Japan’s spring season starts in March and ends in May. For local people, spring means the beginning of the school and fiscal year, and everyone feels a sense of renewal and revitalization at this turn of the season. As if waking from a dreamy spell, Japan comes to life as the snow and cold weather melt away. The newfound energy helps to attract visitors, and every year spring-travelers come for the flowers, food, festivals, and fun. Here’s everything that you can expect on your next spring vacation in Japan.
On average Japan is a temperate country that experiences all four seasons, but its length spreads across several climates. Okinawa is much warmer in March than in Hokkaido, for example. Most places in Japan, though, experience warm afternoons and cool evenings in spring. In Tokyo, March afternoons average at about 13°C (55°F) and 5°C (41°F) in the mornings and evenings. April starts to get a little warmer with highs at 18.5°C (65°F) and lows at 10.5°C (51°F). May is the warmest month of spring in Tokyo with temperatures rising to 23°C (73.5°F) in the afternoons, and cooling to around 15°C (59°F) in the mornings and evenings. It’s usually recommended for visitors to bring heavy coats in early spring and light jackets later into the season. Despite the temperature swings springtime has some of the clearest, sunniest days with hardly any humidity. It’s no wonder most people spend their time outside during the spring, especially for flower viewing.
Both Japanese and international people think of the cherry blossoms in bloom when they think about spring in Japan. Pink petals floating through the breeze on a lazy day somehow fills you with nostalgia for the past and excitement for the present. Most foreign tourists that come for cherry blossom viewings enjoy taking long walks through places like Ueno Park in Tokyo to take pictures. Japanese people, on the other hand, take this time to enjoy Hanami where they sit under the trees, have a picnic, and spend time with family or friends. For Japanese people, Hanami is about spending time with each other and viewing the flowers. Both Japanese people and foreign tourists can enjoy seasonal sakura (cherry blossom) flavored treats. Large restaurant chains like Starbucks and McDonald’s release specialty limited edition items during this time of year, and traditional foods like sakura mochi (sticky pink rice cakes wrapped in a pickled cherry leaf) are sold in supermarkets and convenience stores. Cherry blossom season varies by city, climate, and annual weather, but Tokyo’s season usually starts around March 25th and peaks on April 6th.
Cherry blossoms aren’t the only flowers to look out for, and there are plenty of other spring holidays to enjoy during this time.
Tulips, narcissus, wisteria, plum blossoms… spring brings a plethora of blooms throughout the season. If you miss the short, usually ten-day, cherry blossom season make sure you get a chance to see other flowers. Plum blossoms pioneer into spring before cherry blossoms, and after come narcissus and tulips with wisteria usually finishing out the season. Recently, Ibaraki’s breathtaking Baby Blue Eyes flower display in Hitachi Seaside Park has become the new must-see event in springtime.
Besides flower viewing, Japanese families celebrate Hina Matsuri (Girls’ Day) in their homes. People decorate their homes with ornate dolls leading up to March 3rd to celebrate and wish for the girls’ happiness and prosperity. The dolls are dressed in Heian Period clothing and are said to represent the royal family and their attendants. On Girls’ Day, a special meal is prepared for dinner using seasonal ingredients and each one of the dishes has a meaning. For example, a favorite dish is sweet rice puffs called hina-arare. The pink, white, yellow and green puffs represent the 4 seasons in Japan, and the dish is eaten for year-round happiness. Chirashizushi, rice topped with raw fish and vegetables, is an essential dish served at the festive table with many different colors.
The origins of Girls' Day can be traced back to when people would make straw dolls to ward off evil spirits and pray for prosperity and health. It was believed that the dolls could trap malevolent entities, and especially households with girls would make these dolls and then send them down the river to purify themselves from misfortune. In the 17th-century families began to display the dolls when Empress Meisho popularized the holiday. It's said that when she was a child, she played with her straw dolls. Today, Girls' Day generally celebrates girls under 10 years of age. Grandparents buy Hina dolls for newborn girls, and parents set up the display around mid-February until March 3rd. On March 4th, the displays are immediately taken down as superstition dictates leaving the displays up past this day will bring down calamity.
If you’re wondering about “Boys’ Day,” traditionally this day fell on May 5th but it’s now referred to as Kodomo no Hi, Children’s Day. If you’ve been to Japan in spring before, you might have noticed colorful Koi fish streamers (koi no bori) lining the streets. These are usually hung in anticipation of Children’s Day, and on the 5th samurai dolls are displayed to represent the strength and happiness of Japanese children. Children’s Day happens during the long string of Japanese holidays known as Golden Week.
Golden Week begins on April 29th and ends on May 6th. During this time five national holidays and two weekends pass, so many Japanese businesses and all schools close for the entire period. Japanese people usually take this time to travel either domestically or abroad. If you come to Japan during this time, you’ll notice how much busier the streets, trains, and airports become, as well as how prices tend to rise. Most travel agencies warn travelers against going to Japan during this period.
Whether you come to Japan before or after Golden Week, don’t miss your chance to try strawberry picking. Japanese people love going out to rural areas for fruit picking, and spring means strawberries. For a flat fee of usually about 1500 JPY (15 USD) you can head out to a farm to collect and eat as many strawberries as you want right off the vine! Fruit farmers take special care of every crop they grow, and some specialize in growing luxury fruit. A pack of 12 luxury strawberries might cost 7,000 JPY (70 USD), and normal strawberries grown for supermarkets can get pricey compared to other countries. At a strawberry picking you can guarantee that every berry you pick will be sweet and juicy, just don’t go after lunch!
The weather, the cherry blossoms, and the holidays make Spring a fun-filled time for travelers, but one worrying observation pops up for many… “Why is everyone wearing a surgical mask?!” The blooming flowers and cedar trees eject pounds of pollen in the air, and Japanese people commonly suffer from hay fever during this time. Walking around town you’ll see many folks donning surgical masks to protect themselves from breathing in pollen and preventing colds. Those in the know realize that Japanese people also wear masks when they have a cold to keep from spreading germs to others, but in springtime allergens are among the primary concerns. If you also suffer from pollen, mold, or dust allergies consider fitting in with the culture and trying a mask on yourself!
Each season in Japan has its own special events, good points, and bad points, but spring in Japan remains a particular favorite for Japanese people and travelers. The weather and festivities available make the springtime one of the best times to travel in Japan, but be warned it’s one of the most crowded times of year as well!