The climate of Japan is cold in the north (where snow and ice dominate in winter), temperate in the central regions, and almost tropical on the small southern islands. The rains are abundant almost everywhere, and between summer and autumn the country is hit by torrential rains and typhoons.
The climate of Japan is influenced by the monsoon circulation: in winter it's affected by cold currents from the north-west, and in summer by wet and humid currents of tropical origin.

Japan is a large archipelago, consisting of more than 3,000 islands and islets, and it's very extended in latitude: Hokkaido, the northernmost of the main islands, touches the 45th parallel north (the same latitude as Montréal, Canada); Tokyo, the capital, is located on the 36th parallel (the same latitude as Malta or as Nashville, TN), while the southern part of the island of Kyushu touches the 31th parallel (the latitude of northern Egypt or of Austin, TX), and finally the small southern islands (Ogasawara, Ryukyu and Daito) reach tropical latitudes (the Yaeyama Islands, the southernmost of the Ryukyus, are located just north of the Tropic of Cancer, at the same latitude as Miami, FL).
The sea is able to temper the climate and at the same time to increase air humidity. However, the influence of the great Asian continent, of mountain ranges (which cover three quarters of the country) and ocean currents (the north-eastern sea is cooled by the cold current called Oya-Shio, while in the southern seas the warm Kuro-Shio current flows), as well as the length of the country, tend to increase the difference between the seasons and between different areas.

Two common features of the climate of Japan are the absence of a real dry season and the high summer rainfall.
Overall, the rainiest areas, where annual precipitation exceeds 2,000 millimeters (80 inches), are the central-western part of the island of Honshu (where precipitation is abundant even in winter because of the north-west monsoon), the Kii Peninsula (where the summer monsoon is actually more pronounced), also the inland and southern areas of Shikoku and the central-southern part of Kyushu (which are affected by the summer monsoon as well).
The least rainy area is the northernmost part of Hokkaido, where precipitation drops below 1,000 mm (40 in) per year, both because of the cold winter and the reduced influence of the summer monsoon.
Summer, which begins in mid-June, is hot and muggy in much of the country, except in Hokkaido and the northern part of Honshu, where the temperatures are typically more pleasant. August is the hottest month on the main islands, while on the small southern islands there is no difference between July and August. In August, the daily average temperature is around 22 °C (71 °F) in Hokkaido, 24.5 °C (76 °F) in northern Honshu, and 27 °C (81 °F) in the area of Tokyo.
Owing to both the high humidity and the so called "urban heat island" effect, the heat is hardly bearable in Tokyo, Osaka and in the big cities of southern Honshu and Kyushu. In the hottest periods, minimum temperatures around 25/27 °C (77/81 °F) are not uncommon.
In most of Japan, summer is the rainiest season of the year.
There are two rainiest periods. The rainy season begins with the "Baiu rains" or "plum rains" (June 15-July 15), which are heavy and essential for rice cultivation, especially in the south (where June is the rainiest month of the year).
In the second part of summer, usually by August, typhoons begin to show up; they mainly affect the southern part of the country, but they may also affect Tokyo. The most intense typhoons can bring gale force winds and torrential rains, causing extensive damage.
The area of Osaka and Kyoto is relatively sheltered from typhoons because it is surrounded by mountains.
In autumn, September is still hot and humid, at least in the center and south of the country, and in Tokyo it is the rainiest month of the year. September is the rainiest month in Sapporo as well, but by this time of the year summer is already over. In contrast, the southern island of Okinawa is still in midsummer in September.


Hokkaido, map

Winter is freezing on the island of Hokkaido because of cold winds from Siberia, which also cause heavy snowfalls on the slopes exposed to the north-west. In Wakkanai, on the northwest coast of Hokkaido, up to six and a half meters (260 inches) of snow fall per year. The eastern area of the island is a bit drier, but the cold sea current flowing in the Sea of Okhotsk even pushes ice floes to the north-east coast of the island; moreover, it can cause fog, especially in summer, when it meets warm air masses from the south.


