Let's talk about a hard truth—Japan has a reputation for being an expensive vacation destination. If you're coming from a western country, airline ticket prices alone might make you dizzy. You might wonder, "Is it possible to take a budget-friendly trip to Japan?" The good news… it is! No matter when you go to Japan, it's easy to find low-cost, high-quality food, hotels, and transportation. To clear that first hurdle—those pesky airfare prices—all you need is some know-how to avoid peak travel periods. If you're a frugal flyer, read on to learn more about the least expensive times to visit Japan!
Although most countries have defined "low" travel periods, predicting Japan's patterns can be a little tricky. Low periods tend to fluctuate due to events throughout the year, natural phenomena, and by specific location. Not to mention, preferred travel dates often differ for people from Western and Eastern countries. Regardless, here’s a list of generally low travel periods by season.
Winter and Early Spring (Last Week of November to the First Week of March)
Outside of the New Year's Holidays (December 29th - January 3rd), winter and early spring don't see too much domestic travel. This is excellent news for international travelers—not only can you find some of the best airfare bargains, but you also won't run into as many crowds or overbooked hotels. Winter in Japan is the best time to go skiing in the north or to take a dip in a hot spring after a long day on tour. In the south, nature lovers might get a chance to see autumn leaves in November or plum blossoms in February and early March.
Note: Lunar New Year (usually celebrated in February) is a prevalent time for international travel to Japan.
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Late Spring (May through June)
Shortly after the Golden Week holidays (April 29th – May 5th) end, Japanese students and workers return to their daily lives, and the throngs of international tourists quickly decline. Although May through June is technically considered a low period, it's gradually becoming a popular time to travel to Japan, especially for those visiting Okinawa where the weather is sunny and clear just before the rainy season begins. If you want to avoid inclement weather, consider heading to Hokkaido in June.
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Early Fall (September to the Third Week of October)
Autumn might be the most temperate time of year, but the weeks leading up to the middle of fall aren't quite so tame. Central Japan gets a considerable amount of rainy days in hot and humid September, which keeps most people home. That means less competition for the best deals! Don't let the cloudy weather hold you back—Japan has plenty of indoor activities to enjoy. By October, the sun returns, the air is crisp, and you can catch the beginning of the leaves changing colors.
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Now let's take a peek at the high periods. Japanese people love going on trips, and there are a few specific periods when most locals take domestic and international vacations. Below are the times of the year and national holidays you should avoid entering and leaving Japan.
Golden Week: April 29 (Showa Day) to May 5 (Children’s Day)
Students, workers, and even retirees look forward to the holiday period known as Golden Week every year. Many businesses close during this time, giving ample opportunity for everyone to get out of town for a little R&R. Prices for domestic and international flights hike up, and hotels in popular destinations get booked quickly—sometimes months before the Golden Week holidays start. Every travel agency cautions their customers against traveling to and from Japan during these dates, and we're no exception!
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Obon: Various Dates in July and mid-August
In Buddhist tradition, the veil between this world and the next grows thin during "Obon," and ancestral spirits come to Earth to visit their families. Japanese people return to their hometowns, pay their respects to departed relatives, and take part in festivals that feature the Bon Odori (Bon Dance). Obon means summer fun for residents, but for travelers, it means crowded public transportation and extra expenses. To make it even more frustrating, the exact dates for Obon vary by year and region! Many cities celebrate in August, but in others, festivities take place in July. Travel during Obon usually peaks from August 11th – 19th, but be sure to consult us about details concerning your itinerary!
Tip: Interestingly, the Obon season in August is the least crowded time of year in Tokyo.
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New Year's Holidays: December 29 to January 3
Like Obon, Japanese people often spend the New Year's Holidays—yes, plural—with their families. From January 1st to the 3rd, crowds swarm shrines and temples as Shintoists and Buddhists practice hatsumode—praying for the first time in the New Year. Famous sightseeing spot Meiji Shrine, for instance, gets an estimated 3 million visitors during this time! In addition to an increase in domestic travel, a lot of locals take time off from work to hit warm-climate countries, which makes even Low-Cost Carrier airlines almost double their prices.
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Sakura Season: Last Week of March to Early April
The cherry blossom season's popularity makes this time of year perhaps the most expensive for visiting Japan. Although the exact dates for the cherry blossom bloom depend on location and weather, the last week of March and the first week of April generally see the most flowers. The number of visitors has increased so much, it’s highly recommended to book cherry blossom tours about a year in advance! You can avoid the crowds and high fees by going to Japan before or after these two weeks. Who knows, you might get lucky and catch the beginning or end of the sakura season!
Click Here to Read About Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Autumn Leaves Season: Third Week of October to Third Week of November
Fall is the most comfortable season in Japan, and many cities hold charming festivals at local worship halls. The striking autumn colors of the leaves enhance the already impressive scenery. The kōyō (autumn leaves) are as beloved as the cherry blossoms in Japanese culture, and domestic airline prices, especially for going from north to south, rise. Kyoto's hotels become rather costly as the brilliant foliage surrounds the city's distinguished shrines, temples, and castles. Autumn leaves typically reach their peak between the third week of October to the third week of November.
Click Here to Read More About Autumn Leaves in Japan
Now that we've gotten through the general time periods to avoid every year, let's take a look at these upcoming events!
The 2019 Rugby World Cup: September 20 to November 2
Not only will Fall 2019 have its usual influx of tourists for autumn leaves, but also Japan is the first Asian country to host the Rugby World Cup. An unprecedented number of fans are expected to come. To date, 2.5 million people have already applied for tickets, and an estimated 400,000 will come from outside Japan for this occasion.
The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics: July 24 to August 9
It's no surprise that people will come in droves for the Olympics, but there's a little more to the story. The Japanese government is making significant efforts to attract 40 million tourists in 2020! It might be a good idea to save a few bucks by planning your trip for after the closing ceremonies.
Although finding the least expensive time to visit Japan might seem a little challenging, you can always contact us to find the best dates!