Mount Hiei – A fascinating Japan experience not to be missed

Mount Hiei | A fascinating Japan experience not to be missed

Explore the mountains where humans become superhumans,

and be amazed with the indescribable natural beauty and serenity that exists

among the towering cedar trees here.

Georgina

Mount Hiei – The holy mountain in Kyoto

Mount Hiei, regarded as the holy mountain in Kyoto makes a nice little escape from the maddening crowds of other Kyoto’s main attraction. What makes this destination fascinating is the quietness and peacefulness that exists here that transports you to a totally different world of complete zen! All of it within only a stone’s throw away from the chaos of the city below. This is a mountain where history and modernity meets in relation to Japanese culture and religion. A sacred mountain believed to turn ordinary humans in pursuit of enlightenment to super beings for their endurance and perseverance. A truly fascinating Japan experience not to be missed when visiting Kyoto.

As for me, walking in the dense forest of towering cedar trees, somehow made me feel good. I was totally amazed with the unspoiled natural beauty and serenity that exists here which is indescribable. There were moments when I was the only one among the trees. Navigation around the footpaths were convenient and pleasant. The area is well tended and has clear footpaths leading to various buildings in the mountain.

The path leading to Todo tells the story of Buddhism and its leaders
The path leading to Todo tells the story of Buddhism and its leaders | Image: georgina_daniel
Mount Hiei and the temples around the mountain.
Mount Hiei and the temples around the mountain. There are several with walking/hiking routes which one could follow easily | Image: georgina_daniel

Why is Mt Hiei known as Sacred Mountain

Mount Hiei is popularly known as a sacred mountain because it is home to the “Marathon Monks” often regarded as “super humans”. These super human “Marathon Monks” uphold centuries old traditions – they preserve, observe and practise them today and in many ways as exactly as was practised many centuries ago. This mountain is one of the few places in Japan where tradition and history exists alongside a modern world.

I have uploaded a short video below for you to watch to get an idea of why the monks of Mount Hiei are called “Marathon Monks”

Besides being popularly known as a sacred mountain and the infamous “marathon monks” associated to this mountain, there are many other reasons why you should visit this beautiful part of Kyoto. I have listed a few, about 6 of them here:

1 | Mount Hiei is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site

The whole of Mount Hiei is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the banner of “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto”. The mountain is home to Enryakuji Temple where the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism was founded in 788. It was once, home to the “warrior monks” – currently home to the “marathon monks.”

2 | The rich history of Mount Hiei

The temples in Mount Hiei were the guardians of ancient Kyoto. One of the most important monasteries in Japanese history was established here over 1200 years ago.

The Enryakuji Temple, the heart of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism was founded here in 788 by Saicho.

Saicho was a monk from China. He introduced the Tendai sect Buddhism in Japan and established the headquarters in the mountains of Hiei. The mountain became the holy mountain with 3,000 scattered temples and thousands of monks. In Japan’s history, Enryakuji was the home to the “warrior monks” who raided and terrified Kyoto City.

In order to remove all rivals and to unite the country, Shogun Nobunaga defeated these warrior monks and burned the Enryakuji complex down in 1571. The Enryakuji Temple was thereafter rebuilt during the Edo period and became the headquarters of the Tendai sect and remains as such till today.

3 | The “Marathon Monks” of Mount Hiei

Although the warrior monks are long gone, legend has it that Mount Hiei became home to another breed of monks called, the “marathon monks” who continue to remain here till today. “Marathon monks” are called as such because they are regarded as “super humans” to have to undergo a challenge known as “sennichi kaihogyo” – a “one-thousand day go around the peaks training” in search of enlightenment in the here and now.

3.1 | The One-thousand-day Challenge

The monks who set out on these one-thousand-day challenge will occasionally complete  it. The one-thousand-day challenge is a seven-year training period.

Initially, the Buddhist spiritual athlete or “gyoja” will begin a 100-day stretch of training period and the “gyoja” must cover 52.5 miles daily. During this 100-day training, the “gyoja” must decide whether he wants to take on the challenge of the remaining 900 days. To complete the challenge will be a test of his endurance, perseverance and both physical and mental strength because of his death-defying fasts, his vegetarian training diet and his handmade straw running shoes.

