The Best Time to Travel to Tokyo
These are the Best Seasons, Weather and Festivals in Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is an amazing city and it’s fairly accessible for foreigners to visit without worrying about the language barrier. The trains may seem daunting at first but with the aid of a map, they’re very user-friendly, possibly even more so than some US cities. Japan’s northern most island has a famous snow festival while its southern city of Okinawa is downright tropical. So what about Tokyo? And in addition to weather, what holidays are most worth seeing (or avoiding)? In this article, we will highlight the seasons that make for the best time to travel to Tokyo.
The Best Time to travel to Tokyo is Hanami (Cherry Blossom Season) and Momiji (Foliage Season)
Both these two events take a long time to start at the northern-most tip of Japan, Hokkaido, and work their way down to the southern island Kyushu. For Tokyo, they tend to fall at approximately the same time each year, give or take a week. Cherry blossom season seems more delicate and fleeting than the foliage season, which can last much longer. The best time to see the Tokyo blossoms is generally around the last week of March, the first week of April. Searching online can help guesstimate how the upcoming season looks, in case the weather has been particularly abnormal. Settling on the best spots for hanami parties can be tricky, especially with the crowds, but this list has many choices and details.
Foliage season stretches from mid-November to early December for Tokyo. The city does have great foliage spots, but if going in the fall, it’s highly recommended to take a 2-3 day side trip to Kyoto. Kyoto is surrounded by mountains and it’s much colder windier than Tokyo, but the leaves are awe-inspiring, particularly the maples which turn either deep red or purple. The traditional setting Kyoto offers makes an especially nice pairing for either season, but autumn is unmatched here. Best spots in both cities can be found in this list, though some of the best spots for Tokyo are technically considered just outside the city. Either of these two seasons are the best time to travel to Tokyo in our opinion.
The Worst Seasons to See Tokyo
There really is no bad time to see Tokyo, but certainly some weather conditions are far less forgiving. Even a native Texan may have a hard time with Tokyo summers. The weather itself is hot and muggy, and all that mugginess is amplified and trapped within the city, making it ten times more smothering. Both a good and bad thing is that the Japanese don’t blast the inside of their buildings with air conditioning the way you find here (causing you to take a sweater to work in the summer), but it also takes you a little longer to cool off on the train or inside. So if you’re not big on heat, July and August may best be avoided.
June tends to be the “rainy season,” much bemoaned by the city’s residents. They say it lasts for weeks, and the city is already leaning towards the muggy side, so it could certainly be an infringement on sightseeing. On the plus side, the showers and storms don’t seem to last very long. It may be cloudy or rainy all day, but you’re not looking at all-day torrential downpour.
Busiest Holidays: New Years, Golden Week and Obon
New Years, Golden Week and Obon tend to be the busiest festivals for the Japanese and it may make things much more crowded and expensive than usual. New Years is exceptional–some really wish to experience this Japanese holiday despite the crowds, as it is the most important holiday in Japan. It is a day full of eating special dishes, visiting a shrine (millions go to the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku). If you have Japanese friends or a family with whom to experience this holiday, it can be most rewarding. Otherwise this could be quite frustrating as nearly everything is closed.
Golden Week is a week of four holidays the last week of April, first week of May. Everyone takes off work and even the ATM machines are shut down. This week is not recommended for traveling!
Obon takes place mid-August and is a Buddhist celebration commemorating a family’s ancestors with lanterns in front of the house for the spirits’ return to their families. This is the best time to travel to Tokyo if you’re visiting family.
Once you’ve determined what time of year is most convenient for your travel, finding a list of month by month festivals, such as this list, can help you plan your itinerary. Witnessing traditional festivals, costumes and holidays can be a real highlight of your trip. Even Tokyo has a strong traditional element, not always readily apparent in its modern haze. And if all else fails, try visiting the Meiji Shrine on a Sunday, when you’ll often see pictures being done for a wedding, all members donning traditional garments.
Again, there is no best time to travel to Tokyo…but some seasons are more memorable than others, both for bad or good reasons! Late March, early April and mid-Novembe are probably the best time to travel to Tokyo, but always consider that a trip to Kyoto compliments the busy life beautifully.