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The Climate of Japan

As the Japanese archipelago stretches over a distance of thousands of kilometres, the climate varies considerably from Hokkaido in the north (short mild summers and long summers with heavy snowfall) to the subtropical climate of Okinawa in the south. Also, on the mainland, you often get large differences between the Japan Sea coast (colder fronts from Siberia) and the Pacific coast (warmer sea currents called kuroshio or Japan Current). Here's a general sesonal guide, though temperatures are obviously colder/warmer to the north/south of the mainland:

Winters (December-February) are long with lots of snow in Hokkaido, the Japan Alps and much of the Japan Sea coast. The rest of the mainland gets some amount of snow - sometimes little or none - and temperatures hover in the low single digits. But the weather is usually clear and a damn sight better than the cold and damp European winters I grew up in. Tokyo doesn't usually get much snow and even when it does snow, it doesn't usually stay on the ground long.

Spring (March-May) is probably the best time to visit Japan with cherry trees blossoming and mild weather, though the Golden Week holidays are an expensive time. If you attend a cherry-blossom viewing party, you'll probably enjoy a nice warm afternoon but need a sweater in the evening. This is assuming that you don't get rained out though. It seems that the rain front that usually follows behind the so-called "cherry-blossom front" is what strips most of the blossoms from the trees.

Summer (June-August) is oppresively hot and humid (almost 40 degrees in many places in recent years and over 30 degrees most days for several months) everywhere except Hokkaido and the mountains. Actually the humidity is probably the killer as it can be very uncomfortable even when temperatures are moderate. There's a rainy season (tsuyu) in June and the typhoon (typhoo) season in September that marks the end of summer/beginning of autumn.

Autumn is a time of changeable, unpredictable but generally mild weather - apart from the typhoons obviously - and is considered the time when many Japanese foods are at their most delicious. But if you're planning a gourmet trip around this time, make a point of checking the short-term weather forecast. The good thing about typhoons is that you can see them coming, usually at least three or four days in advance. The bigger typhoons can cause huge amounts of damage and most years deaths from flooding, landslides and the like are not uncommon. During this season, you'll find it hard to tell whether you're wet through from the rain or the sweat, especially if you're unlucky enough to have to do a rush-hour commute. Hokkaido is usually lucky enough not to be hit by these storms.

The following table shows average temperature (Celcius) and rainfall (millimeters) for eight cities spread over the length of Japan. Remember that the figures are averages - recent summers have seen temperatures reaching 40 degrees in some places.

City

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Sapporo

-5
114

-4
92

0
78

6
65

12
59

16
76

20
80

21
131

17
142

11
115

4
104

-2
101

Sendai

1
46

1
48

4
72

10
82

15
109

18
141

22
160

24
153

20
175

14
116

9
69

4
49

Tokyo

5
54

5
63

8
102

14
128

18
148

22
181

25
125

27
137

23
193

17
181

12
93

7
56

Nagano

-1
57

0
47

3
55

10
67

16
79

19
140

24
149

25
102

20
126

13
77

7
46

2
43

Kyoto

4
57

5
67

8
108

14
163

18
156

22
247

26
250

28
176

23
206

17
118

11
75

6
45

Hiroshima

4
53

5
65

8
101

13
174

18
161

21
254

26
269

27
124

23
188

17
104

12
72

7
40

Kagoshima

7
95

8
106

11
147

16
256

20
275

23
475

27
323

28
209

25
211

20
108

14
92

9
80

Naha

16
120

16
118

18
144

21
168

24
249

26
293

28
193

28
260

27
166

24
186

21
142

18
117


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