The “gyoja” dresses in pure white kimono and carries with him a sheathed knife. According to the Tendai Buddhist tradition, if he does not complete his prescribed marathon – the walks, runs and tasks, he must take his own life. In addition, he also carries a small bag which consists of his secret holy book which will guide him on his journey and the 250 prayer-stops he must make. Some will be to honour monks of the past who died by suicide because they failed on their challenge. The bag will also hold some candles, matches, a small bag of food offerings to the deities, and a rosary. The “gyoja” will use handmade straw sandals on his bare feet and carry a straw raincoat and paper lantern.

As you can imagine, to complete this challenge is truly a test of endurance, perseverance and of both physical and mental strengths. It is no surprise that only 46 monks have completed this one-thousand-day challenge since 1885.

3.2 | Find out more on Marathon Monks

If you are interested to find out more on the “Marathon Monks”, you can purchase “The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei” by John Stevens (2013) for only £13.14 or much cheaper for a used copy from Amazon. To purchase your copy, click on the link below.

Watch this video on the monk who started his one-thousand-day journey. It gives an idea of what is expected of them to fulfil their journey with the use of just the straw sandals, paper lantern and a straw raincoat.

Watch Marathon Monks of Mt Hiei

Legendary seven year test of endurance that only a remarkable few have ever accomplished

4 | The historical Enryakuji Temple in Mount Hiei

Entrance to Enryakuji Temple Mount Hiei
Entrance to Enryakuji Temple, Mount Hiei, Kyoto | Image: georgina_daniel
Enryakuji Temple in Mount Hiei
Part of the Enryakuji Temple in Mount Hiei | Image: georgina_daniel
Enryakuji Temple at Mount Hiei
Part of the buildings forming Enryakuji Temple and buildings in Mount Hiei, Kyoto | Image: georgina_daniel

As mentioned above, the Enryakuji Temple in Mount Hiei is the HQ of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism. It is spread over three areas:

  • Todo > on the East;
  • Saito > on the West;
  • Yokawa > a few kilometres north of Todo and Saito
There are clear sign-posting available to get you to the temples in Mount Hiei.
There are clear sign-posting available to get you to the temples in Mount Hiei.

All three sites are linked by hiking trails that will take you through the woods and tall cedar trees.

4.1 | Todo, on the East of Mount Hiei

Todo is the main area and is the heart of Enryakuji with its three-storey pagoda where the monastery was originally built in the 8th century.

The main buildings are also located here which includes the main hall, “Kom pon Chudo” and the Amida Hall which was added to the complex in 1937.

Mount Hiei | Like other temples, there are shops for souvenirs in Mount Hiei
As with any visits to temples, you would always find shops for souvenirs, light refreshments and incense. You will find that Mount Hiei offer a great selection of these.

As Todo is the main area with many buildings, there were a number of tourists here. You can generally follow the crowd to get to the major attractions or you can explore on your own. I felt safe to do so, and I found the trails were well-signposted.

Enryakuji Temple and buildings in Mount Hiei, Kyoto

Enryakuji Temple and buildings in Mount Hiei, Kyoto
Enryakuji Temple and buildings in Mount Hiei, Kyoto
Enryakuji Temple and buildings in Mount Hiei, Kyoto
Enryakuji Temple and buildings in Mount Hiei, Kyoto | Image: georgina_daniel

A nice, quiet walk through the forest trail connects the Todo area to Saito.

4.2 | Saito on the West of Mount Hiei

Saito on the West houses many old buildings and amongst it is the mausoleum of the founder of Enryakuji Temple, Saicho. You will also find the Shaka Hall, the oldest building on the mountain.

Not too far off, you will find the Ninai Hall, where two halls are connected together by a central corridor.

Saito in Mount Hiei: Ninai Hall - Two buildings connected by a small passage
Saito in Mount Hiei: Ninai Hall – Two buildings connected by a small passage

4.3 | Yokawa

Yokawa is on the north of Todo and Saito and is a little further. It is connected by a trail through woods. If you are feeling adventurous, I would urge you to make this trail through the woods, where you can admire the Chudo main hall which is built on wooden platform.

