Spring is one of the most popular sightseeing seasons in Japan, with the blooming of the cherry blossoms. But autumn is another attractive season in which colorful leaves attract tourists from near and far. Generally, the green leaves transform into reddish hues from late September to early December, but it all depends on where you go in Japan. We’ve outlined a list of the best spots around the country and their peak seasons so you can start planning your autumn Japan trip.
Kyoto:The most unmissable city
There are many reasons why Kyoto's autumn leaves are among Japan’s most beautiful. The mountains and rivers that surround the city create wide temperature variations between the morning and night, as well as providing adequate moisture. As there aren't many tall buildings in the city, the trees also receive a significant amount of sunlight to help them grow. Together with the blessing of abundant temples and shrines, the ancient city's autumn season is particularly alluring for visitors.
The best autumn color spots in Kyoto for 2019
A 15-minute walk from Arashiyama Station takes you to the Tenryuji Temple, where the dynamic landscape of Mount Arashiyama and its spacious garden will steal your breath. The temple grounds open at 7:30 am between November 10 and December 2, so early-risers should seize the opportunity if they wish to capture this tranquil garden view.
Originally chosen as the site of a school to nurture priests, artists and writers, the Enkoji Temple was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1601. It’s renowned for its moss garden, Jyu-gyu no Niwa, which contrasts dramatically with the deep-red fallen leaves.
Founded in 1236 by Kujo Michiie, the great statesman of the Kamakura period, the Tofukuji Temple is one of the oldest and largest temples in Kyoto. The temple grounds are planted with around 2,000 maple trees, which are best viewed from the Tsutenkyo Bridge.
Kamakura:A beautiful combination of changing leaves and traditional temples
The Meigetsuin Temple is famed for the mystical view of its garden from the circular window of the main hall. It’s particularly attractive during the fall foliage season, as well as during June when tourists flock to see its colorful collection of hydrangeas.
Slightly off the beaten track, the Zuisenji Temple is nestled in a valley near Kamakura. Owing to its mountainous setting, visitors can see the autumn leaves from early to late December. The temple grounds are planted with various trees and shrubs, such as plum, winter cherry, and wisteria, which entertain visitors throughout the year.
Nighttime illumination events aren’t as common in Kyoto as in Kamakura, but at the Hase Temple, you can enjoy the radiant maple trees illuminated after dark. If you’re visiting during the day, the spacious temple grounds feature an observatory offering panoramic views of Yuigahama Beach, as well as a 9.18-meter-tall wooden Kannon statue and a Kannon Museum.
Hiroshima:Maple is the signature tree
Sandankyo Gorge is around 16-kilometers long and boasts a number of breathtaking attractions, such as waterfalls, boulders, and deep pools, which can be explored on boat tours and along the hiking trails. The gorge is one of the most popular maple leaf spots in Hiroshima, and visitors can refresh themselves in this abundant natural setting.
The island of Miyajima is renowned for the iconic Itsukushima Shrine and its imposing red torii gate. But it’s also home to Momijidani Park, a popular autumn leaf-viewing spot. The park is home to around 700 maple trees, which can be admired on the leisurely walking trails.
Ozekiyama Park in Miyoshi City sprawls across Mount Ozeki and displays beautiful fall colors between late October and mid-November. Enjoy one of its gentle walks while being surrounded by vivid-red maple trees, then take in the panoramic views across the city from the top of the mountain.
Hokkaido:Catch the earliest fall foliage
・Daisetuzan National Park
Daisetuzan National Park encompasses multiple mountain peaks, diverse alpine plants and scenic hiking trails that attract nature-lovers. On Hokkaido's tallest mountain, the 2291-meter Asahidake, the leaves transform a brilliant yellow from late August to early September and are best viewed from the chairlift.
Daisetuzan National Park
Jozankei is a 60-minute drive from Sapporo, with this onsen town surrounded by mountains. It features a variety of changing leave spots, such as dams, waterfalls, and nature parks. Free shuttle bus services are available between Hoheikyo Dam and Jozankei Onsen during the season, so you can take a relaxing bath after exploring the area.
・Onuma Quasi-National Park
Located about 16 kilometers north of Hakodate, Onuma Quasi-National Park is a majestic landscape of mountains, lakes and islands formed by the eruption of an active volcano. To capture the crimson foliage in all its glory, stroll along the lake trails or join the nightly illumination cruise tour (available only for a limited period).
