Spring cherry blossoms are a common association with Japan and seasonal activities. Still, the autumn foliage is equally as beautiful and just as popular among domestic tourists. In some ways, autumn is a better time for visiting different areas of Japan, as there is less likelihood of crowds.
Viewing the autumn leaves, or Koyo as it is known in Japan is an ever-popular activity for this time of year and is ideal for all age groups. It is a great way to get out into nature and enjoy the beautiful views before the cold of winter sets in.
Viewing the autumn leaves is also more versatile than cherry blossoms as the peak period for most areas lasts up to a month, providing more flexibility to travelers. The peak times change throughout the country depending on location, main tree species, and a range of other factors. They generally range from around mid-October in Hokkaido through to late November-early December for more southern or inland areas of Japan.
Tofukuji temple is one of the most famous Koyo spots in Kyoto and is very popular every year. The temple was first built in 1236 and maintained several traditional aspects, including extensive gardens. The Tsutenkyo Bridge, a 100m walkway that connects the Hondo Hall and Kaisando Hall, is extremely popular. It is well-known both for the maple-covered walkway and for the outside view of the bridge.
Mt. Koya in Wakayama prefecture is popular year-round for its beautiful hiking trails and historic temple complex. It is considered the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism and has many temples dating back hundreds of years. It is also considered a popular pilgrimage destination. In autumn, the forestation of the mountain bursts into color with bright yellows and reds along the hiking trails. Hiking Mt. Koya during autumn is a great way to experience Japanese nature, history, and culture all in one place.
Fujigoko, or Fuji Five Lakes, describes the five lakes that surround Mount Fuji, Japan's highest mountain. These are Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Yamanaka, Lake Motosu, Lake Shoji and Lake Saiko. These are all beautiful during autumn and offer lovely views of Fuji. However, Lake Kawaguchi is the most popular of the lakes, with unique viewpoints capturing the lake, Mt. Fuji, and the bright autumn leaves. There is a Momiji (maple leaf) festival on the north side of the lake during autumn, highlighting the ‘Maple Corridor' with its stunning 60 maple trees and the 1.5km autumn leaf avenue.
Kenrokuen Garden is one of the top 3 gardens in Japan. Located in Kanazawa, the traditional city sometimes known as ‘Little Kyoto,' this area has all of Kyoto's traditional atmosphere and charm with fewer crowds. Kenrokuen is a landscape-style garden that was painstakingly designed to look beautiful in all seasons. Autumn is no different with its bright maple, cherry, and other various trees. The different areas of the garden take on a completely different atmosphere when surrounded by the beautiful foliage of autumn.
Lake Towada is the largest caldera lake in the mainland of Japan. It covers the prefectural border of Aomori and Akita. This large lake is surrounded by beautiful forestation and a range of different hiking trails. These trails are a perfect way to experience the beautiful nature of Aomori. One of the most popular areas is the Oirase Stream, which flows from the lake and provides stunning natural views. There are also various observation decks around the lake and sightseeing boats for a different perspective.
For something a bit different, the entire area of Nikko is highly recommended as an autumn trip destination. Located in Tochigi prefecture, Nikko is a small city with many beautiful spots for viewing autumn leaves. These range from the famous winding road of Irohazaka to the natural views of Lake Chuzenji in Nikko national park. You can also enjoy the autumn leaves from the ground of beautiful shrines and temples in the area, such as the famous Nikko Toshogu Shrine.
Mino Falls, located on the north side of Osaka, is a charming day trip location to escape the bustling city of Osaka. Mino Mountain has a range of hiking trails, with the main 3km walk being straightforward to complete as it is fully paved. Along the walk, there are beautiful views over the trees, into gorges, and down to the streams below. Along the way, there are various small food stalls to enjoy. When you reach the top, there is a viewing area for the impressive waterfall, surrounding foliage, and other small food stalls.
The Kurobe Gorge in Toyama is one of the most famous places for seeing autumn scenery in Japan. Its iconic Shin-Yamabiko bridge and old-fashioned railway provide a different experience from most other autumn foliage spots. The train starts at Unazaki Onsen and goes through to Keyakidaira Station. This takes around 80 minutes and, with both open-air and closed carriages available, provides a constant stream of fantastic scenery as the train goes through the forests and the gorge itself. For a slower experience, the Yamabiko Trail offers excellent views of the famous bridge and overlooks the beautiful Kurobe Gorge.
Kiyomizudera is one of the oldest and most famous temples in the traditional city of Kyoto. The temple platform looks out over the mountainside, covered with over 1000 maple trees in autumn. The bright foliage contrasts beautifully with the wooden temple. The temple also has an autumn illumination event. The trees are lit up at night, creating a completely different yet equally beautiful experience.
Mt. Bandai in Fukushima is often referred to as the ‘Fuji of the north' for its resemblance to the genuine Fuji and its impressive stature. The size of the mountain and the elevation changes mean there are autumn viewing spots for over a month. Many hiking trails, ranging in difficulty, make it a perfect place to enjoy the autumn leaves. Lake Inawashiro, also known as the ‘heavenly mirror lake,' is an ideal area to take in the beauty of the natural mountains, waters, and foliage.
Spending time in nature and viewing the seasonal foliage is one of the best ways to enjoy autumn in Japan. Koyo, or changing autumn leaves, is a staple activity of autumn in Japan and symbolizes the changing seasons. Fortunately, the country abounds with beautiful areas to visit and enjoy the leaves in various contexts. Here we have some of the best places to visit in Japan to enjoy autumn leaves. If you are spending time in Tokyo, we also have this article with some of the best Tokyo-based autumn spots.
You may be also interested in reading "English-Speaking Travel Agencies in Japan".
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