5 | A beautiful walk in the forest of Mount Hiei

As I walked along these trails, in the midst of lush greenery, I came come across many small buildings and temples, way-shrines tucked away in the middle of the forest in between the lush greens, bell towers, lecture halls and places for meditation. All these buildings are well-connected with stone-paved steps and trails with stone-lanterns along the way.

Stone lanterns along the trail, paves the way to explore what's beyond and in the forest.
Stone lanterns along the trail, paves the way to explore what’s beyond and in the forest. These are easily accessible, walkable trails.
Stone-paved steps connects the buildings in Enryakuji Temple. Easily walkable.
Mount Hiei: Stone-paved steps connects the buildings in Enryakuji Temple. Easily walkable.

One can imagine the beauty of the lighted lanterns in the evening or when in the dark – perhaps it is to light the path the monks once took before they entered the deep forest. It was pretty.

A walk in the forest of Mount Hiei will lead you to discover buildings and temples dotted around – sometimes to pray and sometimes a place to meditate.

Buildings and Temples dotted around the forest in Mount Hiei. Sometimes to pray and sometimes a place to meditate.
Buildings and Temples dotted around the forest in Mount Hiei. Sometimes to pray and sometimes a place to meditate.
Buildings and Temples dotted around the forest in Mount Hiei
Buildings and Temples dotted around the forest in Mount Hiei. Sometimes to pray and sometimes a place to meditate.

I spent some time walking around, lost in the moment of my own thoughts, taking-in the serenity and calmness of the mountain when I heard the bell.

6 | The huge bell at Enryakuji Temple, Mount Hiei

The huge bell everyone queues for to ring at least once in Mount Hiei. You can hear it in the most part of the forest.
The huge bell everyone queues for to ring at least once in Mount Hiei. You can hear it in the most part of the forest.

I followed the sound and came to a huge bell where tourists were queuing-up to ring it. Every temple seems to have one of these but the bell at Enryakuji is huge, perhaps to signify its importance.

The bell has a huge wooden rod made from a log. The log is used to ring the bell. The bell is rung by a Buddhist faithful when entering a temple or when answering a call to worship. The bell symbolises wisdom and compassion which Buddhist believers and practitioners recognise as being the path to enlightenment. This particular site was very popular and to take a “tourist-free” photo was difficult!.

7 | My conclusion on Mount Hiei, Kyoto

Like I said, if you want to get away from the maddening crowd of Kyoto, Mount Hiei is the place to be. You could spend the day here and still get back to Kyoto in the evening and experience the nightlife of Gion-shiji.

In retrospect, when I left London for Osaka, I did not know of Mount Hiei. Being here, I found Mount Hiei to be an unforgettable Japan experience. It gave me an insight into Buddhism, the test of perseverance and courage that the infamous “marathon monks” endure in their one-thousand-day challenge. Walking through the peaceful forest was quite an experience for a city girl like me and I think I may have brought some of the serenity back with me.

I sincerely hope that you will visit Mount Hiei in Kyoto. Below are some useful information for you to consider that may help you make that visit.

8 | Travel tips and Useful Information

Mount Hiei is situated on the hills, northeast of Kyoto, on the border between Kyoto and Shiga Prefecture, Kyoto. It is at 850 metres (2500 feet) in elevation and at its summit, offers spectacular views over Old Kyoto and Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. There are three ways to get to Mt Hiei using transportation, but it is more popular amongst hikers who can complete the hike up in a few hours – whichever way you choose to get up here, it will make a nice day trip for solo travellers, couples and families of any age.

8.1 | What route did I opt for to get up to Mount Hiei

I opted for the bus-ride up from Kyoto Station which was an hour, purely because I wanted to experience the ride. The roads were narrow but very skilfully manoeuvred by the driver. As you ascend, you will feel the coolness set in and feel your ears…and of course, you are rewarded with the picturesque views from the mountain and the valley below as you ascend. It was certainly different but good.

8.2 | Route to get back down to ground level from Mount Hiei

Sakamoto Cable car - A ride from Mount Hiei to Sakamoto Station was just 2 kilometres.
Sakamoto Cable car – A ride from Mount Hiei to Sakamoto Station was just 2 kilometres. | Image: georgina_daniel

For my return journey, I opted to take the Sakamoto Cable car to the Shiga side. This route was to the base of the mountain at Sakamoto Station which was the nearest station to my next destination. A visit to Lake Biwa was next on my itinerary. This two-kilometres, 11-minute journey proved to be well-worth the money as it offered an awesome view directly over Lake Biwa and an opportunity to stroll through the town of Sakamoto.

