Planning your trip to Japan in 2020

The end of the year is when thoughts often turn to next year’s travel destination. There are likely to be airline ticket sales over the next few weeks which may tempt you to buy tickets to Japan. Before you rush to take advantage of a bargain deal, it’s a good idea to think about when you’d like to travel and what you’d like to do. You may find yourself saving on airfares only to pay top prices on accommodation during busy periods if you’re not careful.

Peak travel times in 2020

Major holiday periods for Japanese people are Golden Week, Obon (mid-August) and New Year. The dates for these in 2020 are:

Golden Week – public holidays are on 29 April and 3, 4, 5 and 6 May. Peak travel days are likely to be Saturday 2 May and Wednesday 6 May.

Obon – the main travel period is between 8 August and 16 August.

New Year – travel will be busy on 30 and 31 December, and again on 3 and 4 January 2021.

Other events that may impact your travels are the Olympics and Paralympics which are being held in Tokyo and surrounding areas, plus Sapporo for the marathons. You can expect accommodation to be harder to get and to pay the full rate at these times.

Olympics – 24 July to 9 August

Paralympics – 25 August to 6 September

Many visitors to Japan want to see cherry blossom or autumn foliage which makes spring and autumn peak travel periods. Timings vary from year to year so you may want to retain some flexibility in your schedule with cancellable hotel reservations. Accommodation in places known for cherry blossom and foliage will be at its most expensive during these seasons. The following links are useful to check cherry blossom and foliage timings throughout Japan.

Japan Meteorological Corporation has a long-range forecast for cherry blossom in 2020. They also publish regularly updated reports during the cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons.

Edit: The 2020 forecast has just been released. Predictions are for cherry blossom to be a little earlier than usual.

Japan Guide also has useful information on autumn leaves and cherry blossom.

It’s important to understand that the dates vary from year to year due to weather conditions. While following these sources won’t guarantee that you catch cherry blossom or foliage at its peak, they are useful in maximising your chances.

Check your sightseeing options

If there is something you have set your heart on doing or seeing, check that it will be open and available to you before you book your travel. For example:

If you want to climb to the summit of Mt Fuji, the season runs from early July to September.

The snow monkeys at Jigokudani monkey park in Nagano head for the hills during mating season in November.

Some museums, such as the Yayoi Kusama Museum, close in between exhibitions.

Significant historic buildings can undergo restoration or repair, which may impede access or shroud them in scaffolding and screens. This include places that are on many “must see” lists, such as Kiyomizudera in Kyoto which is scheduled to be completed in March 2020, and the tori gate at Itsukushima shrine near Hiroshima. This will be surrounded by scaffolding all year.

Before you book flights and accommodation

Remember that a trip to Japan can be more than return flights to Tokyo and going to other big cities such as Kyoto and Osaka. There are many smaller cities and towns with interesting sights and festivals, and beautiful scenic areas for outdoors enthusiasts. You might want to consider flying into somewhere other than Tokyo, and choosing a more varied itinerary. It’s worth taking a little bit of time to think about your dream trip.

Do you have any questions about travelling around Japan? Please feel free to contact me.

Would you like to receive my quarterly newsletter with the latest news for visitors, plus useful seasonal information? Receive a trip planning timeline when you sign up!

For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.