March to May brings on the spring season in Japan (be sure to check out our post on winter in Japan). With the weather starting to warm up and the flowers and trees starting to blossom and bud, spring in Japan is a photographers dream come true.
Here’s our rundown on things to do in Japan in spring and some outstanding spring photographs from Flickr.
Spring weather can vary wildly depending on where you find yourself in Japan. Early March will find temperatures hovering around 10°C (50°F) with warmer weather in the 20°C (67°F) range as you move into May and June.
You’ll want to bring a warmer spring jacket with you if you go early in the season. It’s not really shorts weather until late May/June. Although, you don’t see many Japanese wearing shorts…but that’s a topic for another post :)
As mentioned, there is a lot to do in Japan during the spring season. With the weather warming and everything around you coming to life, it’s a wonderful time to explore Japan’s many attractions.
Here are a few top spring activities:
Sakura Season (Cherry Blossom)
If there is one thing that Japan in springtime is know for, it’s the cherry blossom season. The season typically kicks off mid January and makes its way slowly north. Since the blooms only last a few days, you will need to be ready to move to your favorite viewing spots before you miss it.
It was always one of my goals to be able to see the sakura season and photograph it, so we planned our last trip to Japan accordingly. Be sure to check out some of my photography sessions in Osaka around the castle and nearby Sakuranomiya Park.
I recommend taking a casual stroll through any number of Japan’s parks during the cherry blossom season. Almost every major area of Japan will have a recommended location for viewing the sakura when they are in full bloom. Japan Guide has a nice list of some of the top spots for cherry blossom viewing.
The cherry blossoms take about a week to reach full blossom and only last for another week before they’re gone, so you’ll want to move fast. Even if you catch the end of the season, there are some great photo opportunities as the pink and purple blossoms cover the ground. Plum blossom season starts around the same time, and their large colourful blossoms also make for some amazing photo opportunities.
The Japanese have several holidays that align to create a period called Golden Week. Running from April 29 till May 5, it’s seems like the entire country of Japan is on the move. If you want to miss the crowds, then travelling during Golden Week is not recommended. However, if you find yourself in the middle of the Golden Week rush, it can actually be a fun time to go with the flow as the Japanese let their hair down and take a much needed vacation.
Major centres like Tokyo or Osaka can actually empty out as people flock to vacation spots or their hometowns. We found that because we were near a popular touristy area in Osaka that things actually got a lot busier than normal. But it was fun to see the switch from men and women in navy blue suits to families in their casual vacation wear.
Also, check out this article on 7 things to do in Japan during Golden Week.
Takayama in the Spring
I think Takayama is a must see for people travelling to Japan. Nestled in the mountains and rich in history, Takayama should not be missed.
We saw Takayama in the fall, and the sites were spectacular, not to mention the amazing Hida steaks (you have to try them!).
Takayama holds a festival on April 14 and 15 which dates back to the 15th century and sports large floats that get wheeled through the village streets with participants dressed in period costumes.
This national holiday is for all of Japan’s children. It takes place annually on May 5 and is part of the Golden Week break.
If you notice a lot of carp-shaped flags starting to show up everywhere, chances are you’re getting close to Children’s Day.
Mochi rice cakes wrapped in kashiwa (oak) leaves—kashiwa-mochi (just like regular mochi, but is also filled with red beans jam) and chimaki (a kind of “sweet rice paste”, wrapped in an iris or bamboo leaf)—are traditionally served on this day – Wikipedia
Takigi Noh Performances
Noh is probably not for everyone, but if you have even a passing interest in this ancient form of musical theater, you may as well head to Nara on May 11 and 12.
Noh is performed by actors wearing lacquer-coated wooden masks and dressed in gorgeous costumes. Emotions are neither expressed on the face nor by voice. The movements are also limited, yet in this style of performance, we Japanese are able to appreciate a serene aestheticism peculiar to Japan – JNTO
Here you’ll find Noh plays being done in an open-air area at night under lit torches. Tickets apparently go quick, so book yours early.
At first glance you may this is a day dedicated to the great Japanese actor Toshirō Mifune of Seven Samurai fame. Sadly, it is not :)
However, if you’re interested in Japanese history, Mifune Matsuri is a look back at imperial family life in the days of the Heian Period (794 to 1185) as pleasure rides down the Oi River outside Kyoto are re-enacted in period costumes.
The scene of a boat party on a river from 1,000 years ago is reproduced by some 20 boats on the Oigawa River flowing through Arashiyama in Kyoto – JNTO
The event is held on the third Sunday in May.
Ukai Cormorant Fishing
I hear watching these highly trained seabirds as they fish can be truly awesome. Of course, the fact that the cormorants have their neck bound so that they can’t swallow any of the fish, probably makes it less fun for the birds!
Cormorant fishing starts at 7:30 in the evening. The only illuminations are the pine torches lit on the boats. Boats carrying the master trainers slowly sail out into the river, and when the cormorants swallow small trout all at once at the shouts of the master trainers, the spectators applaud and cheer. The evening closes with 6 boats sailing side by side to corner the small trout into the shallows, which is a quite fantastic view – JNTO
Fishing starts on May 11th on Nagaragawa River, Minato-machi, Gifu Prefecture.
I know I’ve missed a ton of activities you can do during spring in Japan, so please let us know your favorites in your comments!