Here are the average temperatures of Abashiri, on the northeastern coast of Hokkaido, where in February a "drift ice festival" is held. As you can see, not only is the winter cold, but the summer is not very warm.
Abashiri - Average temperatures
Min (°C)-9-10-6051014171370-6
Max (°C)-2-2291417212320147-1
Min (°F)161421324150576355453221
Max (°F)282836485763707368574530

Abashiri is one of the least rainy cities in Japan because the cold current inhibits the formation of clouds that can generate rain or snow. However, despite the fact that winter is the driest season, as high as 380 cm (150 in) of snow fall per year on average, since the temperatures are low for a long period, so it can snow from November to April.
Abashiri - Average precipitation


In Sapporo, which hosted the 1972 Winter Olympic Games, the average temperature in January is -4 degrees Celsius (25 °F). The temperature remains below freezing (0 °C or 32 °F) from December to March, and there are 130 days with snowfall in a normal cold season. In February, the Sapporo Snow Festival is held, attracting millions of visitors to admire statues and sculptures made of ice.
Here are the average temperatures of Sapporo.
Sapporo - Average temperatures
Min (°C)-7-7-3381317191481-4
Max (°C)-1041217222526221682
Min (°F)191927374655636657463425
Max (°F)303239546372777972614636

In Sapporo, 1,100 mm (43 in) of rain or snow fall per year; the (relatively) least rainy season is spring. In winter, frequent and abundant snowfalls occur. Here is the average precipitation.
Sapporo - Average precipitation

The sea near Sapporo is very cold in winter (but on the north-eastern coast it's even colder), and it's still quite cool in summer, though it reaches 21 °C (70 °F) in August.
Sapporo - Sea temperature
Temp (°C)645691318212016128
Temp (°F)433941434855647068615446

Sapporo snow festival

In the interior of Hokkaido, winter is even colder, and the average in January drops to -10 °C (14 °F).


Honshu, map

In the northern tip of the island of Honshu, in the region called Tohoku, the winter is still freezing, with averages around -3/-2 °C (27/28 °F) in January and February. There are epic snowfalls on the north and north-west slopes that are directly exposed to the prevailing wind.


Here are the average temperatures of Aomori.
Aomori - Average temperatures
Min (°C)-4-4-1491418201593-1
Max (°C)22614182225282418115
Min (°F)252530394857646859483730
Max (°F)363643576472778275645241

The yearly precipitation in Aomori is around 1,300 mm (51 inches) per year. Snowfall, which normally occurs from November to March, amounts to as much as 670 cm (263 in) per year, making it one of the snowiest plain cities in the world.
Aomori - Average precipitation

The sun in Aomori is rarely seen in winter. The relatively sunnier season is spring and in summer the sun does not shine very often, both because of the monsoon and because the clash between sea currents can give rise to fog.
Aomori - Sunshine

More to the south, in the north-central part of the island (see Niigata), the average rises to 2/3 °C (36/37 °F). However, winter is still cold enough to cause frequent snowfalls on the western side, which in this season is definitely more humid than the eastern one. This is because the prevailing winds coming from Siberia, initially dry, pick up moisture from the Sea of Japan and release it on the north-west side, while the other side is protected by the mountain ranges that cross the country like a kind of spine.


Here are the average temperatures of Niigata, on the northwest side of Honshu.
Niigata - Average temperatures
Min (°C)002713182223191373
Max (°C)661016212428312620149
Min (°F)323236455564727366554537
Max (°F)434350617075828879685748

Precipitation in Niigata is abundant: up to 1,800 mm (70 in) per year. In winter, with the temperature slightly above freezing and the wind coming from the sea, it rains and snows almost every day. Here is the average precipitation.
Niigata - Average precipitation

On the western side, there is not much sun. It is seldom seen in winter while it is not much better during the other seasons. In Niigata, there are about 1,600 hours of sunshine per year.
Niigata - Sunshine

The sea in Niigata becomes warm enough for swimming in August and September, while it is a bit cool in July and October.
Niigata - Sea temperature
Temp (°C)1188101317212423201713
Temp (°F)524646505563707573686355

While on the western side the winter is very annoying, with leaden skies, rain and snow falling almost daily, and with possible sea storms, the eastern side is protected by mountain ranges, so it experiences a fair number of sunny days (see Sendai, which is at the same latitude as Niigata but on the east coast).
The phenomenon also occurs at lower latitudes (see Kanazawa, on the west coast, and Mito, on the east coast).
Further south, the island of Honshu bends to the left, so the east coast is exposed directly to the south; here we find the main cities of Japan.
Winter in Tokyo and Osaka is the sunniest and driest season of the year; the temperatures are quite cold though bearable, with highs around 8/10 °C (46/50 °F) and lows around freezing. Snowfalls in the capital are quite rare, and are even more rare in the conurbation that includes Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto, and in general along the south-facing coast of the Seto Inland Sea, which is protected by the mountains.