View of Lake Biwa from the cable car ride down to Sakamoto
View of Lake Biwa from the cable car ride down to Sakamoto | Image: georgina_daniel

9 | Other places to visit in Mount Hiei

There are other places which you may wish to visit in Mount Hiei. Below are some that may be of interest to you. I did not visit these places as I wanted to spend more time in the woods and make it to Lake Biwa for the sunset

9.1 | The Garden Museum, Hiei

This garden is about 1.7 hectares and is based on French impressionism and has about 100,000 blooms each year.

Entry: 1030 Yen

Opening times: 10:00 – 17:30 (Open later during summer and at night during summer weekends).

URL: http://www.garden-museum-hiei.co.jp/

9.2 | Tsukuri Soba

This soba restaurant is opened from 09:30 to 16:00

10 | Useful Information

  • Take a light jacket with you as the temperature drops very slightly;
  • Wear proper walking shoes or hiking boots;
  • Take a bottle of water with you and some light snacks if you wish to have a break while you are exploring.

11 | Getting to Mount Hiei: 3 routes

From Kyoto side – by Eizan Cable car and Ropeway

  • Take the Keihan Line from Kyoto Station and exit at Demachiyanagi Station, the last station/stop on the route;
  • From Demachiyanagi, ride to the summit of Mount Hiei on the Eizan Electric Railway, Eizan Cable and Eizan Ropeway;
  • The Eizan Electric Railway is a sightseeing line dotted with locations known for their harmonious balance of nature and the old capital such as Ohara, Kurama and Kibune. After about 15 minutes ride, you will arrive at Yase-Hieizanguchi Station. This part of your journey offers you with beautiful spring growth and autumn colours. There is a temple here, Ruriko-in Temple which has special openings in spring and autumn.
  • From Yase, take the Eizan Cable Car, which is another 15 minutes journey, to the top of Mount Hiei. This is one of the steepest ride in Japan. Thereafter, transfer to the ropeway which will take you all the way to the top of the 840-metre summit. The summit is about six degrees Celsius cooler than downtown Kyoto, so it may feel cold at the top. Take a light jacket with you even when you are visiting in the summer.

Fares:

Demachiyanagi Station to Yase-Hieizanguchi Station (Eizan Electric Railway):

Adults: 260 yen | Children: 130 yen

Eizan Cable Car: Adults: 540 yen | Children: 270 yen

Eizan Ropeway: Adults: 310 yen | Children: 160 yen

From the Shiga side

From Kyoto Station, take the JR Kosei Line to Hiei-Sakamoto Station;

This train journey is approximately 15 minutes. Alternatively, you may want to take the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Hiei-Sakamoto Station.

  • From Hiei-Sakamoto Station, it is a 15-minute walk to the lower station of the Sakamoto Cablecar, or a 5-minute bus ride;
  • The Cable car ride takes about 11 minutes;
  • From the upper station, the Todo area is about 5-10 minutes walk.

Kyoto Station to Hiei-Sakamoto Station (JR Kosei Line): Adult: 320 Yen (one-way);

Fares

Kyoto Station to Hiei-Sakamoto Station on the Shinkansen is covered by the JR Pass and you would not have to pay the 320 Yen.

Sakamoto Cable car: 860 Yen (one-way) or 1,620 Yen for a round-trip. You can purchase this ticket from a vending machine at the station.

By Bus

This route is a toll-road and there are direct buses from Kyoto Station and Sanjo Station (Keihan Line) to Hieizan’s Todo area.

  • From Kyoto Station > take Bus Line 57 that leaves from bus-stop C6. Lin-up for Mount Hiei
  • Journey time is one hour, one-way;
  • There are 4-6 buses a day;
  • Bus services do not operate between December and March.

Fares:

The one-way trip takes about one-hour and costs about 770 Yen.

