Japan is a four-season destination with festivals throughout the year that attract visitors. In general, the most popular times to visit include summer, late spring, and around the New Year's holiday. Spring cherry blossoms and autumn foliage also bring in crowds in various regions of the country. Periods right after major holidays or festivals, such as during January right after New Year's and September right after Japan's Obon Holiday, are good times to find reduced prices.
- high season: mid-June to mid-September
- low season: January to March
- shoulder season: April to mid-June, mid-September to December
Certain holiday periods also qualify as high season, including Obon Holiday in mid-August when travel providers have blackout dates, year-end holidays between mid-December and early January, and Golden Week at the end of April and early May.
Japan experiences four dramatically different seasons, from balmy in the summer to freezing in the winter, with mild temperatures during the spring and fall. Temperatures vary by region, and are typically warmer in the south. In general, summers average temperatures in the 70s to low 80s, while winters drop to the 30s and low 40s. Spring and fall remain moderate with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. The rainy season runs from early summer (mid-June to mid-July), and typhoons are common in late summer (September).
Japan sees heavier crowds during events and holidays such as Golden Week (late April through early May), Cherry Blossom season (early April), Obon Holiday (mid-August), fall foliage season (November), and New Year's (late December through early January). There are also regional peak travel seasons, such as Gion Matsuri in Kyoto (July), Takayama Matsuri (April and October), and various summer festivals throughout Japan (August). In some areas, Obon holiday occurs in mid-July, but it does not cause high visitor traffic.
Many museums close from December 28 to January 3 for the New Year's holiday. Post offices and banks, as well as many shops and restaurants, close from January 1 through 3. However, many department stores close only January 1.
When to Save
The best times to go to save money and find travel deals are September through mid-December and mid-January through mid-March. Prices escalate during the holiday seasons.
More specifically, flights and hotel rooms are the most expensive around New Year's, from December 15 to January 6; Golden Week, which occurs around the last week of April and first week in May; and the summer vacation period, from mid-July through August. However, because the central part of Honshu—Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Kyushu—are hot and humid in July and August, hotel rooms can be more affordable (outside of the main Obon Holiday period in mid-August and Kyoto's Gion Matsuri Festival during the second weekend in July).
Hotels in Kyoto are at their peak during Gion Matsuri, as well as cherry blossom season (the first week in April) and leaf-peeping season (the second week in November).
When to Book
Make reservations at least two to three months in advance for travel during high seasons since all hotels and transportation tend to sell out. Some hotels offer early booking discounts, often for advance reservations of 14 or 21 days, during off-peak seasons. Airfare is usually set based on seasonality, and the 14- or 21-day advance purchase rules don't generally apply for international discounts from the U.S. to Japan. Hotels might also offer last-minute rates, but these specials are generally not practical for international travelers.
Booking through a Japanese travel agency that offers consolidator rates on airfare and good rates on hotels is a good way to save money. The Japanese agencies have access to rates that come directly from the suppliers in Japan that are not available through American travel agencies or the Internet.
Information provided by the Japanese National Tourist Organization.