Here are the average temperatures of Tokyo.
Tokyo - Average temperatures
Min (°C)124914182223201484
Max (°C)101014192326293127221612
Min (°F)343639485764727368574639
Max (°F)505057667379848881726154

In Tokyo, 1,500 mm (60 in) of rain fall per year. As we mentioned, since it lies on the south-eastern side, it is protected from the winter monsoon, so the winter here is definitely the driest season. In the other seasons it rains a lot, with a maximum in September and October. Here is the average precipitation.
Tokyo - Average precipitation

On the eastern side, the winter is the sunniest season, at least as a percentage (considering that the days are shorter), while in the other seasons, more cloudy and rainy, the amount of sunshine is not high. In Tokyo, there are a bit less than 1,900 hours of sunshine per year.
Tokyo - Sunshine

During Tokyo’s winter, the sea is much warmer than in the north, becoming warm enough for swimming from July to October, and a bit cool but still acceptable in June.
Tokyo - Sea temperature
Temp (°C)171616172022242625232119
Temp (°F)636161636872757977737066

In the mountainous areas, culminating in Mount Fuji, 3,778 meters (12,395 feet) high, the winter temperatures are naturally lower, and snow is abundant, especially on the western slopes. On the island of Honshu, there are famous ski resorts such as Morioka, in the far north, and Nagano, northwest of Tokyo, which hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Here, for example, are the average temperatures in Karuizawa, a resort town located at 1,000 meters (3,300 ft) of altitude in the Nagano prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, where the capital's inhabitants flock during summer to escape the heat.
Karuizawa - Average temperatures
Min (°C)-10-9-605111516124-1-6
Max (°C)22613182124262015105
Min (°F)141621324152596154393021
Max (°F)363643556470757968595041

In some mountainous areas, such as in Mount Zao, a curious phenomenon occurs, known as "snow monsters", whereby the moisture carried by the wind is deposited as ice on the trees.

Monsters of snow on Mount Zao


Kyushu, map

On the island of Kyushu, the winter climate is relatively mild, but it's quite rainy. In January, the average goes from 5/7 °C (41/45 °F) on the north coast (see Kitakyushu, Fukuoka) to 8/9 °C (46/48 °F) on the south coast.
The west coast is particularly rainy (see Nagasaki, Kagoshima), especially in June: in some areas, even in the plains, rainfall reaches 450 mm (17.5 in) per month!


Here is the average precipitation in Kagoshima.
Kagoshima - Average precipitation

Here are the average temperatures in Kagoshima.
Kagoshima - Average temperatures
Min (°C)56813172125262318127
Max (°C)131417222528323230252015
Min (°F)414346556370777973645445
Max (°F)555763727782909086776859

The sea in the southern part of Kyushu is never cold, but it becomes cool in winter, in fact the water temperature drops to 19 °C (66 °F) in February.
Kagoshima - Sea temperature
Temp (°C)201920212325272828262422
Temp (°F)686668707377818282797572


In Shikoku, the smallest of the main islands of Japan, the climate is temperate, quite similar to that of the south side of Honshu: the winters are quite cold, and the summers are hot, muggy and rainy. The north coast is a little colder in winter than the south coast, and definitely less rainy.


Here are the average temperatures in Takamatsu, on the north coast.
Takamatsu - Average temperatures
Min (°C)224914192424211484
Max (°C)91013202427313228231712
Min (°F)363639485766757570574639
Max (°F)485055687581889082736354

As for the rains, there is a clear difference between the two sides. The north side has a dry winter, and the annual rainfall is not very high, in fact it's around 1,100 mm (43 in) per year in Takamatsu, 1,200 mm (47 in) in Maragume, and 1,400 mm (55 in) in Matsuyama.
Here is the average rainfall in Takamatsu.
Takamatsu - Average precipitation


In Kochi, on the southern coast, the winter temperatures are slightly higher, and the January average is 7 °C (44 °F).
Kochi - Average temperatures
Min (°C)2361115192424211594
Max (°C)121316212427313229241914
Min (°F)363743525966757570594839
Max (°F)545561707581889084756657

The south side is decidedly more rainy: in Kochi, 2,550 mm (100 in) of rain fall per year, and the rains are very abundant from April to September. However, here the winter is a relatively dry season too.
Kochi - Average precipitation

The sea in Kochi is pleasantly warm for swimming from July to September, while it becomes quite cold in winter.
Kochi - Sea temperature
Temp (°C)181717182023262827242220
Temp (°F)646363646873798281757268

In the mountainous area that divides the two sides of Shikoku, the temperature decreases, even though at the same altitude it is not as cold as in the center-north of Honshu. Here are the average temperatures of Mount Tsurugi, 1,955 meters (6,413 feet) high.
Tsurugi - Average temperatures
Min (°C)-10-9-6048121393-1-7
Max (°C)-4-30711141818151050
Min (°F)141621323946545548373019
Max (°F)252732455257646459504132

Southern islands

To the south of the main islands we find some archipelagos made up of smaller islands.
To the south of Kyushu we find the Ryukyu Islands, in turn divided into different groups, which almost reach the Tropic, to the east of Taiwan.

