When’s the best time to come to Japan?

⛩I know. A trip to the grocery store is about as much of a vacation as anyone is getting right now. But while we’re waiting for it to be safe and fun to travel again, wouldn’t you like to think about when’s the best time to take that trip to Japan you were looking forward to for so long?

The good news is, missing the cherry blossoms might just be a golden opportunity to experience some of the secretly undiscovered stuff that nobody has seen yet (but will want to, after they see your killer pix!) Travel planners are so obsessed with sending people to see the pink things, they overlook countless other fantastic Japan experiences that happen at other times of year, without the crowds. Just for starters…

Here are twenty-six reasons that’ll make you’ll be happy you missed the cherry blossoms

JANUARY

Demon mask at the setagaya boroichi lea market
Setagaya Boroichi, the mother of all Japanese flea markets, happens every year on January 15-16. This market is so vast, it takes a whole day to walk through it, and you can buy everything from vintage kimonos to a home shrine to antique wooden sweets molds, for bargain prices
Tokyo Auto Salon is like no car show you’ve ever seen, anywhere in the world
Nighttime illuminations at Yomiuriland
There aren’t any flowers blooming yet in January, but for sheer eye-candy extravaganza, you can’t beat the winter illuminations that bloom after dark in January

FEBRUARY

Kimono fabric draped along canal in Nakai at some-no-komichi festival
The cloth dyeing district of Tokyo sponsors a great event called Some-no-komichi in February, where miles of canals are festooned with lengths of gorgeous kimono cloth
Ever been to a funeral for pins and needles? You should.
Plum blossoms in full bloom at Hama Rikyu Teien
These aren’t cherry blossoms! These fragrant plum trees bloom gloriously in February. See all the crowds? Me neither.

MARCH

Hina Matsuri dolls on Girls' Day in Katsuura
Girls’ Day is March 3rd, and the Hina Matsuri doll displays are epic
Kanzakura early blooming cherry trees in full bloom at Shinjuku Gyoen
If you come before The Official Season, you can see the early blooming cherries like these, at Shinjuku Gyō-en. Still amazing, but no crowds, just sayin’

APRIL

Big and little sumo wrestlers at an amateur tournament at the Yasukuni Shrine
The best-kept secret in Tokyo is that there’s a FREE amateur sumo tournament at the Yasukuni Shrine every April, and there’s nothing better than watching kids (from nipper-sized to the big kahunas) compete in the shrine’s outdoor amphitheater
Azaleas in full bloom at the Ni-no-Maru imperial palace gardens
If you thought cherry blossoms would knock your socks off, you haven’t seen the azaleas. They bloom in awesome gardens all over Tokyo after the cherry blossoms are history

MAY

The Sanja Matsuri festival in Asakusa (mid-May) is the biggest, rowdiest three-day extravaganza you’ll see in Tokyo all year. An endless number of portable shrines are paraded through the streets, with each team trying to outdo the next
If you didn’t think that wisteria could ever rival the cherry blossoms, think again. This is one plant

Read on: More reasons to come to Japan in MAY

JUNE

Beer Mount beer garden on Mt. Takao at twilight
Is there anything nicer than a beer garden at the top of a mountain in summertime, looking out over the lights of Tokyo?
Japanese iris in bloom
June is when the famous Japanese iris gardens bloom, and you can still go see the places that were featured in famous woodblock prints!

Read on: More reasons to come to Japan in JUNE

JULY

Lanterns floating on Shinobazu pond at the toro nagashi ceremony
Lanterns float across the Shinobazu pond during the toro nagashi ceremony in July
Lotus in bloom at Sankeien garden
Lotus-spotting is the best flower sport of July, with the sacred blooms as big as dinner plates opening fresh every morning in all the gardens

AUGUST

Fireworks over Kawaguchiko
Summer means fireworks in Japan, and there are incredible shows nearly every weekend in August, at which they shoot off over 35,000 “fire flowers.” You’ve never seen colors and combinations like these, and it’s also a great chance to see both men and women dressed up in summer kimonos
Japanese garden in summertime at Shinjuku Gyoen
You’ve never experienced the serenity of a Japanese garden until you’ve strolled through one in the summertime, and sipped a bowl of green tea at the teahouse

SEPTEMBER

Higanbana in full bloom at Kinchakuda near Koma
Always wanted to walk through an enchanted forest? These native red amaryllis known as higanbana bloom for miles and miles, in mindboggling profusion, at this preserve near Tokyo, for a few days right around the autumn solstice

OCTOBER

Two cat cosplayers at the Bake Neko cat parade
The Bakeneko Crazy Cat parade serves up all the choice cat cosplays you can imagine
At the Oeshiki Ikegami festival of 10,000 lanterns, three thousand people dance and parade through the streets, bearing lit-up, flower-garlanded pagodas
Japanese garden with autumn leaves
Autumn leaves? Yes, please! You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Japanese garden blazing with fall color

NOVEMBER

Art piece lit up at the Yokohama Smart Illumination
Where else can you pedal an exercise bike and light up a piece of art? The Yokohama Smart Illumination turns the entire waterfront into an interactive gallery for three days
Bonsai chrysanthemum figures at the Yushima shrine
Bonsai chrysanthemums. Yep, they’re A Thing in November.

DECEMBER

The New Year’s Eve fox parade begins at midnight. If you’re not there, you’ll have REGRETS
Lights, music, animation! Holiday illuminations don’t get any better than the incredible displays they put in in Tokyo in December

In the next few weeks, I’ll be adding detailed posts about ALL the fun stuff to do each month, so if you’d like to be notified when there’s a new one, scroll down to the subscribe box and sign up to get The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had!

And just a personal note: I hope you’ll consider coming to Japan sometime other than cherry blossom season. Not only do I tell my friends that I’d rather take them to see things that are so much more interesting than the cherry blossoms, there are lots of fabulous restaurants and other businesses dependent on tourism that are going to be hit devastatingly hard by this virus shutdown. If you come back sooner then next cherry blossom season, I guarantee you’ll be welcomed with open arms and much gratitude, just for coming to enjoy the most amazing country on earth.

And, by the way, don’t miss all the amusing stuff that you’ll only see in

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, the monthly Japanagram newsletter, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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