Like many frequent visitors to Japan, I sing the praises of country’s cherry blossom and autumn color seasons. And rightly so: Japanese cityscapes simply look their most beautiful under colorful billows of flowers and leaves.
Visiting Japan at these times of year isn’t without its problems, of course. First among them? The sheer number of other tourists who come to enjoy seasonal spectacles, which can often be downright overwhelming, especially in top tourist destinations.
While you won’t see any sakura if you visit Japan in May, you’ll also have the country much more to yourself. (This is to say nothing of the warmer weather you’ll enjoy—and the fact that you might nonetheless see some seasonal flowers!).
Why May Gets Overlooked by Foreign Visitors to Japan
If you’ve never thought of spending May in Japan, you’re not alone. The vast majority of foreign visitors come to Japan during two windows: Between late March and mid-April for sakura, and during the peak autumn color season, which lasts between mid-November and early December. Another sizable peak comes between about mid-December and mid-February, aka Japan’s ski season.
It’s not just omission that explains why foreign tourists overlook May as a month for visiting Japan. Some believe that the Golden Week holiday (which only lasts until a few days into the month) makes the whole country unbearable to visit for all 31 days of May. Others wrongly assume that May will be too hot or too wet, or that “just missing” the cherry blossoms would make their trip sad.
My Favorite Reasons to Visit Japan in May
The “new” green of spring
I don’t remember where I was when I first noticed how green Japan’s greens are in May—maybe at Adachi Art Museum? In any case, this is one of my favorite reasons to visit Japan during this month. Whether you’re looking at a traditional garden or a bamboo forest on a hillside, the hues of chartreuse, jade and emerald will enchant you.
Warm days, mild nights
Another reason I love Japan May travel? Temperatures in most of the country are just perfect. The winter chill is completely gone from the air, with an average temperature of 19ºC/66ºF in Tokyo. While things can get a little steamier in Kyushu and Shikoku, and be cooler in Hokkaido and northern Tohoku, the general trend is the same.
Calm before the storm (literally)
Japan’s summer tsuyu (literally “plum rain”) monsoon can be miserable, but the good news is that it typically doesn’t start until late May, or even early June. If you plan to visit Japan during the first half of May, or maybe even the first three weeks, you should avoid wet weather in most parts of the country.
Lack of sakura pressure
Unless your Japan May trip takes you to Hokkaido, you probably aren’t going to see any cherry blossoms. There is a silver lining to this, however. Namely, that seeing sakura (let alone at perfectly full bloom) is difficult and stressful! Not having to worry about a phenomenon you can’t predict or control allows you to enjoy destinations more purely. Plus, you might see some azaleas or hydrangeas!
(Mostly) light crowds
The first few days of May are technically part of Japan’s busy domestic “Golden Week” holiday, which means that many destinations (with the possible exception of Tokyo) can be quite busy. However, this is definitely not the case for much of the rest of the month, which is significantly less busy than April or November.
Where Should You Go in Japan in May?
Almost everywhere in Japan is amazing to visit in May, but there are a few places I find are especially great durign this month:
- San’in: Visiting this off-the-beaten-path region during an off-peak time is a one-two punch that practically sees you with it all to yourself.
- Hokkaido: In some years, you can catch cherry blossoms in Hokkaido during the first few days of May; in all years, pleasant days and cool evenings make it a wonderful place to explore.
- Okinawa: Want to get some beach time before typhoon season? May is your last chance on Okinawa’s main island and in Ishigaki.
- Japan’s tourist trail: From Tokyo, to Kyoto and Osaka, to Hiroshima and even the Fuji Five Lakes, popular destinations are decked in spring green (but relatively uncrowded) in May.
Other FAQ About Visiting Japan in May
Is Japan crowded in May?
With the exception of Golden Week (which only lasts for the first few days of the month), May is not at all a crowded month to visit Japan. In fact, May is a decidedly un-crowded month in most parts of Japan, in spite of featuring some of the year’s best weather.
What is Japan like in May?
May is one of the most beautiful months in Japan. While the sakura have long since fallen off, the “new” green that covers most trees is absolutely electric—somewhere between chartreuse and emerald. Plus, with the exception of Golden Week early in the month, May is a pretty call and un-crowded time to visit Japan.
Is it good to visit Tokyo in May?
Tokyo is at its best in May. During the early days of the month (aka Golden Week), when much of the rest of Japan is inundated with domestic travelers, Tokyo is relatively quiet. For the rest of May, warm days and mild nights mean that Tokyo is pleasant to explore, even if rain showers become more common as June approaches.
The Bottom Line
There are almost no downsides to visiting Japan in May, apart from the fact that the trees are green and there aren’t any flowers on most of them. I absolutely love exploring Japan during this warm and pleasant month, regardless of which regions of the country I happen to be focusing on. While late May can sometimes be rainy and early May can sometimes be busy due to Golden Week crowds, it’s still one of the most underrated times to visit Japan overall, even if you discount the beauty of azaleas, wisteria and hydrangeas. Want to make sure your May trip to Japan is one for the record books? Consider hiring me to plan it.