Discover what to do, see, and eat;
and more about getting the most out of your experience in the City of Kyoto!
Kyoto has four distinct seasons, each with very different conditions. In spring, people go out to see the cherry blossoms; in fall, the colorful leaves; and an outing in kimono can be enjoyed in either summer or winter. Preparing the right clothes for each season is crucial before you head out on your trip. Read on to find out more about Kyoto’s climate, the best clothes and other items to bring with you during each season, and even how to prepare for local events and kimono dressing!
Source: Japan Meteorological Agency
Kyoto is located in a basin, with mountains on three sides, which gives it the particular quality of having very hot summers, and very chilly winters. Even given the same temperature, that temperature may feel different from season to season, based on a variety of factors, like humidity, wind, and atmospheric conditions.
Kyoto is the coldest from January to February, and while it’s possible that snow may fall during this time, it’s very rare for snow to pile up on the ground.
Some of Kyoto’s most famous events, like the Gion Matsuri Festival, and the Gozan-no-Okuribi Ritual Fires are put on in the summertime, but summer in Kyoto also brings with it high temperatures and high humidity, so be sure to drink enough water during this season!
So what should you wear in each season in Kyoto?
Spring in Kyoto means large temperature changes throughout the day, and temperatures in March are still chilly. You’ll need a coat with reasonable thickness to enjoy the cherry blossom viewing. In April and May, the days will get warmer, but it’s a good idea to bring layers for the mornings and evenings.
What to wear during spring in Kyoto
March: A coat with some thickness, a sweater, some kind of warm under layer, and thick pants, or a skirt with warm tights.
April & May: A jacket that’s easy to carry around, a sweater or long-sleeved top, and pants or a skirt with tights.
Other items to bring with you: A thin wrap or shawl, and hand warmers are recommended for the mornings and evenings for people who get easily chilled.
Spring Events in Kyoto
Strolling and Cherry Blossom Viewing
Spring in Kyoto is a season in which to enjoy all kinds of flowers. Temperatures get warmer day by day, making for the perfect weather to take a stroll while you enjoy the cherry blossoms and other seasonal flowers. The Okazaki area includes the Okazaki Canal, a famous cherry blossom-viewing spot, Heian-jingu Shrine, museums, the Kyoto Zoo, and many more cultural facilities. The broad Okazaki Park is also perfect to enjoy together with children. Another tradition to try during the cherry blossom season is some delectable sakura (cherry blossom) mochi, a traditional springtime sweet made with red bean paste that’s mildly sweet, surrounded by chewy mochi wrapped in salted cherry leaves. Kyoto is home to many long-standing wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) shops, so if you find a sweet shop in the city, be sure to try tasting this springtime sakura mochi.
If you’re interested to learn more about the process that goes into making traditional Japanese wagashi sweets, why not check out a Wagashi Workshop? Learn under the patient watch of the sweets craftsmen themselves, and try making your very own seasonal Japanese sweets. (Opportunities to make wagashi are open all year-round)
Aoi Matsuri Festival (May 15th)
Aoi Matsuri Festival is held annually on May 15th. Known as one of Kyoto’s “big three” festivals, this festival procession of 500 people, resplendent in Heian Period (794-1185) costume, begins at the Kyoto Imperial Palace, proceeds to Shimogamo-jinja Shrine, Kamigamo-jinja Shrine, and from there to the new green of Miyako-oji.
Summer in Kyoto brings with it many traditions and festivals that have been held since long ago. More recently, days that reach highs of over 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) have become more common, making breathable clothing the best option for this extreme heat. Be careful, though: summer in Kyoto is also prone to unexpected downpours!
What to wear during summer in Kyoto
In summer, it’s best to wear breathable clothing, like thin short-sleeved tops, or dresses for women. Please be careful to wear a hat or carry a parasol to protect yourself from UV rays when you head out. You may feel surprisingly chilly when you’re inside an air-conditioned shop, train, or bus, etc., so it may also be a good idea to bring a cover-up with you.
Other items to bring with you: Paper fan, parasol, water, and sunscreen
Summer Events in Kyoto
Kamogawa River Noryo Yuka Riverside Dining (From around May to September)
The shores of this central Kyoto river are lined with restaurants, and in summer, many of them build platforms along the riverside for outside dining with a view of the river. Nearly 90 restaurants extend along the river here, offering noryo yuka dining with not only traditional Kyoto or Japanese cuisine, but also Chinese and Western-style cuisine, cafés, and more.
Gion Matsuri Festival (July 1st – 31st)
Gion Matsuri is one of Kyoto’s “big three” festivals, and is one of the three largest festivals in Japan! The highlight of Gion Matsuri is the parade of magnificently decorated yama-hoko floats on July 17th and 24th. Each of the floats is lit up at night in the respective neighborhoods where they are stored, three days before being moved in the procession. Three days before each of the floats is moved, they are lit up at night in the neighborhoods where they are stored, and traditional Gion festival music fills the streets.
Gozan-no-Okuribi Ritual Fires (August 16th, beginning at 8:00 a.m.)
The Gozan-no-Okuribi Ritual Fires that light up the mountainsides of Kyoto are a classic image of summertime in Kyoto: one after another, fires are lit on the mountains around Kyoto in the shapes of Chinese characters or other pictographs, as a ritual to send off the spirits of the dead who returned to this world during the Obon holiday. Every year, this magnificent display draws crowds hoping to catch sight of all the mountainsides set alight at once.
