Calendar of Japan
Japan experiences all four seasons. From Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south, you can experience many different events and activities depending on when you visit.
Starting off the year is New Year’s Day (January 1st). Most of Japan closes for around 3 to 4 days, depending on when the holiday falls. New Years is a time to visit family and to pray at shrines and temples for the new year. People eat traditional cuisine, called osechi, which is prepared before the holiday so people don’t spend time cooking when they could be meeting family and friends.
Coming of Age Day is generally celebrated on a Monday in January. Young adults who turn 20 years-old participate in ceremonies to mark the transition to adulthood. You will often see them dress up in kimonos, and visiting shrines and temples, and going out to eat.
Some areas of Japan have special celebrations and events. The city of Sapporo in Hokkaido has the Snow Festival in February. This festival features ice sculptures, ranging from small statues to huge replicas of famous temples in Japan.
Spring has a special place for Japanese people. The school year finishes at the very end of winter, and the new year begins in April.
Plum blossom trees begin to show signs in late winter and last until early spring.
March 3 marks Hinamatsuri, which is Girl’s Day; the other name that is used is Doll’s Day. Dolls dressed in ancient Heian period clothing are displayed in people’s homes, and special sweets are served.
Towards the middle and end of March, cherry blossoms begin to show.
This is a really special period everywhere in Japan.
The pink and white blossoms appear and make things look very special. People go out to parks and public places to sit under the trees and eat and drink.
They do not last long – they bloom for a week, then are gone, so it is important to book early.
The start of early summer (May) contains 5 to 6 public national holidays in one week; it is called Golden Week. At this time, a lot of Japanese travel domestically and abroad, so it is an expensive time.
Summer is marked by local festivals, called matsuri. A famous one is in Aomori, and it features giant floats that parade through the streets called nebuta. Festivals are generally connected to shrines, and feature music and food. You will also see summer kimonos, yukata.
Towards the end of summer is obon season. This is another period when Japanese return to their hometowns to pray to ancestors. The travel season can be expensive and busy as well.
The transition from the hot, humid season to the drier, cooler weather of fall comes around October.
The leaves start changing color. The reds, yellows and oranges are bright and add to cityscapes. Cities such as Kyoto look memorable with the fall colors highlighting the traditional architecture.
Fall also has some festivals as well.
Japanese Calendar System
While Japan uses the western calendar, there is another calendar you will see used all over the country.
It is based on the reign of the emperor. This name is used to refer to periods in modern Japanese history.
- Meiji Period 1868 – 1912
- Taisho Period 1912 – 1926
- Showa Period 1926 – 1989
- Heisei Period 1989 – 2019
- Reiwa Period 2019 –
The calendar year refers to the year of the reign. Heisei 19 is 2007. Showa 50 is 1975.
You will see signage and read information that refers to time periods and reign years, so it is good to know the general time frame.
Japan is great to visit any time of the year. The seasons offer a lot for you to do so you can take full advantage of your trip to Japan.