The best answer:-
The best time to visit Japan is 'anytime'. There are 4 very distinct seasons and you can enjoy any of them, so read on!
An even better answer:-
The best time to visit Japan and enjoy it to its utmost you need to take advantage of the seasons. Your itinerary and the things you do should vary from season to season. My experience with those who have visited Japan has been an almost universal comment. 'They had a holiday of a lifetime and would like to experience Japan in another season'. So in this post, I want to comment on each of the seasons.
Japan is a long string of islands (6,852 in fact) and the peak of each season varies from North to the South. In discussing the seasons I have taken a little liberty of adjusting them to the location times. Consider the latitude if you want to hit the peak of any season.
Autumn ( October through to early December)
Many people consider that Autumn rivals spring with its beautiful colours as the best time to visit Japan. Nature puts on a breathtaking show with its vast expanses of autumn colours. They range from pinks to reds, yellows, burgundy and every shade of brown. The colours of the trees are supported by the magic carpet of fallen coloured leaves.
Set all this against the wonderful pristine landscapes in Japan or the impeccable Japanese gardens and that is one dimension. Now add the human intervention of the coloured trees lit-up at night around the spectacular Japanese temples and it is not hard to see why Autumn is a favourite time to be in Japan.
Planning your tour to see this spectacle be sure to pick the north in October and select your trip based more to the south if you aim to travel in December. Make sure you try the range of Autumn foods. Experience an onsen (hot spring bath) gaze at the autumn colours as you soak up the atmosphere of an onsen. See our tours such as our Autumn tours of Japan
Winter (November through early March)
Winter in Japan can be a wonderland of white. Definitely, one of the best times to visit Japan. Many of the mountain passes are so deep in snow they are closed (even until early April). The white is so intense in some places that the scenery looks like it is black and white, include red temples and it looks 'Photoshopped'. Japan is well known for its powdery soft snow that is excellent skiing too. For those from the hotter parts of the world, the snow can be a real treat. Winter lasts longer to the north as it does in the Japanese Alps.
If you like fashion, winter is a wonderful time to visit. Then again if you like seafood, it is at its absolute best in winter. There are some fascinating festivals in Winter and the overall Winter spectacular is a much loved time to see Japan. Plan your tour to see the temples with their snow-covered roofs and enjoy the warmth of the local eating houses.
Go through the city's giant department stores that are surprisingly awash with Xmas music. You get a feel for the atmosphere that is unique at this time of the year. A visit to an outside onsen -'rotenburo' (outside hot spring bath) where you can soak in the hots spring water and enjoy the snow is an experience revered by the Japanese. An extra good time to see the wild snow monkeys bathing in the hot springs to get some warmth. The winter food in Japan is exceptional. See our tours such as Winter tours of Japan
Spring (March through May)
One of Japan's most famous times, cherry blossom season. Everybody in the world loves spring, however the Japanese have made it almost an art form. Most advertising suggests Spring is the best time to visit Japan. There are many festivals and the national news focuses on the peak of the cherry blossom display as it heads from south to north (reverse of Autumn display). This is the busiest time in Japan for tourists (both local and international). Although cheery blossom is famous, Japan puts on an extravagant show of flowers in Spring and the natural contrast of the colour displays with the temples and scenery make Japan in Spring a tourist Mecca. Off the beaten track you can share the season the way the locals do.
Plan your trip to avoid the crowds as much as you can by minimising the traditional tourist paths. There are so many beautiful spots where you can go to appreciate the sakura (cherry blossom) and the flower festivals. There are 'secret' spots where you can enjoy the cherry blossom as early as mid-February a great way to dodge the crowds. See our tours such as our cherry blossom tours of Japan
Summer (June through September).Summer is a great time to visit. This is because it is warm so you need far less clothing (luggage) plus the longer days (to see more). You can often be warned off Japan in summer, particularly because June is typically the wettest month and August because of the heat and extreme humidity. However, summer is a great time to 'head for the hills'. The Japanese Alps are spectacular and great time to escape the heat of the lowlands and enjoy the special treats of the mountain areas. The small traditional food stalls on wheels appear in volume. They create an atmosphere of their own on the balmy summer nights as you get amongst the Japanese people.
Plan your trip to skim the big cities like Toyko. Aim for the more of the smaller centres and the places at a higher altitude. The warmer temperatures and rains combine to create a lush tropical look & feel, be sure to take a light waterproof jacket.