As a nation obsessed with natural beauty, Japan has created a culture that capitalizes on the rhythm of the seasons. Its painting and pottery, poetry and customs reflect a profound relationship to nature as it evolves throughout the year. Visitors, too, should be aware of the seasonal landscape and visit Japan when it’s at its best.
That might be late March or early April, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the temperatures are in the mid-50s to mid-60s, and the citizens of Tokyo gather with friends in parks throughout the city for hanami, or cherry blossom viewing parties.
Officially, high tourist season is May to August. This is also when a lot of locals leave town to celebrate Golden Week (an annual holiday that falls between late April and early May) and summer vacation (mid-July through August) in the surrounding countryside—which means everyone is off work and the trains are jammed with travelers. What’s more, the rainy season begins in early June and lasts through mid-July, making Tokyo wet and dreary, while succeeding summer months can be uncomfortably hot and muggy.
Come mid-October through November for koyo, or colorful leaf-changing season, when the Japanese maples and other trees in the city’s traditional landscape gardens and at nearby Mount Takao sport brilliant shades of crimson, orange, and gold, with temps in the 60s and 70s. The mild weather might require a light jacket, but the kids are back in school and lines for tourist attractions aren’t atrocious. August and September may see an occasional typhoon, which can bring heavy rains.
Snow falls from around mid-December through the middle of March, but that usually just means a dusting on streets and rooftops. In the mountains 3.5 hours outside of Tokyo, it’s another story; Nagano hosted the 1998 Winter Games. But within the city itself, temperatures hover in the low 50s and rarely fall below freezing. Another heavy domestic travel time, New Year’s, officially lasts for three days, from January 1–3.