Although the cherry blossom season is long over in most parts of Japan, May one of the most attractive times of year for travel. Winter releases its final hold in the central areas, but Hokkaido and Aomori still see some chilly days. Despite this, the countryside’s and cities all over Japan are lush with green trees and blooming flowers.
Read on to see our top picks to put on your May vacation bucket list!
The Kawachi Fuji Garden in Fukuoka Prefecture opens to the public only during the wisteria bloom. From late April to mid-May, flower clusters drip down from vines and sway in the breeze. Over 20 types of wisteria grow within 10,000 square meters, making this garden repeatedly rated as one of the most beautiful places in Japan. From the arch of the wisteria tunnels, one 80-meters (262 feet) and the other 110 meters (360 feet), vibrant violets drop down from the petals, and the blossoms gently kiss the top of your head.
In other parts of the garden, the fields are dotted with a symphony of colorful flowers. The wisteria here is so beloved by locals that famous waka (traditional Japanese poems) have been written about them. Maple trees grow on the lands outside of the garden, so if you can’t come here in May, November is also a great time to explore the surrounding area when the leaves change colors.
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From mid-April to May, the fields near Mount Fuji’s Five Lakes come alive in pink—not with cherry blossoms, but with moss! 80,000 shibazakura (moss phlox plants) flood the grounds in different shades of fuchsia, and they’re celebrated during the Fuji Shibazakura Festival. After you explore the fields, rest your weary feet in the Panorama Footbath, a natural hot spring for dipping your toes.
Feeling a little peckish during the festival? Head over to the “Fujiyama Sweets” pop-up café for pastries, tea, and coffee. You can sit on the café’s viewing deck and take in the view of the shibazakura with Mt. Fuji in the background. If you want something a little more filling, head to the onsite Mount Fuji Gourmet Festival which has multiple food stalls available to satisfy any craving, including seasonal cherry blossom-flavored treats!
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The Okinawa archipelago is the crown jewel of Japan. The turquoise waters of the beaches glitter and invite visitors to take a swim. Don’t worry about packing equipment for the beach during your island paradise stay; many hotels and other establishments near beaches offer swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing accouterments.
May is one of the best times of year to visit Okinawa Prefecture—it's hot enough to swim, but the summer humidity hasn’t hit yet. Don’t delay your stay too late though, the rainy season starts in June and typhoons can last through August! But if you do run into heavy rains, there are plenty of places to enjoy indoor activities. At the Churaumi Aquarium, for example, you can see stunning exhibits of deep-sea creatures and local marine life.
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If you’ve ever been to a festival in Japan, you might know them as joyous, noisy occasions where people dash between stalls to enjoy street food and games. The Kyoto Aoi Festival, however, is known for its elegance and grace. The Aoi Festival is one of the most famous festivals in Kyoto, along with the Gion and Jidai Festivals. It’s celebrated every year on May 15th, and it recreates a classic, Shinto-style procession.
500 people dressed in Heian-era clothing walk, ride on horseback or drive oxen-drawn carts from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to Kamigamo and Shimogamo Shrines (also known as the Kamo Shrines). The participants carry offerings like hollyhock leaves and scrolls, and the most important person of the parade—the High Priestess—rides in a palanquin in the back of the procession. The parade is a solemn event, but the celebrations outside of the Kamigamo Shrine include live music and dance performances, as well as horseback archery.
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As Sakura season ends, another one begins. Hugging the shoreline of the Pacific in Ibaraki Prefecture’s Hitachinaka City lies another sapphire sea. The Baby Blue Eyes (or nemophila) garden blooms every year around mid-April to early May in Hitachi Seaside Park. These delicate treasures attract both locals and travelers every spring to revel in their azure radiance.
It’s relatively easy to access Hitachi Seaside Park from Tokyo Station, and a one-way trip by public transportation takes around two hours. Hitachinaka City began planting flowers like the Baby Blue Eyes in 2002. In the short years since the event has become one of Ibaraki’s most well-known sights. Ibaraki Prefecture sows 4.5 million nemophila flowers every November, and carefully waters and weeds them throughout the year. They usually bloom from about mid-April to early May, but sometimes weather conditions affect the season.
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Whether you prefer to spend your spring strolling through flower gardens or reveling in joyous festivals, Japan has something for everyone! If you plan to continue your vacation itinerary from May to June….