12 | Opening hours

12.1 | Todo on the East:

March to November: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
December: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
January and February: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

12.2 | Saito on the West and Yokawa Area

March to November: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
December: 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
January and February: 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

13 | Admission

You can get a combined ticket/pass to all three areas of Enryakuji Temple:

Adults: 700 yen


Was this article valuable to you in planning your visit to Mount Hiei? If so, do let me know in comments below or via the Contact form. I would love to hear from you.

.Happy Adventures!

February 2021, Update


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Mount Hiei Kyoto
Mount Hiei Kyoto
Mount Hiei

Escape the maddening crowd of downtown Kyoto to the dense forest of towering cedar trees and experience the indescribable natural beauty and serenity that exists here. A detailed travel guide on what to see, do and how to get to this mountain. via @GGeorgina_timelesstravelsteps/Escape the maddening crowd of downtown Kyoto to the dense forest of towering cedar trees and experience the indescribable natural beauty and serenity that exists here. A detailed travel guide on what to see, do and how to get to this mountain. via @GGeorgina_timelesstravelsteps/

When is the best time to go to Japan?

Best time to go to Japan

A bi-monthly weather guide | What to Expect | Events/Festivals | National Holidays | Clothing Guide to support your travel plans

From spring blossoms to autumn leaves and winter festivals, Japan is a country that can be visited at anytime of the year. Typically, late spring, March – May and late autumn, September to November is ideal as the temperature is mild and rainfall is low. December and January are the driest months with January and February being the coldest in Japan. However, to pick the best time to go to Japan will depend very much on what you want to see, do, and experience in this Land of the Rising Sun.

When planning a visit to go to Japan, note that although Japan has all four seasons, it also has a rainy season and a typhoon season. Japan’s weather changes dramatically from one month to another and from one region to another. Given that the Japanese archipelago stretches 3000 kilometres (1800 miles) from north to south, the changes from region to region can be quite drastic even within the same season.

To support your travel plans to Japan, here is a complete and detailed bi-monthly guide for you to use. This guide includes Japan’s national holidays calendar for you to peruse, tips on what to pack and festivals/events to look forward to.

January/February | Best time to go to Japan

Temperatures:

January: High 9.6℃ (49.2°F)/ Low 1.8℃ (35.1°F)

February: High 10.3℃ (50.3°F)/ Low 2.7℃ (36.9°F)

What to expect in January and February

January and February are the coldest months of the year in Japan and sees the ground covered with a blanket of snow. Northern regions of Japan such as Hokkaido sees a thick blanket of snow and welcomes winter sports enthusiasts. A perfect time to hit the ski slopes in northern Japan. These months are the perfect time to see the snow monkeys in Nagano as well.

Snow-monkeys, Nagano, Japan | Best time to go to Japan
Snow monkeys in Nagano, Japan

During these winter months, in cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima located in the middle part of Japan, the Honshu island, get lighter snow. Days are short during winter but January has been recorded to be the sunniest in Tokyo due to little or no rain or snow.

February marks the second coldest month in Japan and people are often indoors or some may indulge in winter sports. February also kicks off the diving season in Japan with sea turtles, sharks, seahorses and manatees can be spotted easily during this season.

As for notable events and festivals, February sees the popular Sapporo Snow Festival.

Why you should visit in January/February

Winter months of January and February are one of the best time to go to Japan as it presents one of the best picturesque landscape. Mountains covered in snow. Still temples and castles covered in snow and drip in icicles. Lit-up snow-covered stone lanterns flicker in the dark to pave the path to the shrines. So peaceful, so serene.

Kinkakuji in Winter, Kyoto, Japan | Best time to go to Japan
Kinkakuji in winter, Kyoto, Japan

If you are willing to brave the cold, then this is your perfect opportunity for a more personal experience of Japan as there will be less tourists, less crowd at all the touristy spots.

Clothing guide:

Keep yourself warm. You will need a thick coat at the very least and a scarf, woolly or knit cap + mittens. Layering is recommended towards latter February


March / April | Best time to go to Japan

Temperatures:

March: High 16.4℃ (61.3°F)/ Low 7.9℃ (46.1°F)

April: High 19.2℃ (66.8°F)/ Low 10.8℃ (51.2°F)

What to expect in March and April

Early March is still relatively cold and the snowboarding season still continues in some places although it has passed the peak season.

