6 beautiful places to see Autumn leaves in Japan

Japan is world-famous for its cherry blossom, making spring by far the most popular time for tourists. But did you know that autumn has its own natural displays that are just as spectacular – if not more so?

Just as hanami (flower-viewing) is integral to the Japanese enjoyment of cherry blossom, koyo, or momiji (leaf-viewing) is the favourite pastime up and down the country in autumn. The autumn leaf ‘front’ begins in northern Hokkaido and works its way gradually southwards along the Japanese archipelago, concluding in the southwest on the islands of Okinawa (interestingly, this is the opposite to the cherry blossom front, which sweeps northwards from the south).

Every Japanese person has their own favourite koyo spot, but for those who need a bit of direction – here are six of our favourite places to see the fall colours in Japan.

1. Kyoto

Japan’s capital for over 1,000 years, Kyoto isn’t known as the ‘City of Ten Thousand Temples’ for nothing. Steeped in culture and history, this huge city is known for its great wealth of picturesque temples and gardens – and it’s home to some of the country’s very finest displays of autumn leaves. The colours start to turn in mid-November and usually last until early December. Of the many temples to choose from, our top recommendations are Tofuku-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Yoshimine-dera and Eikando – visit in the evenings to see the leaves lit up by lantern-light. The mountainous Arashiyama district on the outskirts of Kyoto also boasts some beautiful foliage.

kiyomizu-dera-kyoto

2. Hokkaido

Japan’s northernmost island is a rugged, rolling landscape that’s rarely visited by travellers – most of whom restrict themselves to the many cultural and scenic delights of Honshu main island. This is a shame, because Hokkaido is a treasure trove of volcanoes, mountain trails, hot springs, lakes and plains. The autumn leaves visit Hokkaido in mid-September and generally last until late October, during which time Daisetsuzan National Park and the rugged Shiretoko Peninsula are particularly beautiful.

3. Nikko

Just a couple of hours’ train ride from Tokyo, Nikko is a wonderful place to visit at any time of year – but it’s especially impressive in autumn. Though it can be tackled as a day trip, we highly recommend spending the night at one of the local traditional inns in order to enjoy the area fully. Explore the extraordinarily elaborate mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan’s greatest shogun; escape to Lake Chuzen-ji for a hike through the forests; tour the many great waterfalls in Nikko National Park, and stop off for a refreshing soak in one of the local onsen hot spring baths. Magical.

kegon-falls-nikko-national-park

4. Kanazawa

One of the newest additions to the Shinkansen bullet train route, we’ve long championed Kanazawa as the perfect place to experience a traditional Japanese town centre without the thronging tourist crowds of Kyoto. In addition to its strong tradition of arts and crafts, including gold-leaf making and carpentry, Kanazawa is famous as the location of the most beautiful garden in Japan: Kenrokuen. Though stunning throughout the seasons, Kenrokuen puts on its finest show in autumn as its maple and cherry trees take on vivid shades of red and gold.

kenrokuen-garden-kanazawa

5. Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route

Linking Toyama City with Omachi Town via trains, cable-cars, buses and ropeways, the Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route is one of the more novel ways to appreciate Japan’s fall colours. Tracing a path across the mountainous central region of Honshu Island, this is an excellent place to see autumn leaves from late September until early November. Autumn leaves love high altitudes, so you’ll see a wide array of different colours at different elevations depending on when you travel.

on-the-tateyama-kurobe-alpen-route

6. Fuji Five Lakes

Easily reachable by train from the capital, Fuji Five Lakes delivers a double whammy: amazing autumn leaves and beautiful views of one of the world’s most iconic mountains. Though Fuji lies shrouded in mist throughout most of the year, clear days become more frequent as the weather gets cooler – meaning you’re much more likely to catch a glimpse later in the year and in summer. Seeing Fuji-san framed by orange foliage and reflected in the lakes is a sight you certainly won’t forget in a hurry.

fuji-in-autumn

Alastair Donnelly is Director at InsideAsia Tours.

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Comments (1)

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  1. Deborah says:

    A friend of mine wrote a book about the tradition of seeing the cherry blossom in Japan, so spring is still my favourite time for my long-planned trip to Japan. This is truly a magical article though and I love the photo of Fiji-San in autumnal splendour. I think I feel a haiku coming on…

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