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When is the best time to visit Kyoto, Japan?
The best time to go to Tokyo is in the spring or fall, when temperatures are pleasant and there are many lively festivals. Summer is the rainy season in Kyoto, accompanied by high heat and humidity. If traveling during Golden Week (late April to early May), expect the city to be jam-packed with hordes of visitors from across Japan.
- The Best Time to Visit Kyoto for Good Weather: The best weather of the year in Kyoto is typically in November. Autumn not only brings splashes of red to the maple trees throughout the city, but also skies that are often sunny, and air that’s drier and somewhat crisp – with an average high of 17°C. Another great time for good weather in Tokyo is April or May, when high afternoon temperatures range from 19-24°C, though there is a greater possibility of rain, especially toward late May.
- Best Time for Sightseeing: The best time for sightseeing in Kyoto is when temperatures are mild, usually April and November. If possible, though, avoid traveling during Golden Week (late April or early May) – this is the biggest travel week of the year throughout Japan, bringing lines that are interminably long and crowds as thick as in a Tokyo commuter train. No matter what time of year you go, major sights are best visited on weekday mornings or later in the evening.
- Best Time for Cherry Blossoms: Sakura Season is when the cherry blossoms throughout Kyoto are at peak bloom – usually during the last week of March through mid-April. In an average year they’ll be bursting across the city on April 1st. Some years they will all come into full bloom at the same time, creating a magnificent scene for a week or even longer.
- Best Time to Visit Fushimi Inari Shrine: This 1,300-year-old temple dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice and sake, dates back to the 8th century and is famous for its mountainous trail of thousands of vermilion torii gates. It’s one of the most popular sights for tourists, and the first part of the trail especially is always very crowded with camera-toting travelers. To avoid the biggest crowds come early in the morning or in the early evening.
- Best Time for Shopping: Kyoto is a shoppers’ paradise, with everything from independent boutiques to street hawkers to massive malls. The best time for bargain shopping is during winter clearance sales, when well-known brands are sold at significantly discounted prices. These sales typically start on January 2, though some sales may begin just before the end of the year; prices will be slashed further as the month progresses, typically from mid to late-January.
Kyoto Travel Seasons
- High Season (March through May and September through November): The high season in Kyoto is spring and fall, with the very busiest period of the year falling over Golden Week: four national holidays that occur in close proximity, typically in late April or early May. Though the weather is often very pleasant, this is when visitors can expect the highest prices, biggest crowds, and longest lines. The popular Sakura (cherry blossom) Season is experienced in the spring as well, bringing flowery bursts of color throughout the city, typically from late March through mid-April. Visiting in November often means idyllic temperatures and beautiful autumn foliage, though the city can be quite busy during this month.
- Low Season (June through August and December through February): There isn’t much of a shoulder season to speak of in Kyoto. The low season falls during the hot summer months and the chillier winter months. From June through August daytime highs reach into the 30s and there are frequent downpours, making for a soggy, sweaty visit; expect fewer tourists, some discounted prices, and an easier time finding accommodation. The near freezing temperatures of winter also keep tourists away; those that do come will benefit from less-crowded sights and a wider range of accommodation options during this time.
Kyoto Weather by Month
- Kyoto Weather in January: The coldest and sunniest month of the year in Kyoto is January. You’ll need sunglasses and a warm coat if you plan to visit now. The average low temperature is 1°C, so snow is possible, although it’s fairly rare with precipitation averaging only around 50mm over 19 days this month. Most of the time, if it does snow, it doesn’t stick or melts within a few hours. And if you’re lucky enough to be here when it happens, you’ll get to experience the magical sight of snowflakes falling on magnificent temples and shrines. (Average Max Temperature: 8°C. Average Precipitation: 50mm.)
- Kyoto Weather in February: Winter continues, and while it might rain or snow a few times it probably won’t stick. The temperatures warm just slightly now with the average high increasing a degree to 9°C, and the low climbing one to 2°C. There are usually a few more grey days in February – bring both sunglasses for frequently sunny days along with an umbrella for occasional rainfall with precipitation averaging 80mm over 17 days. It’s a good idea to plan to dress in layers – if you stay in one of the traditional Japanese homes, keep in mind that they can be rather drafty, but the interior of trains and modern buildings can be stifling. (Average Max Temperature: 9°C. Average Precipitation: 80mm.)
