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Climate and WeatherBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Japan - Climate and Weather
The cherry blossom season in Japan is eagerly anticipated across the whole nation, as trees cover themselves in a breath-taking display of pink and white blossoms. The season starts earliest – around March – in the south, reaching the northern coasts by May.
Families enjoy trips out to admire the displays and sit under the trees, absorbing the welcome spring blue skies, although it can be cool and breezy.
By April the most northerly areas, which are fairly close to Russia, will still be a cool 7°C, while the tropical southern islands enjoy a balmy 21°C.
August in Japan is a hot, humid month. Few days will be under 20°C, while Naha’s average temperature hovers around 30°C. This is not the best time of year to use the public transport systems, despite their efficiency.
In recent decades, businesses started to use air conditioning to keep their workers and customers cool, but more recently, many have adopted the Ministry of Environment’s ‘Cool Biz’ campaign, which has a message of energy reduction. As a result, workplaces are often warm during summer.
People use their leisure time to enjoy the weather during this season. The beaches are packed, sea waters entertain boats, swimmers and snorkelers, whilst surfers head to the Bozo Peninsula, Izu Peninusal and the Kii Peninsula.
This is also a popular time to explore mountain areas. Lots of street festivals and firework displays make this an enjoyable time to be in the city despite the heat.
The weather can get a bit stormy in September before the temperatures start to drop for the autumn season. Naha is a very pleasant 25°C, but elsewhere, 11 to 15°C is more typical.
The country enjoys beautiful autumnal displays of the tree foliage. This starts in the northern areas in late September, reaching the far south by early December.
The temperatures in Japan drop down low enough for snow in the northern areas, ready for ski season.
In Sapporo, capital of the mountainous northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, it’s often well below freezing for much of winter. Meanwhile Okinawa Prefecture, the tropical island group south of mainland Japan, and its capital Naha will be enjoying mild winters at 17°C. The rest of Japan’s temperatures vary according to how north they are.
What To Wear In The Japanese Workplace
All workplaces in Japan have a dress code, even if it is unwritten. Adhere to it every day, as people will take notice if you don’t. The prevailing Japanese culture is to avoid confrontation. If your outfits have been poorly chosen or maintained, it is unlikely you will be told unless there is an issue about you meeting customers. Instead, you will be overlooked for promotion and your workload will be constructed so you either choose to leave or reach a point where you are fired.
For the office, arrive smartly dressed. Men should wear a full suit and tie, while women should wear a smart, conservative dress or suit. Clean, matching shoes and bags complete the look. Everything should be clean, well pressed or ironed, reflecting your status as a professional.
That said, the ‘Cool Biz’ campaign for reducing energy consumption means that during the summer season, colleagues are encouraged to wear lighter clothing and limit the use of air conditioning.
Some workplaces require overalls or uniforms. In the service industry, these must be impeccably presented, clean and freshly pressed. Customers will judge the establishment by their first glance at the staff.
If you are working somewhere messy, take a change of clothes. Public transport can be over-crowded, and no-one wants their outfit marked by someone with dirty clothes. Similarly, women walking long distances often commute in sensible shoes.
There are some workplaces in the creative industries where smart businesses suits are swapped for fashionable outfits. However, this is still not an environment in which to don a casual combination of T-shirt and jeans. The outfits are carefully chosen to display an unwritten message about the individual. Again, all items should be clean and well presented.
Therefore, it is important to observe the dress and body language of those around you, and follow the example given.
What To Wear In Japan During Leisure Hours
The appropriate outfit for your leisure time will depend on what you are doing and how old you are. However, overall principles about conservative dress codes and cleanliness always apply.
Male bare chests and women’s bikini tops belong at the swimming pool and seldom elsewhere. Exposed midriffs from crop tops are rare and unfortunately will attract unwanted attention. Women’s tops must be high enough not to show any cleavage. Flip flops on the streets will attract a few curious glances, but more importantly they are unsuitable for walking great distances.
Hide all tattoos if you have them - they are associated with criminal gangs and you may be prevented entering some premises and leisure facilities if yours can be seen.
You may see some local men wearing shorts, although this is quite rare. Shorts are worn by boys at school, so most men avoid wearing them in adulthood. Men tend to wear button down shirts, with short sleeves in the hot weather, rather than T-shirts.
Young Japanese women who wear shorts will usually also have a pair of tights on. Bare legs are unusual for women.
You will notice young women wearing short skirts well above the knee, but this is rarely done by older women. However, all age groups of women wear short sleeves in hot weather without it being an issue.
Denim and jeans, including ripped jeans, can be spotted everywhere. Backpacks, though, are worn by the young and not their middle-aged parents.
