skiing at Nozawa Onsen combines fun and varied terrain and deep snow conditions with a side of culture not seen elsewhere.
by Thea at Zen Travellers
One Pot Meals to Warm Up during Japan’s Winter
One pot meals are the perfect winter comfort food – steaming hot, packed with nutrients and easy to prepare it’s no surprise that almost every region of Japan has one. In Tokyo it’s oden. This simple ready to eat stew is sold everywhere from convenience store takeaways to specialist restaurants called odenya. It’s the ideal winter meal – a light and hot soy or dashi broth topped with your choice of root vegetables like daikon, tofu, fish cakes or sausages – it warms you up without weighing you down.
One of the most famous odenya in Japan is Otafuku in Asakusa, where you can try up to 30 different toppings, or take a food tour to Sunamachi Ginza, a tiny road famous for its street food, where a hearty cup of onsen is one of the stops.
Further south, in Fukuoka, your winter warmer is Mizutaki – less of a grab and go meal, more a sit down dinner. This local dish sees you sitting around a vat of bubbling soup broth into which you add all the parts of a chicken –meat, bones, heart, liver and anything else you fancy. Add vegetables like carrot and cabbage and some tofu and leave them to simmer for a few minutes – then, gently lift out the perfectly cooked meat and vegetables to eat with chopsticks.
The communal element of eating Mizutaki is all part of the experience – you share the warmth of the meal, and the warmth of being with friends. There are many Mizutaki shops in Fukuoka but one of the most recommended is Hanamidori who have a number of branches all over the city.
by Helen of Differentville
See the Amazing Winter Illuminations at the Nabana no Sato (near Nagoya)
Nabana no Sato is a theme park and botanical garden but it is also famous for is the winter light installation. People from all around the world come to enjoy the park and see these popular light installations. The park makes for a striking balance of nature and light.
Nabana no Sato is part of the Nagashima Resort and located in Nagashima Island near Kuwana city in Mie Prefecture. It was a 30 to 45 taxi ride away from Nagoya where we stayed during our trip to Japan. During Spring you can see fields of tulips and hydrangeas and irises in summer and carpets of cosmoses and dahlias in the fall. During winter instead of flowers, the park comes alive at night with thousands of lights.
Nabana no Sato features over 8 million LED lights to illuminate the different installations within a 210,000 square meter-area. The illuminated areas are divided into different parts, which include – a main area with a different theme every season, two Tunnels of Lights about 100m long illuminated by flower-shaped LED lights, and a river of lights with illuminated trees on either side.
When we visited last winter, our favorite was seeing a mini version of Mt Fuji illuminated by lights in the main area. Don’t miss the giant green house known as Begonia garden. It has a large display of potted Begonia plants throughout the year. There is a separate charge for visiting the Begonia Garden.
by Priya at Outside Suburbia
Conclusion – When is the Best Time to Visit Japan?
Japan is truly a country with four amazing seasons in which to travel. From New Year’s celebrations to the end of the year and the many spectacular winter light up activities, there is something for everyone, every season, every month! You can’t go wrong traveling to Japan at any time of the year whether you love sunbathing or skiing, kicking back with a fire and some hot food or slurping up some ice cream in a variety of flavors, Japan has it all!