Tokyo sees warmer weather all month and spring days start to appear. In Okinawa, the sea is warm but the waters can be chilly for a dive without a wet-suit.

Daytime temperatures in March are quite refreshing and there are warmer days as well.

April brings pleasant spring weather all across Japan. It is the peak of cherry blossom season in most regions of the country. In Okinawa, the beaches start to open.

Hanami

March is a popular time to visit Japan as the weather is mild and the onset of the cherry blossom season draws many visitors to the various locations. By mid-march, you can see the budding blooms on the trees, signalling the beginning of the Hanami season. Hanami is the tradition of viewing and appreciating the beauty of the sakuras. Hanami has long been adored by locals as well as people across the globe as it is regarded as a symbol of renewal, vitality, and beauty.

cherry blossoms in Japan
Pink Cherry Blossoms at the beginning of Spring, Kyoto, Japan | Image: georgina_daniel

In late March to early April, you will be able to catch the cherry blossoms at their best. If you are planning a trip during Hanami, dedicate some time to planning your travels. The sakura are in full bloom for only 2 to 3 weeks in Spring, between 20th March and 14th April, so you don’t really see them in full-bloom for a full month. Cherries peak at different times and are very weather dependent but they generally peak on 1st April.

Himeji Castle during hanami
Himeji Castle, Japan during the cherry blossom season | Image: georgina_daniel

Milder climate in the southern region means first blooms are produced in places like Okinawa, and blooming progresses northward. Wind, rain, and temperature can cause the blossoms to appear either earlier or later than average and can lengthen or shorten the blooming season.

If you are planning a trip to witness the hanami, then you may want to consider the following:

  • Where will you be going to for the Hanami: Kyoto is a popular destination for hanami and so is Osaka, Himeji and Tokyo;
  • When will you be going – you need to visit as close to the time as possible. You also need to decide where you want to witness the hanami as cherries bloom at different times depending on the region;
  • As well, consider your accommodation – where would you stay?

It’s worth noting that March and April are expensive months, so plan ahead and book your flights and accommodations well in advance of your travels. Take a look at the 6-step guide to an awesome vacation.

graphic for cherry blossoms article

Clothing Guide:

Early March is still cold so you might want to have a warmer coat. Latter March and April might require a medium weight/spring jacket with a liner. Keep your feet warm as well during these months. April is comfortably warm, so you can wear light clothes, like t-shirts with jeans, long-sleeve shirts and pants, and thin cardigans.


April through to June are the most comfortable months

May/June | Best time to go to Japan

Temperatures:

May: High 24.1℃ (75.2°F)/ Low 16℃ (60.9°F)

June: High 26.5℃ (79.4°F)/ Low 20℃ (68°F)

What to expect in May and June

The weather in May is almost perfect with the right temperatures. Days are warm and sunny at almost every region. It is a popular time for tourists as well. If you can’t make it to Japan in March and April for the Hanami, then head over to Hokkaido in May to catch the white and pink hues of the cherry blossoms. However, avoid travel during the Golden Week where prices soar and flights, hotels and activities get booked up quickly.

In Okinawa, rainy season begins in May.

Notable Festivals in May: Meiji Shrine Spring Festival (Tokyo) | May 2 – May 3

Golden Week typically falls during the last weekend in April and the first week of May. [In 2020, April 29 falls on a Wednesday. Festivities and travel are expected to continue through Tuesday, May 5. l

June sees the beginning of the typhoon season in Japan. Typically the first week of June is the rainiest, with rain continuing on till September. Rainy season is a period of grey, humid and wet weather. Every region in Japan plunges into a rainy season in June except Hokkaido.

Hokkaido has no rainy season. No rain means it is perfect for hosting events and festivals.

YOSAKOI Soran Festival | Best time to go to Japan
YOSAKOI Soran Festival | Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan | by Sapporo Travel

Sapporo holds the largest event called Yosakoi Soran Festival, a dance competition to take advantage of the good weather.

Tokyo sees a lot of rain and is one of the rainiest cities in Japan. Despite the rain, the city continues to be lively.

In June, head to Osaka around the 15th where on the nearby sacred mountain of Koyasan, hundreds of priests celebrate the birth of Kukai, the grand master of Japanese Buddhism.  