In the cities, people are very conscious of their overall look. Young people sport carefully chosen combinations for a fashionable look. Older people, meanwhile, want to reflect their professional and material status by wearing smart, elegant clothing.
You will see people wearing clothes that break small rules, sometimes for fashion and sometimes because the individual doesn’t want to abide by those rules. However, if you look different to the local population, you will attract enough casual glances to stand out. How you present yourself will affect your acceptance into the local community.
What Shoes To Wear in Japan
The public transport systems in Japan are good and car ownership rates are low by international standards, meaning people tend to walk a lot. Therefore, a good pair of walking shoes is invaluable. Tennis shoes, office shoes and smart shoes are all fine if they co-ordinate with the rest of your outfit and are appropriate for your location. Do not wear tennis shoes at work, for example, but reserve them for your grocery shop.
On rainy days, your feet will get wet, whilst at other times the heat could cause sweaty feet. Try to find pairs of shoes which dry quickly, and keep shoes well aired.
You will come across many places where you must take your shoes off. Temples and some restaurants will demand it, and many hosts inviting you into their home will expect it. Even children going into school change into slippers, as we discuss in the Education and Schools section of this guide to Japan.
As a result, always check your socks in the morning. The last thing you need is to arrive at a nice restaurant to meet friends and then discover big holes in your socks.
This practice also makes sandals an unpopular choice if you don’t want to have bare feet at any point.
Earthquakes In Japan
Since Japan is located on the most active earthquake belt in the world – known as the Pacific Ring of Fire – it gets hit by roughly 1,500 earthquakes each year. Most of these will hardly be noticeable and minor tremors are the usual experience, but around 20 percent of the world’s earthquakes at a magnitude of six and above will happen in Japan.
Serious earthquakes cause furniture to topple over, walls to collapse and landslides to occur. These effects usually lead to several deaths and hundreds of injuries. The Japanese are well aware of the risks and prepare for these eventualities. Children are trained in school to take cover, and building control standards for all developments are high to mitigate risk of structural collapse.
Everyone living in Japan should be aware of what to do if you feel shaking.
● Drop to the floor
● Get under a desk, table or other item which provides cover
● Hold on to the shelter so it remains above you
● Stay under the shelter until it is clear that the earthquake is over AND that unstable furniture items (such as bookshelves) have had enough time to topple over if they are going to do so.
If you are in bed when the shaking starts, you can stay in bed, but cover your head with your pillow.
Drivers must safely stop and remain stationary and in the car until the shaking ends. Earthquakes do occur at rush hour sometimes, so this is important to know.
If you live in a high-rise building, the sprinkler and alarm systems will come on to ensure the building is evacuated and any minor fires can be quickly extinguished.
Regular updates about earthquake risk can be found on the official government website for the Japanese Meteorological Agency.
Volcanoes In Japan
Japan has 100 active volcanoes in its territory, 47 of which are watched closely because they have erupted recently or show signs that they may do so soon.
Japanese culture takes health and safety very seriously, so you are unlikely to be allowed anywhere near a volcano when it is at a known high risk of erupting. A risk level of one to five is used to show the level of activity at any time; three upwards normally denotes a volcanic peak to avoid.
Regular updates about volcano risk can be found on the official government website for the Japanese Meteorological Agency.
However, in 2014 the eruption of Mount Ontake killed 63 people. This was because that particular volcano, in common with some others, does not have an easily predicted eruption pattern. Therefore, the orders for evacuation were not given and the eruption sprayed ash and debris across the mountainside and the many hikers on it. This demonstrates that predictive systems are not infallible, and that even messages about a small increase in risk should be taken seriously.
Tsunami Risks In Japan
Japan has extensive coastline covered in towns and villages. Tsunamis occur in response to an earthquake and can reach enormous levels of power and height.
Regular updates about tsunami risks can be found on the official government website for the Japanese Meteorological Agency.
If you are on the coastline and become aware of a tsunami risk, do not delay your evacuation. Waiting to see the waves come crashing towards you on the horizon will probably not give you enough time to reach high ground.
The importance of heeding official warnings can be illustrated by the events of 2011, when the devastating Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. A horrific 19,575 people were killed, while thousands more were injured. Two Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program participants from the USA and a Canadian missionary were amongst those who lost their lives. Private film footage of the event shows villagers caught up in the sudden crisis and fleeing for their lives. People who had initially delayed their response to the warnings were later shown to be at ten times the risk of being caught up in the waves as those who fled immediately.
Longer term risks were caused by this one day’s events. The Fukushima nuclear power plant was flooded and caused a significant environmental risk to wildlife and human health. The local fish populations swam in contaminated sea water. They went from being a dominant food ingredient in the Japanese diet to a major cancer risk overnight.
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