- Kyoto Weather in March: Be prepared for anything other than summer heat this month. While the first signs of spring arrive in March, it can be rather cold, cool, or warm in Kyoto. Afternoon temperatures climb to 13°C and there is usually plenty of sunshine in March, but chances for rain increase to an average of 120mm falling over 17 days this month, meaning heavier showers. Bring clothing that can be worn in layers, a waterproof jacket, and perhaps an umbrella and you’ll be prepared for enjoying the sights. (Average Max Temperature: 13°C. Average Precipitation: 120mm.)
- Kyoto Weather in April: April is a busy month in Kyoto, due to Golden Week and Sakura Season, and the weather is typically sunny, crisp and clear. Afternoon highs increase significantly now, rising six degrees to 19°C, with pleasant weather continuing throughout the month. Nights still tend to be chilly, and often damp, with lows at 9°C. Bring a mix of clothing for cool and warm weather, like short-sleeve and long-sleeve shirts as well as a light jacket. Rain is always a possibility with 130mm of precipitation on average over 14 days this month. (Average Max Temperature: 19°C. Average Precipitation: 130mm.)
- Kyoto Weather in May: Another beautiful month in Kyoto, May tends to brings plenty of sun and continuously warming temperatures, although it can also be rather wet with 160mm of rainfall on average. All that rain means lots of flowers will be in bloom and there will be plenty of lush greenery too. Afternoon temperatures increase to 24°C and the mercury generally doesn’t dip any lower than 14°C so you won’t need much more than a sweater to stay warm, although you may want to pack a light waterproof jacket and a travel umbrella. Don’t forget those sunglasses either, as the sun will come out when you least expect it. (Average Max Temperature: 24°C. Average Precipitation: 160mm.)
- Kyoto Weather in June: June is the start of the six-week rainy season in Kyoto, a period that’s characterized by high heat, humidity, and plenty of rain. The afternoon high temperature averages a balmy 27°C and precipitation increases to a whopping 240mm over 15 days this month. Be sure to bring a poncho or light rain jacket, waterproof clothing, and a travel umbrella if you plan to come now. Or, leave yours at home and pick one up from one of the many vendors that sell them on the streets here as a souvenir. (Average Max Temperature: 27°C. Average Precipitation: 240mm.)
- Kyoto Weather in July: July is hot and sticky, and one of the most uncomfortable months to be in Kyoto. The rainy season continues through most of the month, and the average high temperature increases several degrees to 31°C. There can be heavy downpours on some days in July, but on others there will be just a few sprinkles. As the extreme heat can make wearing a jacket uncomfortable now, it’s best to pack lightweight, fast-drying clothing and pick up an umbrella while you’re in the city. There’s even more rain now with 230mm over 14 days. (Average Max Temperature: 31°C. Average Precipitation: 230mm.)
- Kyoto Weather in August: August is still quite hot with afternoon highs now at 29°C, decreasing a bit over last month. The sun returns once again with a dramatic drop in precipitation, now down to 130mm over 11 days. While the reduced rain puts the city in a more festive mood, many will be sweating through the high humidity. Wearing sweat-wicking clothes is a must for visiting Kyoto this month, to absorb and release trapped moisture quickly and keep the body cooler. (Average Max Temperature: 29°C. Average Precipitation: 130mm.)
- Kyoto Weather in September: The rain returns in September, with 220mm this month, although the temperatures and humidity are gradually declining. Most won’t notice a real change in the heat until later in the month with the average high just a degree below August’s at 28°C. Visiting now also means packing for warm, wet weather by bringing lightweight, fast-drying clothing. (Average Max Temperature: 28°C. Average Precipitation: 220mm.)
- Kyoto Weather in October: October sees some of the best weather of the year in Kyoto with warm, sunny days and cool evenings – much more comfortable than the previous few months. The average high temperature is a pleasant 22°C and overnight lows are 13°C, which means while you’ll mostly need summer attire, you may want a sweater or light jacket for cooler mornings and evenings. There is significantly less rain this month with 100mm over 12 days, so while an umbrella may come in handy occasionally, you’re unlikely to need it often. (Average Max Temperature: 22°C. Average Precipitation: 100mm.)
- Kyoto Weather in November: November brings autumn to the city, transforming the maple leaves into a beautiful scarlet, while the skies are often bright blue. It is one of the drier months of the year in Kyoto, with an average of 80mm of precipitation over 12 days. The air is somewhat crisp now, but comfortable with the afternoon high temperature at 17°C. As it is typically on the cool side outdoors and hot inside, wearing layers is advised now, including a sweater or light jacket after dark. (Average Max Temperature: 17°C. Average Precipitation: 80mm.)
