Enjoying the Four Seasons in Japan
Japan is a country where you can enjoy all 4 seasons throughout the year. Generally, spring starts around mid-March to mid-June, followed by summer until the end of September or early October; autumn in October to December, and then winter until March of next year. For some areas, especially Hokkaido, winter has a longer period than the other seasons, and as the opposite part, Okinawa relatively has warmer temperatures even in winter. Each prefecture in Japan may have their own uniqueness of how they enjoy each season, such as certain festivals in a particular prefecture, however, each season throughout the country promises joviality and exciting Japanese culture experiences travelers can't find anywhere else.
This is a colorful season in which many kinds of flowers start to bloom. In Japan, spring is marked by plum blossoms that bloom around the end of February to beginning of March. Then come the cherry blossoms on Honshu (mainland) area that start to bloom at the end of March or beginning of April. Since the southwest sides of Japan get warmer faster, it usually experiences cherry blossom blooming earlier than the northeast side.
Not only plum and cherry blossoms, many flowers such as tulips, rapeseed, nemophila, and poppy also bloom in spring from early April to early June. People in Japan use this occasion to gather with family and friends at the park, eating and drinking while relaxing under cherry blossom trees. This event is called hanami which literally means flower viewing.
Almost all prefectures have parks which provide a hanami gathering or picnic under the cherry blossom tree. Kyoto, famous for their spectacular cherry blossom spots such as Arashiyama and Philosopher’s Path. Other Japanese parks, such as Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, Korakuen in Okayama, and Kairakuen in Mito, Ibaraki offer not only cherry blossom viewings but also other beautiful flower beds travelers can walk through and relax.
Every season in Japan is also marked by seasonal food. In spring, the most popular snacks are sakura mochi (桜餅) which is a pink gluttonous rice flour cake, ichigo daifuku (イチゴ大福) or strawberry rice cakes, and ikanago no kugi ni (いかなごのくぎ煮) or boiled young Japanese sand eels which are caught around February–March.
As someone who was born in a tropical country, I once underestimated summer in Japan. It was very wrong of me to assume that I would get used to the hotness of Japan’s summer. Summer in Japan is hot and can be unbearably humid. However, people in Japan look forward to it since there are Bon holidays and summer festivals held at this time.
The festivals may differ from one prefecture to another. Some of the most famous ones are The Gion Matsuri in Kyoto (July 1st–29th), Hakata Gion Yamakasa in Fukuoka (July 10th –15th), Tenjin Matsuri (July 24th – 25th) in Osaka, and Nebuta Festival (August 2nd – 7th) in Aomori. Tanabata Festival and Obon Matsuri are also held in every prefecture in Japan.
Not only traditional Japanese festivals, summer is also the time for fireworks throughout the country. Usually held around late July to early August, fireworks festivals in Japan can be very stunning and outstanding! Therefore, you might want to reserve a good spot to watch in advance. Some places require an admission fee, but most places have a free watching spot. But still, you'll want to come much earlier to avoid the crowds.
For outdoor lovers, summer is also the right time to hike, especially on Japan's tallest natural icon, Mt. Fuji for which is only allowed July through August.
This season with its many festivals, is just the right time for people to wear yukata, the traditional summer kimono. People also enjoy kakigori (かき氷) or shaved ice dessert flavored with syrup and sometimes condensed milk. For the hot summer weather, watermelon is also a popular refreshment. Cold meals such as hiyashi chuka (冷やし中華) or noodle salad and soumen (そうめん) or thin noodles dipped in cold soup are consumed as the seasonal dishes.
After the hot and humid summer, once it gets cooler, autumn comes along. Autumn is marked by spectacular foliage that grows throughout the country. The foliage atmosphere lasts for several weeks from October to December so you'll have plenty of dates to choose when to come visit. Furthermore, if hanami is related to spring or flower viewing, autumn is identical with momijigari (紅葉狩り) which means autumn-leaf viewing.
Autumn in Japan is paradise for the gourmand, since it is the harvest time for most vegetables and fruits. Many seasonal snacks such as sweet potatoes, mont blanc chestnuts, or pumpkins are sold almost everywhere in the whole country. You may also enjoy kaki (柿) or Japanese persimmon as one of the most popular seasonal fruits in Japan.
Nowadays, autumn is also identified as Halloween season, particularly in big cities. Many department stores and amusement parks have Halloween decorations and hold Halloween events to attract customers. Most of the year, you see Japanese people dress for work or school (except for events or at some places such as Harajuku), only during Halloween you can see many young Japanese people dress up with various costumes at public spaces.
As the temperature gets colder, it’s time to explore winter in Japan. Even though it gets colder, the snow doesn’t fall everywhere in Japan. Many places, in particular along the Pacific coast have winter with freezing breeze but rarely snow. However, places that do get snow are very entertaining. Winter sports are very popular in Japan with hundreds of ski resorts around the country. Because the northern areas, like Hokkaido and Aomori, have some of the best powder on Earth, many people go there just for the skiing.
Of course, what kind of winter would be spectacular without a hot bath? Onsen or hot springs become most popular in winter. Many onsen and ryokan (旅館) or Japanese-inn that is usually included with onsen in Karuizawa or Hakone are fully-booked this season.
For dinner, with family or friends in a ryokan or simply at someone’s house, Japanese usually have nabe (鍋) or hot pot dishes. An especially delicious nabe is made with crab which are caught around this season.
Winter is also a glamorous time with Christmas light illumination in Japan. Many cities conduct winter illumination events and pamper their citizens with magical Christmas lights displays, from the northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido, to the southernmost, Okinawa. For some cities, the illumination events are also held along with their specialty events such as Sapporo with its Snow Festival, or as commemoration such as Kobe with its Luminarie events to commemorate the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.
As you now know from reading this, Japan is a great country to visit anytime of the year. There is beauty to be seen and entertainment to be found on this small island with big prospects. Japan has something to enjoy for all four seasons