If there was an award for the most colourful country in the world, it wouldn’t go to Brazil or even India. It would go to Japan, because no other country offers such a diverse range of colours all year round.
With four distinct seasons spread across the diverse Japanese archipelago, Japan is vibrant all year round, and oh so pretty.
Here’s a brief guide on what your clients can see and do with a visit to Japan at any time of the year:
Starting as early as January down in Okinawa and as late as May up in Hokkaido, spring time in Japan is a season of colour and beauty. Without a doubt, the main highlight of spring (if not the entire calendar) is cherry blossom season, a time when Japanese towns and cities come to life in shades of pink and locals picnic under cherry blossoms, called sakura in Japanese. In Japan, the cherry blossom is a symbol of hope and renewal, and is a beautiful reminder that life is a fleeting, precious thing.
Late March to early April is often considered the best time to experience this Japanese tradition, which is celebrated all over the country. In Kyoto, the 2-kilometre Philosopher’s Walk is lined with literally hundreds of cherry blossoms and is well worth a stroll; in Nara, Mt. Yoshino is considered one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots in the country; and in Hyogo, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Himeji Castle becomes even more beautiful thanks to the blooming cherry blossoms that line its castle grounds.
Lasting from June to August, the Japanese summer, whilst quite humid in most parts, is a time of celebration and festivities. Yep, most of Japan’s music and cultural festivals are held in these warmer months, such as Gion Matsuri, which sees elaborately decorated floats paraded through streets of Kyoto, and Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri, where giant, vibrant lantern floats depicting Japanese gods, warriors and kabuki actors take over Aomori’s streets and lanes.
Summer in Japan also means fireworks – a lot of fireworks – and the Japanese celebrate all things pyrotechnic through electrifying festivals, such as the Nagaoka Matsuri Fireworks Festival in Niigata and Lake Toya Long-Run Fireworks in Hokkaido.
The Japanese summer is also known as the Green Season, as much of the country’s mountains and valleys, whilst usually covered in snow, are accessible to all. Kamikochi in Nagano, in particular, is worth singling out for its rolling green vistas. Known as the “Japanese Yosemite Valley”, Kamikochi is the jewel of the Japanese Alps and offers mountain trekking through pristine forest and past mirror-like lakes.
From September to November, Japan once again becomes a colourful wonderland, as cherry blossom trees and Japanese maples turn all shades of reds, oranges and yellows. The Japanese love to celebrate autumn by hiking out to the mountains – this tradition is known as momijigari and dates back to the 8th century. The historic town of Kamakura in Kanagawa (near Tokyo) is an especially great place to enjoy the colours, as is Lake Kawaguchi in the Mount Fuji Five Lakes area in Yamanashi. Basically, head for the mountains for the best views.
For views of something entirely different, but oh so Japanese, head to Shibuya during Halloween which falls in the Japanese autumn, and you’ll see Tokyo turn into one big costume party. Over 3,000 people annually attend this street celebration, coming dressed as everything from anime and manga characters to movie-stars!
For many travellers, winter is the only season that matters in Japan. Lasting from December to February, winter in Japan turns the country into a snow covered wonderland, attracting skiers and snowboarders from all over the world, keen on experiencing some of that famous Japanese powder snow. Head to Shiga Kogen in Nagano for a traditional ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) experience, the chance to tear up the nearby snow-covered mountains, and to dine on local (exquisite) food – yum! Or choose from amongst the other 600 resorts scattered throughout the country.
Winter is also a time to take a soak in a traditional onsen (hot springs) surrounded by magical white vistas and perhaps even the occasional snow monkey! Head to Zao Onsen in Yamagata for a soak surrounded by beauty, or to Dogo Onsen in Ehime for a traditional Japanese onsen experience.
Back in the cities and towns, brilliantly colourful displays and lights illuminate the streets, injecting a good dose of festive spirit into the urban mood. The UNESCO World Heritage listed thatched-roofed village of Shirakawa-go in Gifu is particularly festive, decorated with lamps lit on over a hundred snow-covered farmhouses and making you feel like you’re inside a snowglobe!