- Kyoto Weather in December: December in Kyoto brings mostly cool, dry days with another significant decrease in precipitation down to 50mm over 15 days this month. This is the time to bring a warm coat and clothing that can be worn in layers, along with sunglasses for the frequent sunny skies. The high temperature averages just 11°C now and it can get as chilly as 3°C late at night and into the early morning hours. While snow is possible, it’s usually only a light dusting that disappears almost as soon as it arrives. (Average Max Temperature: 12°C. Average Precipitation: 50mm.)
Kyoto Events and Festivals
Kyoto in January
- New Year’s – New Year’s Day, January 1, is a national holiday in Japan, when many rise early in the morning to enjoy the first sunrise of the year. In Kyoto, there is a twist to the first shrine visit of the year (known as the hatsumode). Here, locals head to the Yasaka-jinja Shrine to purchase sacred ropes. The ropes are set on fire using burning prayer sticks and then transported in a way to keep the fire lit. If they make it home, the fire is then used to light a sacred candle and cooking fire for cooking rice cakes.
- Coming of Age Day (Seijin no Hi) – On the second Monday of January every year, January 13 in 2010, a ceremony is held at city halls across the country, including Kyoto, to recognize those who’ve reached 20 years of age in the past year, the age that the Japanese are considered adults. It’s open to all and is a sight to see with women all made up in beautiful hairstyles and stunning kimonos. As a national holiday, many businesses will be closed as well as major arteries, with cars replaced by street performers.
- Toka Ebisu – For five days during the first half of January (7 to 12 in 2020), thousands of locals visit a small shrine in Gio to pray to the god of good fortune, Ebisu, hoping for success in their work or business. Many people buy branches of Fuku-Zasa, bamboo grass that’s been blessed in a special maiden ritual for luck, along with charms and talismans that are attached to the branch.
Kyoto in February
- Setsubun Festival – On the evening before the first day of spring, February 3, 2020 according to the Japanese lunar calendar, ceremonies are held at shrines throughout Japan, including Kyoto. Marking a new beginning, it’s believed to be the perfect time for casting away old bad things and allowing good new ones to be invited into one’s life instead. You’ll often see people eating a roasted soybean for every year of their life, plus another one in hopes of having good fortune in the coming year. At Zojoji Temple there is usually a bean flinging ceremony, where celebrities and local personalities throw beans and prizes out to the audience.
- National Foundation Day (Kenkoku Kinen no Hi) – This national holiday, celebrated annually on February 11, traces its roots back to 660 BC when the very first Japanese Emperor was crowned. Many businesses will be closed as locals take the day off to express patriotism and love of nation. Japanese flags are raised as a reminder to reflect on the meaning of Japanese citizenship.
- Baikasai – This festival celebrates both the opening of the plum blossoms at Kitanao-tenman-gu Shrine and the birth of Sugawara Michizane, the scholar-poet-bureaucrat to whom the shrine is dedicated. A cheerful atmosphere is enjoyed outside among the blossoms, with geishas dressed in colorful kimonos with plum-themed hair accessories serving tea.
- Kyoto Marathon – Held on the last Sunday of February, the Kyoto Marathon brings some 40,000 to run past some of the city’s most famous sightseeing spots, beginning at the Kyoto Metropolitan Government Building and finishing at Kyoto Big Sight.
Kyoto in March
- Hina Matsuri – The Doll Festival, celebrated annually on March 3, has its roots in an ancient Chinese purification ceremony in which evil was transferred to dolls, which were then tossed into a river. Kyoto’s Hokyo-ji Temple is often referred to as the “Doll Temple” as it holds an extensive collection of dolls.
- Higashiyama Hanatoro – A 10-day-long annual illumination festival, when every evening in the Southern Higashiyama district lanterns are placed along roadsides and around temples, converging on Maruyama-koen Park where various light installations and sculptures will be on display. March 8 through March 17 in 2019.
- Blue Dragon Festival – This two-day festival held in mid-March, March 14-15 in 2019, was created to honor Seiryu, one of four divine god-beasts said to guard the city’s borders against encroaching misfortune and disaster. A procession that features a dragon and costumed pole bearers, escorts, priests, and soldiers will parade through the streets.
- Shumbun-no-hi – This national holiday celebrates the Spring Equinox on March 20 or 21 each year, with many Japanese using the day to tend to the graves of their ancestors according to ancient Buddhist tradition. It was established to welcome the spring and as a way for Japanese to remember to appreciate the natural blooming that follows winter.
