Last year, I visited Japan in early March. We had the most amazing time and we’re really hoping that we go back with the kids one day. Why did we love our spring trip to Japan so much?
I feel like Goldilocks saying this, but spring is the perfect time to visit most countries because it’s neither too hot nor too cold but just right. It’s hard to enjoy being out sightseeing all day when you are dripping in sweat or freezing. Spring is a great time to be in Japan. We really enjoyed being able to walk around all day in the pleasantly warm sun without breaking a sweat or freezing. And as the temperature dropped overnight it made enjoying a plate of steaming hot gyoza and a bowl of noodles even better.
Seeing cherry blossoms in Japan is one of those iconic travel experiences that those who haven’t seen it dream of doing so and those that have rave about it. Walking through a traditional garden in Japan to see temples and lakes by these blooms is something I’ve always wanted to see.
The spring flowers were out and the Cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom in Shinjuku Gyoen Park in Tokyo during our visit in early May. In another week they would have been spectacular, but even so it was beautiful.
One of the best parts was watching all the other people visiting the gardens to see the blossoms. There were people with giant cameras lining up to get the best shot. Walking groups with poles wandering along the perfectly groomed trails past the blossoms. Couples in traditional dress having wedding photos taken under the trees. Students enjoying tea ceremonies under the blossoms. And hundreds more just walking around under the trees and picnicking on the grass.
Cherry blossoms take a week to bloom and only last for another week or two so you want to time your trip right. They start blooming earlier in the south, making their way north as spring comes to the northern areas. We were in Tokyo around March 7 – a few days later would have been the perfect time.
Snow, snow, snow
Japan has fantastic ski resorts with some of the best snow in the world. The prices are a lot more affordable than European and North American resorts, with lift prices from $30-60/day. We saw ski waxing being offered for as little as $5. Eating out in a nice restaurant was easily less than $15 per person including drinks.
In Spring the conditions can be variable, particularly at the southern resorts or those at lower elevations. We went to Nozawa Onsen,just a few hours from Tokyo. The facilities were great and the nearby town with its traditional buildings and hot springs was amazing but the snow was terrible. A low mountain is not the best choice for spring skiing.
Niseko, on the northern island of Hokkaido, would have been a much better option for spring skiing. Even in late March Niseko gets plenty of fresh powder. This region has one of the longest ski seasons in Japan, staying open until early May. In Spring, Niseko offer discounted lift passes and great accommodation specials.
For us, skiing in Japan wasn’t just being out on the snow. It was about the whole cultural experience. After a day of skiing we would return home to soak in a traditional bathhouses (our accommodation even had one) before walking down cobbled streets past traditional houses in search of great Japanese food. Without even leaving the resort we saw traditional markets, hot springs and temples. It was more than just a ski holiday. It was a cultural experience too.
Watching the spring countryside roll by
Catching a bullet train was such a fun experience. I don’t think it matters when you are a kid or adult, rocketing across the country on the Shinkansen is thrilling.
The fact that it was spring just made it even more so. The trees are blooming, the fields are green and the mountains are still capped with snow. You can really notice the difference as you travel from south to north or from lower altitudes to higher ones. We went from the suburbs of Tokyo to rolling fields to mountains just starting to bloom to vast snowy fields with iced over lakes.
Spring is festival season in Japan, particularly May. All throughout spring a wide range of festivals are held across the country. Festivals are a fun, exciting way to experience Japanese culture.
The greater part of the Japanese landmass is made up of mountains covered in beautiful, abundant forests. May typically has the most stable weather of the year, with warm sunny days and pleasant temperatures, so it’s a great time to do some hiking. But even in late March – April you can enjoy fantastic hiking in the southern regions and around Kyoto.
Tokyo has lots of great one day hikes within easy reach of the city. Near Kyoto, Mt Hiel is a fantastic hike in spring when the azaelas are in bloom. On the summit sits Enryakuji, a temple dating from the 8th Century that was home to the warrier monks. The views are spectacular and you will spot birds, monkeys and tanuki. If the hike up is too exhausting there is a cable car. By late spring, the mountains of Hokkaido are still capped in snow but the lower areas are a sea of green filled with tulips and blossoms. You can alternate your days between hiking in the valleys and snowshoeing up the mountain trails.