In Travel

Exactly Where To Go In Japan For Each Season

Though Japan is known for its first-class skiing in winter and pale pink cherry blossoms of spring, it has much more to offer beyond these two seasons alone.

From the mist-covered mountains of Hokkaido in the north to the sub-tropical islands of Okinawa far in the south, Japan is renowned for its jaw-dropping natural seasonal beauty. Though its abundant snowfall in winter and the pale pink cherry blossoms of spring capture the most attention, Japan has much more to offer beyond these two seasons alone.

Though not particularly large, Japan is surprisingly vast – an archipelago spanning more than 3,000 kilometres from its northern to southernmost tip. Thanks to its Pacific location and rugged geography, it also enjoys four distinct seasons. Hot summers, mild autumns, cold winters, and comfortable springs – the hardest decision is knowing which one is for you.

Here are some of the top places for Japan travel where you can enjoy the seasons at their most spectacular:

Spring (March to May)

Mount Yoshino

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Flowering trees at Mount Yoshino. Image: JNTO

A little over 90 minutes from Nara by train lies Mount Yoshino, one of Japan’s most famous cherry blossom destinations. Forming part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, the area is rich in history and a base for the ancient Shugendo spiritual pilgrimage to Mount Omine.

Though beautiful all year round, spring is the most magical time to visit. Mount Yoshino is home to more than 30,000 flowering trees of 200 different varietals, which turn the whole mountainside pink from April to May.

Fuji Five Lakes District

An easy day trip from Tokyo via the Shinkansen (bullet train), Fuji Five Lakes District in scenic Yamanashi Prefecture is one of Japan’s most visited and most spectacular natural wonders. There are numerous national parks, lakes, hiking trails, museums, shrines and caves to explore within the region, as well as a calendar of annual events.

Fuji Shibazakura Festival, in particular, sees a 2.3-hectare site transformed into a scene straight out of a surrealist painting, with more 800,000 pink moss flowers blanketing the landscape in various striking shades.

Summer (June to August)

Ryukyu Islands

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Ishigake in the Ryukyu Islands. Image: JNTO

Far in the south of Japan, the Ryukyu Islands is one of its hidden gems. An island chain stretching from Kyushu towards Taiwan, the tropical climate is idyllic at any time of year. Summer is hot and sticky, so it’s a good thing the islands are made for life outdoors.

Okinawa, with its gorgeous beaches, lush tropical rainforest and incredible diving, is the largest and most popular island of the group. Nearby Yonaguni, home to the mysterious Yonaguni Monument ‘sunken pyramid’, is by far one of Japan’s greatest diving locations.

Shiretoko National Park

Journey to the ‘end of the world’ at Shiretoko National Park, a UNESCO-listed wilderness at the eastern end of Hokkaido – Japan’s northernmost island. Home to a stunning array of wildlife, from deer and foxes to brown bears, Shiretoko comes alive in the warmer months. Summer is the peak time to view brown bears in the wild; experienced guides are essential.

Autumn (September to November)

Kyoto 

Japan’s former imperial capital of Kyoto is home to some of the countries best-preserved castles, temples and geisha districts. It’s also one of its most stunning autumn destinations. Arashiyama on the city’s western outskirts is home to a striking bamboo grove, as well as a thick forest which is transformed in every shade of red, yellow and orange.

The view from Togetsukyo Bridge is exquisite. Elsewhere in Kyoto, Jojakko-ji Temple, Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion), Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion), and the Inari Shrine are all simply breath-taking.

Kinosaki 

Just 2.5 hours by train from Kyoto is Kinosaki, a charming hot spring town described as the best in the country by Lonely Planet. During autumn, the trees of the region are ablaze with colour.

After a day admiring the leaves, it’s easy to relax at one the seven public Onsen bathhouses. Visitors staying at one of Kinosaki’s Ryokan traditional guesthouses can obtain an Onsen-hopping pass, allowing them to drop in to some or all of the stunning bathhouses.

Winter (December to February)

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route 

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The snow wall at Kurobe Tateyama Alpine Route. Image: JNTO

Commonly referred to as the ‘roof of Japan’, the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route runs for 37 kilometres between the town of Tateyama and city of Omachi. It may be short, yet its rugged peaks, hairpin bends and impressive ‘snow wall’ in winter has made it legendary.

No matter the season or what you’re looking to discover on your journeys – waterfalls, wildflowers, festivals, wildlife, or hot springs – Japan is magical at any time of the year.

Gifu Prefecture 

Though best known for its skiing in the winter months, Japan has much to offer beyond the ski fields too. Gifu, a beautifully mountainous region which has been a crossroads for Japan for centuries, is one of its winter gems.

UNESCO-listed Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, two villages known for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses; the mineral-rich hot springs of Gero Onsen; and the beautifully-preserved city of Hida-Takayama are a few of its stars.

(Lead image: Yoshino-gun, Nara-ken / Japan National Tourism Organization)

Published 06 February, 2019