Kyoto in April
- Miyako Odori – Throughout much of April, April 1 to 23 in 2019, this annual spring dance performance features Maiko and Geisha from the Gion district in Kyoto and has been held at Gion Kaburenjo Theater for more than 140 consecutive seasons. It provides the rare opportunity to see these skilled artists perform in person.
- Saga Dai Nenbutsu Kyogen – Hosted at the Seiryogi Temple, this ancient festival of silent plays was established by the monk Enkaku in hopes of seeing his dead mother again. It’s considered one of the most important theater performances in Kyoto and will take place on April 1, 7 and 8 in 2019.
- Resai Annual Festival – This festival in mid-April, April 15-16 in 2019, brings a traditional Japanese concert, dances and a tea ceremony to Heian Shrine.
- Golden Week – This collection of four non-consecutive holidays takes place around late April to early May throughout the country, April 29 through May 6, 2019. This is the busiest travel season of the year, as most Japanese are off work. Kyoto is usually jam-packed, and many visitors aim to avoid traveling to the city during this week.
Kyoto in May
- Fukakusa Matsuri – This festival takes place over the first five days in May at the Fujimore Shrine, featuring drumming performances, shrine processions, and a demonstration of cavalry techniques with riders that perform daredevil stunts.
- Kempo Kinem-bi (Constitution Memorial Day) – This national holiday, also known as Culture Day, is held annually on May 3. A day dedicated to peace, it celebrates the day the Constitution of Japan was signed in 1947, allowing residents to reflect on national historical events. Local families often use the day off for get-togethers.
- Aoi Matsuri Festival – One of the oldest and most important festivals in Kyoto, Aoi Matsuri commemorates the day a 6th-century emperor sent officials from the Imperial Palace to two of the city’s shrines in an attempt to appease the deities and end a series of disastrous epidemics and crop failures. Held on May 15, it begins when an ox drawn cart is led from the Imperial Palace to Kamigamo Shrine, followed by Shinto rituals, with much music and sacred dances performed along the way.
- Mifune Boat Festival – On the third Sunday in May each year, May 19 in 2019, 30 boats carrying participants in court dress from the Heian Period travel upstream along the Oi River. Leading the procession are three boats that carry shrine maidens, musicians, and players performing noh dramas. Impromptu poems are also offered to the deity of Kurumazaki Shrine.
Kyoto in June
- Takigi Noh Performance – At the Heian Shrine on June 1 and 2, Noa performances, illuminated by blazing torches with the Higashiyama hills providing a scenic backdrop.
- Agata Festival – Starting on the evening of June 5 at the Agata Shrine, and continuing until the next morning, a portable shrine is carried off the grounds and around town. Participants carry a bonten, a long piece of wood with lots of oblong strips of white paper attached to it, forming a large ball. It’s waved about in the dark, and anyone who happens to catch one of the pieces of paper as it falls, they receive a powerful charm to drive off evil.
- Aoba Matsuri – June 15 celebrates the birth of Kukai (774 to 835 AD), the founder of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. Yamabushi (mountain ascetics) and priests dress in full regalia to perform an ancient fire ceremony and a series of purification rites at Chishaku-in Temple.
- Takekiri Eshiki Matsuri – This bamboo-cutting festival in Kuramadera on June 20 involves two teams of monks who race to cut four bamboo poles representing evil serpents into three pieces.
Kyoto in July
- Gion Festival – This festival is one of the most popular in Japan, featuring the most elaborately-decorated floats. Wheeled floats weigh up to 12 tons, some of which are two-stories high, and are pulled by ropes, with smaller floats carried on the shoulders of bearers. It begins on July 1 and continues through the month. The highlight is on July 20, when the yama floats are whirled around the streets to win a competition.
- Tanukidani Fudoin Fire Festival – This fire festival takes place in the mountains of eastern Kyoto, officiated by mountain priests who prepare the fire from pine branches before walking across the burning ashes. Visitors can attempt to walk across too.
- Mitarashi Matsuri – This festival is hosted at Shimogamo-jinja Shrine on the four days surrounding the Day of the Ox, July 27 in 2019. Participants wade in a shallow stream to pray for protection from disasters and good health. for an admission fee, visitors are given a candle to light and offer to the gods.
