Autumn in Japan unfolds like a meticulously painted canvas, transforming the landscape into vibrant hues of yellow, gold, and red. This season is as eagerly anticipated as the renowned cherry blossom season, offering a different yet equally mesmerizing beauty.
The phenomenon, known locally as koyo, is a spectacle that both locals and tourists await, with annual forecasts predicting when the leaves will perform their enchanting color change. Given Japan’s diverse geography and climate, the autumn season stretches from the end of September through to December, providing ample opportunity for travelers to witness this splendid autumnal display.
From the Kurobe Gorge in Toyama, providing a striking contrast between autumn foliage and its clear blue waters, to the iconic Arashiyama in Kyoto, and the serene Lake Towada in Aomori, each destination offers a unique fall experience.
There’s more to the season than just leaf-viewing; it’s also the perfect time for a rejuvenating soak at the Jozankei Onsen in Hokkaido, or a leisurely stroll through the historic Rikugien Garden and the expansive Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
In this blog, we’ll take you on a journey through our favorite autumn destinations in Japan, highlighting some of the best the country has to offer.
And if we leaving you feeling inspired to journey around this wondrous country for yourself, check out our Guided Tours of Japanese Cities.
The Magical Fall Foliage: An Overview
Autumn in Japan is an event in itself, as the seasonal changes coat landscapes in vivid golden hues, turning the country into a living artwork.
The season transforms Japan’s lush green forests into a riot of colors, ranging from gold to fiery reds. The spectacle draws visitors from across the globe, making autumn a beautiful and enchanting time in the country.
Kurobe Gorge, Toyama
The Kurobe Gorge, nestled in the Northern Japanese Alps, is among the country’s deepest and most scenic gorges. Its picturesque beauty becomes even more breathtaking during autumn when the gorge is surrounded by an explosion of colors.
The most popular attraction here is the Kurobe Gorge Railway. The railway stretches over 20km through the rugged, mountainous terrain, offering travelers a chance to enjoy panoramic views of the gorge in its full autumnal glory. The train makes several stops along the way, allowing visitors to step out and fully appreciate the spectacular scenery around them.
Rikugien Garden, Tokyo
The Rikugien Garden in Tokyo is a stunning representation of Japan’s historic and exquisite landscape gardening. The garden becomes a visual treat during autumn, thanks to its plethora of maple trees that turn into brilliant shades of red and yellow.
To fully appreciate the garden’s autumn beauty, it is recommended to take an entire afternoon to leisurely stroll the many trails around the park. Meandering paths lead to spectacular viewing spots like the Tsutsuji no Chaya teahouse, from where you can admire the vibrant colors reflected in the running stream, or the Fujishirotoge viewpoint, which offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the garden.
After your stroll, you can relax and enjoy some traditional Japanese tea at one of the many teahouses scattered across the garden.
A visit to Arashiyama, a charming district in Kyoto, is an absolute must when you’re in Japan during the autumn season. Famed for its iconic Bamboo Grove, Arashiyama offers much more, easily making it one of the best day trips to the periphery of Kyoto. The scenic Togetsukyo Bridge offers an unrivaled vantage point for viewing fall foliage, especially from late November to early December when the entire mountain is draped in vibrant autumn hues.
After a leisurely stroll on the bridge, you can explore the town, walk along the promenade, or take a riverboat ride for a different perspective on the captivating scenery. Further into the district, you can traverse the enchanting bamboo forest before making your way to the Tenryuji Temple – a World Heritage Site and one of the top five Zen temples in Kyoto.
Don’t miss exploring the serene pond and grand terraces of the Sogenchi Garden. Whether you’re wandering the town or immersing yourself in the serenity of its temples, Arashiyama offers an unrivaled autumnal experience.
If you’d like to see the best of Kyoto in the company of expert guides, browse our Guided Tours of Kyoto.
Minoh Falls, Osaka
If your autumn adventure includes a waterfall framed by spectacular fall foliage, then Minoh Falls in Osaka should be on your list. A leisurely 45-minute trek through Minoh Park leads you to this 33m-high waterfall, rewarding you with a stunning tableau set against the backdrop of autumn colors.
Along the trail, you’ll pass quaint local shops and charming temples, enriching your experience. Don’t miss trying the local specialty – momiji leaf tempura, especially delightful during the fall season. For the best experience, plan your visit around mid to late November.
After spending a day exploring the falls, you can join our guides for Nighttime Food Tour of Osaka.
Watarase Keikoku Railway
Embark on a romantic train ride through vibrant fall colors aboard the Watarase Keikoku Railway. The railway stretches from Kiryu in Gunma to Nikko in Tochigi, offering breath-taking views over an 80-minute ride. The scenery feels straight out of a film, especially when the train glides by the Takatsudokyo Gorge, offering a unique view of the valley adorned in autumn hues.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo
Known for its iconic status during the hanami season, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo also boasts spectacular autumn foliage viewing. The park features three distinct gardens, each showcasing its unique autumnal charm. The Japanese Garden is renowned for its deep red maple leaves, while the British Garden displays a beautiful array of yellow ginkgo foliage.
Not to be outdone, the French Garden features blooming roses even in the fall season. For the best experience, plan your visit between mid-October and mid-December to fully enjoy the park’s unique autumnal sceneries.
Browse our Guided Tours of Tokyo if you’re interested in visiting some of the capital city’s other iconic sites.
Jozankei Onsen, Hokkaido
Jozankei Onsen, a delightful onsen town located in western Hokkaido, is a sought-after destination for those chasing the mesmerizing koyo. The town transforms into an enchanting spectacle during autumn, with areas around the Hoheikyo Dam and the iconic red Futami Suspension Bridge immersed in a sea of vibrant foliage.
To elevate your fall foliage experience, take a gondola ride at the Sapporo International Ski Resort and view the kaleidoscopic leaves from above. To witness Jozankei Onsen in its autumnal splendor, plan your visit from early to mid-October.
Osaka Castle, a heritage site renowned for its historical and aesthetic appeal, becomes a dazzling oasis of autumnal reds and golds during the fall season. This sightseeing spot, popular for picnics, turns even more attractive as the grand castle gets draped in a rich tapestry of fall hues. It’s an ideal place for capturing Instagram-worthy photos that combine architectural grandeur with the breathtaking colors of autumn.
Lake Towada, Aomori
Lake Towada, the largest caldera lake on Japan’s Honshu Island, presents a wonderful spectacle during autumn. Located up north in Aomori, the trees here start changing their colors slightly earlier than those in the southern parts of the country, with peak season usually around mid to late October.
The lake’s shores are populated by beech trees turning bright yellow and momiji maple trees exhibiting their stunning vermillion shades. The true magic of this spot lies in the reflection of Mt. Towada and its seasonal foliage on the lake’s tranquil surface, making it a spectacular sight to behold.
As we wrap up our autumnal journey across Japan, it’s clear that each location offers its unique charm, from the picturesque Kurobe Gorge in Toyama to the peaceful waters of Lake Towada in Aomori. Each place, each garden, each onsen town, and even the bustling cities, transform into live canvases painted with the mesmerizing golds and oranges of koyo.
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