When is the best time to go to Japan?

I know. Everyone says you should go to Japan during cherry blossom season. But missing the cherry blossoms means you’ll also miss the crowds and the peak prices, and get a chance to experience some of the secret, undiscovered stuff that none of your friends have 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…

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
January-March are your best chances of seeing Tokyo in the snow—you won’t believe how beautiful a Japanese garden or a shrine can be until you’ve seen it covered in white!

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in January:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 35°/50°F (2°/10°C)
Average number of rainy days: 3
Chance of snow, but usually melts within a day

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.

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in February:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 36°/51°F (3°/11°C)
Average number of rainy days: 5
Chance of snow, but usually melts within a day

MARCH

Hina Matsuri dolls on Girls' Day in Katsuura
Girls’ Day is March 3rd, and the Hina Matsuri doll displays are epic
Try walking across a bed of hot coals! There’s a firewalking festival at Mt. Takao where not only do the mountain monks demonstrate the art, they let you try it too.
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’
And yes, the cherry blossom season starts the last week in March. Here’s where to take all the best photos

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in March:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 41°/56°F (5°/14°C)
Average number of rainy days: 8
Temperature can wildly fluctuate from day to day

APRIL

Cherry blossoms in Shinjuku Gyoen
Because of climate change, the traditional cherry blossom season has been happening the third week in March, but you can still catch the late-blooming cherries in early April. They bloom in clusters instead of an all-over cloud, but as you can see, they are still pretty spectacular.
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
Showa Kinen Park puts on a tulip display to rival the Netherlands. and they bloom continuously for the month of April

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in April:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 50°/66°F (10°/19°C)
Average number of rainy days: 9
Temperature can fluctuate wildly; still pretty cold

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
This huge field of poppies blooms at Showa Kinen Park in May
Just outside of metro Tokyo, they plant a giant field of shibazakura (ground phlox) that reaches its full glory in May

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in May:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 59°/74°F (15°/24°C)
Average number of rainy days: 8
Pleasant evenings; end of month can be hot and humid

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!

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in June:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 66°/78°F (19°/26°C)
Average number of rainy days: 11
Rainy season begins mid-to-late June

JULY

Don’t miss the Edogawa Goldfish Festival, which celebrates one of the most traditional Japanese ways to keep cool in summertime
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

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in July:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 73°/85°F (23°/30°C)
Average number of rainy days: 10
Hot and humid; can be extremely hot and rainy

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

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in August:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 75°/88°F (24°/31°C)
Average number of rainy days: 8
Hot and humid; typhoon season starts late August

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
Experience a tradition dating back to the Edo Period and walk through a tunnel of blooming bush clover from late September to early October

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in September:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 69°/81°F (21°/28°C)
Average number of rainy days: 12
Still hot; typhoon season continues to mid-September

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
Early October is when the cosmos are in full splendor at Showa Kinen Park

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in October:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 58°/71°F (15°/22°C)
Average number of rainy days: 8
Pleasant; leaves don’t really begin to turn until late October

NOVEMBER

Japanese garden with autumn leaves
Autumn leaves? Yes, please! You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Japanese garden blazing with fall color
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.

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in November:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 49°/62°F (10°/17°C)
Average number of rainy days: 6
Becoming cold; leaves turn

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

Here are the festivals & events that usually happen in December:

WEATHER
Average temperature: 39°/54°F (5°/12°C)
Average number of rainy days: 3
Cold, but little chance of snow

Plus, there are festivals and events every month you should definitely check out, once you’ve decided when to come! Click here for my favorites:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon

 For three hundred years, a missing tea bowl passes from one fortune-seeker to the next, changing the lives of all who possess it…read more

“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist

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

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