Clothing Guide:

In May, with pleasant and moderate temperatures, lightweight cardigan or sweater for early mornings and late evenings are ideal. Long skirts, dresses and short-sleeved shirts will be perfectly okay during the day. June sees the start of the rainy season in Japan. It rains quite heavily at times and unexpectedly. Humidity is high. Best to bring along a light raincoat and waterproof shoes.


Get the latest on Japan’s weather here – Japan Meteorological Agency


July/August | Best time to go to Japan

Temperatures:

July: High 31.4℃ (88.3°F)/ Low 24.2℃ (75.8°F)

August: High 33.2℃ (91.9°F)/ Low 26℃ (78.9°F)

What to expect in July and August

July is the start of summer in Japan. In most regions, the rainy season ends around mid July. This is also the start of school holidays. The beaches open and is the beginning of summer festivals throughout the country as well.

The weather turns very hot and humid.

Hiking Mt Fuji | Best time to go to Japan
Hiking Mt Fuji, Japan | Pixabay

Mount Fuji opens its doors to climbers on July 1st. If you are a climbing/hiking enthusiast and wish to climb Mount Fuji, then late July through to late August is the best time for you to do so. The weather conditions are ideal for climbing but this also means that the mountainside is congested.

The last weekend in July sees Japan’s largest music festival kick off – Fuji Rock Festival at Naeba Ski Resort in Yuzawa, Niigata, featuring both international and national artists.

August is Japan’s hottest month with varying highs of 90 in places like Okinawa and 72 in Hokkaido but less humid. Osaka and Kyoto can get much hotter. Nightlife is busy during these times with festivals, fireworks and events.

There is a three-day Buddhist custom called “Obon Festival” which falls in the middle of August. This is a much celebrated festival where the Japanese believe that the dead and the living are re-united on this day to celebrate, drink and be merry. The streets will be blocked off to the festival and dancing. The dancing, “Bon Odori” is a traditional dance performed throughout Japan. It is a fun time to visit Japan to experience this part of their culture.

The southern regions of Japan such as Okinawa, Kyushu and Shikoku are exposed to strong typhoons during August.

Honour a special and moving tradition on August 6

You may wish to go to Japan early August, in particular to Hiroshima.

Hiroshima Floating of Peace Lanterns | Best time to go to Japan
Hiroshima Peace Lanterns Floating on August 6

On August 6, you could participate and honour the moving tradition of setting paper lanterns off adrift on the River Ota to commemorate the anniversary of the atomic bomb that fell on the city of Hiroshima on August 6. About 10.000 lanterns float past the A-Bomb Dome in the Motoyasu River every year on August 6th.

Clothing Guide:

Light, breezy clothes are best for July. Short sleeves, skirts etc. As it is festival time, kimono and yukata are popular attires as well. Wear a summer hat to protect from the strong sunlight. Use sunscreen as well.

Plan ahead to secure best deals

Holidays and festivals in Japan also means that it is a favourite time for travellers. Flights and hotels are usually booked up months in advance. If you are planning a visit to Japan in August, make your bookings well in advance so you can secure the best deals on flights and hotels.


September/October | Best time to go to Japan

Temperatures:

September: High 28.8℃ (83.9°F)/ Low 21.8℃ (71.1°F)

October: High 23℃ (73.2°F)/ Low 17℃ (62.8°F)

What to expect in September and October

The weather cools down a touch in September but still with some fluctuating showers. There are occasions of long period of rain and typhoons. Tokyo experiences the rainiest month of the year.

Mount Fuji closes its hiking trails by the 2nd week of September. One of the largest professional Sumo tournaments takes place in Tokyo in September. September is also a time to avoid travels during Silver Week. End of September sees the first of the falling leaves, making way for the onset of the renowned Japanese autumn.

Mt Fuji in Fall | Best time to go to Japan
Mt Fuji in the Fall, Japan | Pixabay

October is a perfect time to visit Japan! The weather is mild, drier and cooler. The start of autumnal colours are spectacular at this time – perfect atmosphere to enjoy the natural sights. Exploring the countryside is highly encouraged during this season.