Kyoto in August
- Gojozaka Festival – Held for four days around mid-August, with 2019’s dates to be announced, the Gojozaka Festival celebrates all things pottery at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which has long been known for its pottery. Visitors will have the opportunity to buy all sorts of treasures, with nearly 500 stalls offering thousands of bargains.
- Mando Nagashi Festival – On August 16, this festival is a lantern floating event which includes traditional music and dancing along with displays of the ancient art of cormorant fishing known as ukai.
- Gozan no Okuribi – Also on August 16 is this month’s crowning event, the Daimonji Fire Festival. Huge Chinese characters on the hills around town are set ablaze, with four other mountains lit in a counterclockwise motion every 15 minutes; locals and visitors watch from hotel rooftops and parts of the Imperial Palace Park.
- Sento Kuyo – On August 23 and 24 each year, this is a spectacular memorial service for graves that no longer have families to look after them. Lanterns and candles will be lit for each of the temple’s 8,000 Buddha statues and stone stupas at Nenbutsuji. Only a limited number of people can attend, with reservations required.
Kyoto in September
- Hassaku-sai Festival – Held in early September at the Matsuo-taisha Shrine, usually on the first weekend of the month, this is a festival of rituals, Buddhist dance, and sumo wrestling to ask the gods for good harvests, mild weather, and safety. It begins with a parade, followed by regular adult sumo matches and crying baby sumo matches.
- Hagi Festival – At Nashinoki Shrine for three days in mid-September, this festival brings dance and koto performances to Nashinoki Shrine. Participants write poems and then attach them to the shrine’s flowering bush clover.
- Seimi Festival – Held for two days around the autumn equinox at Seimei Shrine, this festival is dedicated to astrologist and cosmologist Abe no Seimei. It includes a parade, traditional music, and kagura dancing. The day of the autumn equinox, which typically falls on September 21, 22 or 23, is a national holiday in Japan, bringing some closures.
Kyoto in October
- Zuiki Festival – Held for five days around the first week of October, this is an autumn harvest festival that features two portable shrines decked out with taro stems, known as zuiki.
- Funaoka Festival – Every year on October 19, the day Oda first entered Kyoto in 1568 is honored at Kenkn Shrine, with participants donning period dress and marching through the city.
- Jidai Festival – This is one of Kyoto’s most celebrated festivals, falling on October 22. It includes a procession from the Imperial Palace to the Heian-jingu Shrine, and offers the opportunity to see examples of costumes from every period in Japanese history.
- Kurama Fire Festival – At the Yuki-jinja Shrine, this festival involves teams of shouting men carrying massive flaming torches through the streets of the tiny mountain village of Kurama. October 22.
Kyoto in November
- Gion Odori – Typically, the first 10 days of November brings the annual geisha dance to Gion Kaikan hall in the Gion Higashi geisha district.
- Shibuya Festival – This fun community festival takes places over the first weekend of November and features food, parades, and a variety of family events at various venues, including Yoyogi Park Event Square.
- Kanikakuni Sai – This event is held on November 8 to honor the memory of poet Yoshii Isamu (1886 – 1960), a lover of geisha. It provides the opportunity to see the famous geisha of Gion and capture shots of the incredibly photogenic geiko and maiko.
- Labor Thanksgiving Day – This national holiday, annually observed on November 23, is an occasion for giving thanks to one another for hard work accomplished throughout the year. While it’s a day off for the Japanese there usually aren’t many closures.
Kyoto in December
- Sanpoji Daikon Festival – Held on two days in December, usually December 9 and 10 at Sanpoji Temple, this festival celebrates the Daikon radish coming into season. Boiled radish is served to some 10,000 people during the event, with hot radish believed to be good for one’s health.
- Arashiyama Hanatouro – For 10 days in mid-December, this magical event sees thousands of lanterns placed along the lanes of Arashiyama, including the path that traverses the famous bamboo forest.
- Emperor’s Birthday – The Emperor’s Birthday is a national holiday celebrated on December 23. This is one of just two days during the year when the emperor and imperial family publicly appear on a palace balcony to acknowledge well-wishers. In 2019, it will not be observed, as the current Emperor Akihito is abdicating in April and Crown Prince Naruhito will be ascending the throne.
- New Year’s Eve – The coming of the New Year is celebrated in a big way throughout Japan. There are no fireworks or parties in the streets in Kyoto, but locals and visitors often visit temples to purify themselves before the year ends. Each temple in the city has a large bronze bell for people to strike 108 times around midnight. The bell at Chion-in is one of the biggest in the country and is struck by 17 monks.