Japan is a country with four-season appeal. And while hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) and koyo (fall leaves) are the island nation’s biggest seasonal attractions, they are not the only draws.
In winter, mountain resorts in the Japanese Alps attract winter sport enthusiasts, thanks to their reliable snow, steaming outdoor onsen (hot springs) and “snow monkeys” (Japanese macaques who soak in hot springs to escape subzero temperatures). Scattered about 400 miles south of Kyushu in the much more tropical latitudes, meanwhile, are the beach-fringed Okinawa Islands, where even in the chillier months of October, November, February and March, temperatures tend to hover around the very pleasant mid-60s F mark.
And because of its long latitude range – Japan’s inhabited islands extends from 24° to 46° north – the hanami and koyo seasons extend for relatively long periods of time. For instance, while the leaves will begin to turn rust in Hokkaido in late September, they’ll stay green in other places until as late as December. The sakura (cherry blossoms) may appear as early as March in some regions and as late as mid-May in others.
Sun yourself on the deserted sandy stretches of Okinawa’s Ishigaki Island
Marvel at elaborate snow sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival
Hike amid the fiery-hued fall foliage in a forested, temple-dotted valley north of Kyoto
Watch the summer night sky come alight as tens of thousands of fireworks go off during Tokyo’s Sumida River Fireworks Festival
Witness the ephemeral beauty of the sakura as the tens of thousands of cherry trees on Mount Yoshino sprout and shed their translucent pink petals
For a tropical island retreat with crowd-free stretches of sand, traditional red-roofed houses and stone-walled lanes, head to the far-flung and wonderfully tranquil Taketomi Island in Okinawa. Here, at the high-end Hoshinoya resort, guests sleep in private pavilions built in the local style, eat impeccably prepared Japanese-French fusion fare and enjoy a peaceful, relaxing environment.
There are few better places to get an introduction to traditional Japanese kaiseki than the three-Michelin-starred Kikunoi Honten in Kyoto. Guests sit in private dining rooms where they are treated to meticulously prepared multi-course meals designed to express seasonality and a sense of place.
Listen to a jikata (shamisen player), play traditional drinking games and chat with a professional geisha – with the aid of an interpreter – during a private dinner.