Japanese Maple | Fall Colours | Japan
Japanese maple, Fall colours, Japan | Pixabay

Kyoto is a popular destination to see the momijired maple leaves. But there are beautiful colours throughout Japan especially in the parks and gardens.

October 9th /10th – Takayama Festival takes place. On 22nd Kyoto’s Jidai Festival takes place when 2,000 people in ornate costumes depart from Kyoto Imperial Palace towards Heian Jingu shrine.  A colourful and vibrant event which you may want to see.

Clothing Guide:

Early September is still warm and summer clothes are ideal along with kimono or yukata. It gets cooler from mid September onwards and thicker/warmer fabric would become necessary. While October is pleasant and you can wear a variety of clothing, always bring along a light sweater or a cardigan as temperatures may drop.


November/December | Best time to go to Japan

Temperatures:

November: High 17.4℃ (63.2°F)/ Low 9.8℃ (49.4°F)

December: High 12.1℃ (53.9°F)/ Low 4.9℃ (40.9°F)

What to expect in November and December

The weather in November is generally dry, crisp, sunny and cool but this can change to become colder. Typhoon season ends. Full autumn takes hold. Japan’s gardens, parks, temples and natural landscapes look spectacular. As well, it is harvest time in Japan and there are a number of harvest festivals.

Ear of Rice, Fall Harvest | Japan
Ear of Rice, Fall Harvest, Japan | Pixabay

December sees the first sign of snowfall as winter begins. It is colder and snow begins to settle. It is the third coldest month in Japan. Ski slopes in central Japan and Hokkaido open for business in December.

Japan's picturesque landscape in winter
Japan’s picturesque landscape in winter | by MarkD, Pixabay

While it is cold and snows almost everyday in Hokkaido, and you definitely need to wrap up, don’t let this deter you. Japan has one of the most picturesque landscape in winter, blankets of snow covered castle roofs and temples – a sight to behold!

However, do keep in mind that between 29th and the first week of January, Japan has lots of New Year’s activities and holidays. You may want to either join in the celebrations or avoid these dates.

If you are planning travels to Japan, try and avoid these dates because the public transport will be overcrowded, hotels will be on full occupancy, and at a higher rate. Temples and shrines may also be closed for winter, so best check on what you want to visit.

Clothing Guide:

Bring along a sweater or a jacket in November. Be prepared for colder evenings. You may need a scarf as well. December calls for winter clothing of thick coats, sweaters and many layers. Woolly/knit hats and gloves are highly recommended also. Be prepared for occasional gusts of wind so it does not blow your hats off!


Japan’s Calendar of National Holidays and Observances

Japanese holiday calendar 2021

  • New Year’s Day – January 1
  • Coming of Age Day – January 11
  • Foundation Day – February 11
  • Emperor’s birthday – February 23
  • Vernal Equinox Day – March 20
  • Showa Day – April 29
  • Constitution Day – May 3
  • Greenery Day – May 4
  • Children’s Day – May 5
  • Sea Day or Marine Day – July 19
  • Mountain Day – August 11
  • Respect for the Aged Day – September 20
  • Autumnal Equinox Day – September 23
  • Sports Day – October 11
  • Culture Day – November 3
  • Labor Thanksgiving Day – November 23

Timeless Travel Steps suggests: Take note of the national holidays and observances in Japan. Book your flights early, book your accommodation early and buy your Japan Rail Pass before leaving home.


My thoughts…

Japan’s distinct culture and striking natural landscapes makes it a rewarding destination to visit at anytime of the year. Whilst it is recommended that you avoid travelling during the Golden and Silver Week, it is also one of the best times for festivals and events. It all depends what you want to experience and what you would like your visit to be. I sincerely hope the information on this page will support and guide your travel itinerary.


What do you think? Is this post valuable to you in planning your visits to Japan? If so please let me know in comments below or via Contact Form, I would love to hear from you. Scroll all the way down for more ideas and inspiring travel stories. Subscribe to join us at My Timeless Footsteps to receive all the latest news and events.

Have a great time discovering Japan 🙂

Georgina xx


Learn more on places to visit in Japan

Tokyo | Best time to go to Japan
Hiroshima | Best time to go to Japan
Himeji | Tokyo City Guide | Best time to go to Japan
Best time to go to Japan

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