Onuma Quasi-National Park
The top three must-visit spots in the Tohoku region
The Entsuuin Temple is situated in Matsushima whose pine-covered islands make it one of Japan's three most celebrated, beautiful sights. It houses the mausoleum of Date Mitsumune, the grandson of the first feudal lord of the region Masamune. The temple offers a night illumination event between late October and mid-November where you can witness the leaves glowing mystically.
The most popular spot for autumn leaf viewing in Miyagi is Narukokyo Gorge, which lies near the border with Yamagata Prefecture. This gorge is 100 meters deep and stretches two kilometers in length. The night illumination event takes place here between October 24 and 27 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. On the 24th, a small opening ceremony will precede the light up at 8:00 pm.
Hirosaki Park in Hirosaki City is renowned for its cherry blossom trees, with pink petals carpeting the castle moat and wowing tourists from Japan and abroad. During autumn, 1,000 maple trees and 2,600 cherry trees transform the entire grounds into a vivid red canvas.
The top three must-visit spots in the Kanto region
Fukuroda Falls in Daigo drop 120 meters in height (with a width of 73 meters), attracting visitors who come to grasp its beauty throughout the year. If you visit during autumn, you can see the vivid contrast of its white water against the red leaves in the surrounds.
・Kegon Falls in Nikko
Kegon Falls in Nikko is another waterfall that never disappoints. A paid elevator transports you to the observation deck, which allows you to capture its impressive view up close. The peak season for fall colors is from mid to late October.
The red-arched bridge over the Yuzawa River in the onsen town of Ikaho gets crowded from late-October to mid-November when eye-catching autumn leaves start making their appearance. It’s the most popular autumn leaf-viewing spot in Gunma Prefecture (and the third most popular spot in Japan), with a night illumination event taking place during the season (4:30 pm - 10:30 pm).
The top three must-see spots in the Koshinetsu region
・Shoun Sanso Garden
The Shoun Sanso Garden in Kashiwazaki is a Japanese-style garden that was laid out in 1926, with its peak autumn leaf-viewing season arriving in early to mid-November (when a night illumination event is also held). During the daytime, visitors can admire the autumn leaves over a cup of matcha tea at the tea ceremony museum in the compound.
Shoun Sanso Garden
Lake Kawaguchiko's Autumn Leaves Festival (early to late November) receives many visitors, particularly at the Maple Corridor, the Maple Tunnel, and the illumination event. The lake’s combination of gorgeous, colorful leaves and the conical Japanese icon of Mount Fuji in the background is definitely worth a photo.
Senjojiki Curl is a bowl-shaped cirque that lies just under Mount Hoken and was formed due to the erosion of a glacier around 20,000 years ago. The name Senjojiki comes from the fact that 1,000 tatami mats can be placed on these vast grounds. If you take the aerial lift, you can soak up the expansive, autumn mountain views.
The top three must-visit spots in the Koshinetsu region
Kurobe Gorge in Kurobe is a beautiful, v-shaped ravine that cuts through the Kurobe River. The best way to explore this site is along the "Torokko Train." This open-air passenger train allows visitors to feel the crisp mountain air while admiring the beautiful contrast of fall colors against the emerald green river.
・Hakusan Shirakawa-go White Road
This vehicle-only, 33-kilometer mountain toll road is the most popular autumn leaf-viewing spot in Ishikawa Prefecture. It provides visitors with gorgeous views, hiking trails, onsen spots, waterfalls and more. Owing to its variable altitude, the autumn colors can be seen between late September and early November.
Hakusan Shirakawa-go White Road
Lake Kuzuryuko in Ono is a man-made lake that’s surrounded by densely forested mountains. It was formed following the construction of the Kuzuryuko Dam and is the most renowned autumn color site in Fukui Prefecture. Due to the wide variation in the daytime and nighttime temperatures, the green leaves of its trees turn into strikingly bright colors.
The top three must-see spots in the Tokai region
・Oyada Shrine Maple Valley
The Oyada Shrine in Mino is surrounded by Maple Valley, which has been voted by locals and tourists as one of the “Hida and Mino Autumn foliage 33 Selects”. There are 90 large maple trees lining the stone steps that lead to its main hall, with the trees having been designated as a national monument.
Oyada Shrine Maple Valley
Situated at the foot of Shizuoka's Southern Alps, the Sumata Gorge features a thrilling suspension bridge that boasts an expansive mountain view. The site has been chosen as one of the "100 Japanese Natural Landscapes That Should be Preserved for the 21st Century (21世紀に残したい日本の自然100選)" and as one of the “100 New Sightseeing Destinations of Japan （新日本観光地100選)".