Ryukyu Islands, map

In the northernmost group of islands (Osumi), the winter is mild, with an average in January of 11/12 °C (51/54 °F), but it's also rainy and subject to cold winds from the north-west (see Yakushima).
Proceeding to the south (Tokara and Amami islands), the winter gradually becomes milder.
On the southernmost islands (Okinawa, Miyako - see Miyakojima, and Yaeyama - see Ishigaki), the winter is so mild as to have a spring-like flavor, even though the rains are quite abundant.


In Okinawa, where the climate is almost tropical, the average in January is around 17 °C (63 °F). Here it never freezes or snows. Here are the average temperatures of Naha.
Naha - Average temperatures
Min (°C)151516192225272726232016
Max (°C)202022242729323230282521
Min (°F)595961667277818179736861
Max (°F)686872758184909086827770

In Okinawa, 2,000 mm (80 in) of rain fall per year, with a maximum in the period from May to September (but in which there is a decrease in July) and a relative minimum in winter, of about 100 mm (4 in) per month. Here is the average precipitation.
Naha - Average precipitation

The sea in Okinawa is never cold, in fact the water temperature reaches a minimum of 22 °C (72 °F) in February and March, when it is quite cool, while it becomes very warm in summer.
Naha - Sea temperature
Temp (°C)232222242527292928272524
Temp (°F)737272757781848482817775

Outside of this group, to the south-east of Okinawa we find the Daito Islands, which have a climate similar to that of Okinawa, although a little less rainy: in Minamidaito the rains amount to 1,600 mm (63 in) per year.


Izu and Ogasawara Islands, map

Further east, in the part of the Pacific Ocean to the south of Tokyo (Philippine Sea), we find the Izu Islands (also called Tokyo Islands), which are very rainy. In Hachijo-jima, rainfall amounts to as much as 3,000 mm (121 in) per year! However, winter is the least rainy season.
The temperature becomes progressively milder as we move south: in Izu Oshima it is still similar to that of the south coast of Honshu, and in fact the January average is 7 °C (45 °F). Here are the average temperatures of Izu-Oshima.
Izu-Oshima - Average temperatures
Min (°C)43610141822232016116
Max (°C)111114182224272926221713
Min (°F)393743505764727368615243
Max (°F)525257647275818479726355

Further south, the January average rises to 9.5 °C (49 °F) in Miyake-jima, to 10 °C (50 °F) in Hachijo-jima, and to 14 °C (57 °F) in Tori-shima. The island of Nii-jima is located between Izu-Oshima and Miyake-jima.
Here are the average temperatures of Miyake-jima.
Miyake-jima - Average temperatures
Min (°C)76812161923242217149
Max (°C)121214182124272826221914
Min (°F)454346546166737572635748
Max (°F)545457647075818279726657


To the south of the Izus we find the Ogasawara islands or Bonin, which also stretch almost to the Tropic, but they are not as rainy as the Ryukyus: at Chichi-jima and Iwo-jima the rainfall amounts to 1.300 mm (51 in) per year, and in Minamitori-jima to just 1.000 mm (40 in).
Here is the average rainfall in Chichi-jima. Here too, in July there is a relative decrease in the rains.
Chichijima - Average precipitation

In Chichi-jima, the temperatures are similar to those of Okinawa.
Chichijima - Average temperatures
Min (°C)161517192124252626242118
Max (°C)202022232528303030282622
Min (°F)615963667075777979757064
Max (°F)686872737782868686827972

The sunniest month in Chichi-jima is July.
Chichijima - Sunshine


As mentioned earlier, Japan can be hit by typhoons, the tropical cyclones of the western Pacific.
Typically, typhoons occur from June to October. Occasionally they have also occurred before and after this period (so, from late April to late May, and from early November to early December). However, they are more frequent from August to the beginning of October; the strongest ones have occurred in September. As regards to wind and waves, the most affected areas are the southern islands (Ryukyu, Daito, Ogasawara), which are hit by typhoons during their highest intensities. However, the main islands, especially Kyushu, Shikoku and the south side of Honshu, can receive heavy rains, which increase on the mountain slopes and can cause floods and landslides, while there may be abnormal waves along the coasts. In northern Honshu and in Hokkaido, typhoons arrive generally weakened, but they can still bring abundant rains, and sometimes even strong winds.