Just as with spring, autumn in Kyoto is characterized by chilly mornings and nights. Temperatures are warm during the day, but drop suddenly at night, and as the air gets drier with the approach of winter, it’s important to stay hydrated. Along with this temperature change, autumn in Kyoto means seasonal activities and outings to view the colorful fall leaves!
What to wear during autumn in Kyoto
As Kyoto gets chillier in autumn, it’s best to wear long sleeves and pants, and you’ll need a jacket or sweater for the mornings or nights. If you wear a skirt, you’ll probably want to wear stockings or tights for warmth. Prepare an outfit with layers that’s easily adaptable if the weather should change.
Other items to bring with you: A scarf or shawl, and water
The humidity of summer gives way to a drier autumn, and when you’re walking all around the city it’s an especially good idea to stay hydrated. Kyo no kagayaki, Sosui Monogatari (“The Capital’s Radiance: Tale of the Canal”) is drinking water sold in Kyoto City to promote the city’s disaster reserves and tap water. While you’re in Kyoto, try having a taste. Sosui Monogatari is available for purchase at a vending machine in Karasuma Oike Station on the subway Karasuma Line.
Autumn Events in Kyoto
Jidai Matsuri Festival (October 22nd) *Will be held on October 26th in 2019
During Jidai Matsuri Festival, a parade that recreates the historical look of each era, from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the Heian Period (794-1185), will wind its way from Kyoto Gyoen, the imperial garden, to Heian-jingu Shrine. Nearly 2,000 people and over 70 horses and cows participate in the parade, which stretches to a length of 2 kilometers at its longest. The costumes and other props you’ll see in the parade are made by knowledgeable Kyoto artisans and dyers who have used their historical research to bring these costumes back to life in the modern era. As one of Kyoto’s “great three festivals,” Jidai Matsuri sees an impressive showing every year.
Kurama Fire Festival (October 22nd)
Kurama Fire Festival is another of Kyoto’s “three great festivals,” held at Yuki-jinja Shrine in northern Kyoto. During this festival, the people of Kurama reenact the journey of the shrine god, Yuki-myojin, to Yuki-jinja Shrine. Festivities begin at 6 p.m., as children make their way through the town with torches, eventually joined by the adults of the village, dressed in straw warrior’s sandals and carrying large torches as they chant, marching through the village up to the shrine.
As winter begins, the cold will really begin to set in, with an average temperature of around 7℃ (around 45 F) in December, and an average temperature of around 5℃ (around 41 F) in January and February. Winter in Kyoto sees many days with clear skies, and because it’s uncommon to see rain or snow, the air may become quite dry.
What to wear during winter in Kyoto
If you visit Kyoto in winter, you’re going to need a wool or down coat, or some other kind of thick outerwear, gloves, and a scarf. Temperatures can drop suddenly on cloudy days or in the evening, so be sure to dress so that your legs and feet will be warm enough. It will be cold outside, but buildings, buses, and trains are heated, so wear something with layers that are easy to take off as needed.
Other items to bring with you: A scarf, gloves, knit hat or hand warmers to keep warm, and something to hydrate yourself with.
Winter Events in Kyoto
Welcoming the New Year
A number of traditional rituals are practiced at Kyoto’s shrines and temples in the winter. If you’re lucky, you might be able to enjoy some of them with a dusting of snow. Those living in Kyoto also head to Nishiki Market to prepare for the new year. On the night of New Years Eve, many temples sound a bell 108 times, the same number of human worldly desires, according to Buddhist belief. In order to ensure themselves a good year to come, many visit these shrines and temples for the first prayer of the new year. Setsubun is a traditional holiday celebrated on the 3rd of February, in which people ward off illness and misfortune for the coming year by throwing small beans at “demons” and call out, “Demons, stay out! Fortune, come in!” Come join in the Setsubun festivities, and greet the new spring season by tossing beans in this ritual!
Many different events are held in Kyoto. We’ll post the latest information on this site, so be sure to take a look!
Wearing kimono in the summer heat
Yukata are thin, cotton kimono worn in summer. They’re often worn as leisurewear in the summer to festivals and fireworks displays, and they’re perfect for wearing around Kyoto! If you’re going to wear a proper kimono in the summertime, it’s most comfortable to wear one with a transparent top layer made from gauze. Add a straw hat to the look and you’ll have a very stylish get-up. Try it yourself!
Other items to bring with you: Fan, parasol, water, and other small items to help keep you cool.
Wearing kimono in the winter to keep out the cold
Kimono are worn slightly open at the collar at the back of the neck, so it’s important to keep your upper body and the area around your neck warm with an insulating inner layer. Kimono are worn with tabi socks, so you won’t be able to wear tights under them. It might be good to wear leggings, or other undergarments that leave the feet exposed, though.
For a fashionable look, some keep warm in a kimono by pairing it with a beret or boots. This kind of look is popular, and somewhat retro in Japan. It puts people in mind of styles in the 1920s that mixed kimono with Western accessories.
Many kimono shops also offer warm accessories like shawls and fur stoles, or special kimono overcoats for rent, so be sure to ask in advance.
Other items to bring with you: Those who get chilled easily can attach a stick-on handwarmer to their back for extra warmth, but it’s possible you could give yourself a slight burn doing so, so be sure to ask with the staff dressing you about the best place to attach a handwarmer if you wish to use one this way!