The Korankei Gorge in the city of Toyota features 4,000 maple trees of 11 different species that exhibit different shapes and colors. The trees usually reach their full color around mid-November, with the Maple Tree Festival starting in early November along with a night illumination event.
The top three must-see spots in the Kinki region
・Metasequoia Tree-Lined Street
This 2.5-kilometer-long street leads to the Makino Highlands from the Makino Pick Land agricultural park and displays about 500 dawn redwoods that change color from season to season. It’s been designated as one of the "Top 100 Tree-lined Streets of Japan" and attracts both locals and tourists to see its vibrant autumn colors.
Metasequoia Tree-Lined Street
・Saijosan Park Maple Mountain
Sitting on the western side of Saijosan Park in Shisou, this relatively small mountain (338-meters high) boasts an impressive collection of 3,000 maple trees. The site has been selected as one of the "Top 100 Autumn Color Spots in Japan”, with trees lining both sides of the gently sloped trail to create a charming "Maple tunnel."
Saijosan Park Maple Mountain
・Hase Temple in Nara
The Hase Temple in Sakurai takes pride in its gorgeous collection of flowers and exhibits various colors in all seasons. Their maple festival is held every year between mid-October and early December (October 13 - December 2 in 2019), with sweeping views on offer from the temple's wooden veranda.
Hase Temple in Nara
The top three must-see spots in the Chugoku region
The Gakuenji Temple in Izumo is said to have been built in 594 for a monk who prayed that Empress Suiko would recover from eye disease. Known as one of the most famous fall foliage spots in the San’in region, its brilliant maple leaves fill the grounds between mid and late November. The temple’s Maple Leaves Festival also takes place around this time.
The Okutsukei Valley in Kagamino stretches for 3 kilometers just downstream of Okutsu Onsen. It attracts around 100,000 visitors each autumn with its combination of yellow, red and green leaves against the silky, white water. This is also one of the most famous pothole sites in Asia, with the potholes formed due to the erosion of granite.
The Taineiji Temple in Nagato is a calming, historical site forested with beautiful maple trees. It’s also home to an unusual stone bridge known as Banjakukyo, which was built in 1668. The peak autumn leaf-viewing season here is from mid to late November.
The top three must-see spots in the Shikoku region
Surrounded by rocky, steep slopes and deep forest, the Oboke Gorge is a famous autumn color spot in Miyoshi. Join the boat cruise tour at Restaurant Obokekyo Mannaka (a sightseeing facility complex) and experience the intricate beauty of its sheer cliffs and colorful forests at a leisurely pace. The neighboring Koboke Gorge is also worth visiting.
Shodoshima is home to the scenic Kankakei Gorge, which is situated at the center of the island and considered one of the most beautiful gorges in Japan. Visitors can enjoy the vibrant autumn colors of more than 50 kinds of coniferous trees by taking the cable car or exploring the hiking trails.
Kami’s Befu Gorge is situated within Tsurugurisan Quasi-National Park, which stretches between Tokushima and Kochi Prefectures. There are several well-paved trails available if you wish to take a closer look at the vibrant maple leaves and the Momiji Chaya restaurant serves local delicacies during the peak season (late October to late November).
The top three must-see spots in the Kyushu region
・Akizuki Castle Town
Established in 1203, Akizuki Castle Town was once home of the Akizuki clan who ruled large parts of Fukuoka Prefecture. The castle was destroyed during the Meiji Restoration, but its remains (and several other historical sites) are still visible for visitors to explore when knocking about the town.
Akizuki Castle Town
・Mifuneyama Rakuen Gardens
At the foot of Mount Mifune in Takeo, you can find the Mifuneyama Rakuen Garden, a sprawling Japanese garden that’s best enjoyed while strolling around its pond. 10 Tokyo Dome stadiums (500,000㎡) could fit inside the grounds, which offer breathtaking views of around 50,000 azaleas. The night illumination event (early November to early December) decorates them magically.
Mifuneyama Rakuen Gardens
・Oka Castle Ruins
Built atop Mount Tenjin in 1185, the Oka Castle in Takeda is said to be the place where Japanese composer Rentaro Taki was inspired to compose "Kojo-no-Tsuki" (“The Moon over the Ruined Castle”). Although the castle was destroyed during the Meiji Restoration, the ruins still feature large stone walls and maple trees, with a bamboo lantern festival held here every year (November 11 - 17 in 2019).
Oka Castle Ruins