Best Time

Cold, heat, rains and typhoons characterize the climate of the various areas of Japan, so it is difficult to find a good period for the whole country. However, the best time to visit Japan is probably spring, from April to early June; you can choose in particular the month of May, or follow the cherry blossoming (hanami). In Tokyo and Osaka, the full bloom occurs around March 30th, in Sendai around April 15th, in Sapporo around May 5th, in Okinawa even around February 1st. The flowering tends to last longer in the south than in the north (about two weeks in the south, one week in Hokkaido, and even one month in Okinawa), and the date can vary by a few days or one week, before or after, depending on the year.

Cherry blossoming in Japan

A good time to visit Japan is the month of May (which in the north of the country is also the driest month of the year), and also the first part of June, because it's a comfortable climate almost everywhere (but in the Ryukyus it's already hot), before the muggy heat and the rains that are typical of the Japanese summer. In May, highs are around 17 °C (63 °F) in Sapporo, 23 °C (73 °F) in Tokyo, and 27 °C (81 °F) in Okinawa. In April, the weather may still be cold on the island of Hokkaido.
Winter is freezing cold in the north, while in the south it is mild, but in some areas it is also quite rainy. Summer is hot and humid in almost all of the country, with the risk of typhoons and torrential rains. Autumn is rainier than spring, and typhoons can still affect the country in the first part, at least until the middle of October. It should be remembered, however, that spring is a rainy season as well, especially in the south.

Maple trees in autumn near a temple

In autumn, the forests and the trees around the temples take on beautiful colors: the period in which you can go in search of trees turning red (momijigari), especially maples, varies depending on area: in Hokkaido it goes from late September to late October (but already in mid-September in inland mountainous areas), in northern Honshu from October to early November, in Nikko and in the area of lake Chuzenji from early October to mid-November, in central and southern Japan and in Kyoto from mid-November to early December.
If you want to go in autumn, you can choose the period mid-October to mid-November, by which time the risk of typhoons should be over, as well as the heat in the south, or you can choose the period of the fall foliage. In October, the temperatures are already cool in Sapporo, while they are pleasant in the rest of Japan, air humidity has decreased and the rains are less abundant. In November, it starts to be cold on the island of Hokkaido, but in the rest of the country the temperature is still mild.
If you prefer to go in winter, for example at New Year, you can choose the most sheltered and sunny area of Honshu (Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto), or the southernmost part of the other main islands (Kagoshima, Kochi) and the tropical area (Okinawa, Daito, Ogasawara).
If you want to visit the main cities in summer, August is partly preferable to July, having more sunshine and less rainfall, but it is also true that it is hotter and there's a greater risk of typhoons.

Being rainy and not very sunny in summer, Japan is not the best country for swimming and sun bathing. Anyway, as we said before, in Hokkaido the sea is a bit cool even in this season, while it's quite warm, with a temperature equal to or higher than 23 °C (73 °F), for most of the year in Okinawa, from July to October in Tokyo and Yokohama, and in August and September in Niigata. Since there's a pause between the two rainy periods (May-June and August-September), in Okinawa the best month for a beach holiday is July, though afternoon thunderstorms are still possible, in addition to the passage of tropical storms and typhoons over the island.

What to pack

In winter: in Hokkaido and northern Honshu, up to Niigata and Fukushima bring very warm clothes such as synthetic thermal long underwear, especially for Hokkaido, a fleece, a down jacket, gloves, a scarf, a hat, and a raincoat.
In the area of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, warm clothes, such as a sweater, a jacket, a hat, and possibly a raincoat or umbrella.
In Okinawa and the small southern islands, spring/autumn clothes, a sweatshirt or sweater, a jacket, a raincoat or umbrella.

In summer: in northern Hokkaido, spring/autumn clothes (light for the day), a sweater and a raincoat. In Sapporo and northern Honshu, light clothing, a sweatshirt and a light jacket, a raincoat or umbrella.
Throughout south-central Japan and the small islands, including Okinawa and Tokyo, light, tropics-friendly clothing, a scarf for the breeze, a light sweatshirt for the evening and air conditioned places, a light raincoat or umbrella. For the mountainous areas, warmer clothes depending on altitude, spring/autumn clothes at about 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) in Honshu.
When going to the reef, you can bring snorkeling equipment, including water shoes or rubber-soled shoes.
It is customary to remove shoes before entering homes and temples, so it can be useful to wear shoes without laces, or that are at least easy to take off.