“I long to be in Japan in the autumn.”
These words from my favourite travel writer, Pico Iyer, echoes my feelings about Japan’s autumn. He explains that “it’s the reddening of the maple leaves under a blaze of ceramic-blue skies that is the place’s secret heart” in his dedicated book “Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells”, encapsulating the beauty of Japan’s autumn.
Anytime is a good time to visit Japan but the autumn months are exceptional as Japan glows with spectacular fall colours. The comfortable autumn weather also makes it perfect for outdoor sightseeing and hiking activities. If you are planning to visit Japan in autumn, here’s a comprehensive beginner’s guide to experiencing the best of Japan in autumn.
When is the best time to enjoy autumn in Japan?
Photo by Unsplash
Autumn marks the transition of summer to winter and the expansive season spans from late September to early December. The highlight of Japan’s autumn is the mesmerising autumn leaves (紅葉 kōyō) that covers the country gradually in stunning hues of red and yellow. Autumn leaves are the symbols of the Japanese autumn like how cherry blossoms represent spring in Japan.
Infographic by JR Times
While sakura (桜) blossoms start from the south of Japan in Okinawa to the north, autumn leaves start changing colours from the north in Hokkaido as the temperature becomes cooler and gradually spreads to the central and southern parts of Japan. The best time to visit Japan in autumn is during the autumn foliage peak viewing season that usually takes place from mid-October to the end of November.
Where are the best places to enjoy autumn in Japan?
Photo by JNTO
Autumn is one of the best seasons to visit Japan as the heat and crowds from summer have subsided and the balmy weather means you can enjoy the outdoors without the hassle of heavy winter clothes and navigating snowy conditions. As a result of the favourable factors, local Japanese flock to the outdoors in autumn and engage in the national sports of autumn leaves-hunting (紅葉狩りmomijigari).
The autumn leaves viewing season can be enjoyed in two phases. The first phase is the early stage of the season where the trees in high elevation join the rhythm of autumn and their leaves turn into vibrant orange, yellow, and red. The mountainous regions in Japan, especially the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains (日本百名山 Nihon Hyaku-meizan) and the national parks of Japan are popular spots where people hike and enjoy the autumn leaves.
The second phase of the autumn season brings the earthly tones down to lower altitude areas like in the cities and towns. Autumn leaves can be easily found in parks, gardens, temples, and more.
Photo by Unsplash
The best places to view fall colours are filled with maple trees (紅葉 momiji), which are native to Japan and they are crowned with bright red leaves at the peak of the season. Another iconic type of tree is ginkgo trees (銀杏) that shines with golden yellow leaves.
Can’t wait to plan your autumn trip to Japan? See our recommendations below for the top regions to enjoy Japan’s fantastic autumn scenery.
Hokkaido: Japan’s First Region to Welcome Autumn
Daisetsuzan National Park | Photo by photoAC
Hokkaido is the first region in Japan to welcome autumn. Japan’s earliest autumn leaves start in Daisetsuzan National Park (大雪山国立公園) typically in September. Other national parks like Akan-Mashu National Park (阿寒摩周国立公園) and Shikotsu-Toya National Park (支笏洞爺国立公園) offer picturesque hiking routes where you can immerse in pristine natural environments while being surrounded by fall foliage.
Tohoku Region: Intimate Encounters with Nature
Naruko Gorge | Photo by Miyagi Prefectural Government
Made up of six prefectures, the Tohoku Region (東北地方) is an underrated region to enjoy the best of what autumn has to offer with vast landscapes and intimate encounters with nature with less crowds. Check out the breathtaking colours of autumn in Tohoku’s popular kōyō spots:
- Lake Towada (十和田湖) and Oirase Keiryu (奥入瀬渓流) in Aomori Prefecture
- Dakigaeri Gorge (抱返り渓谷) in Akita Prefecture
- Naruko Gorge (鳴子峡) and Naruko Onsen (鳴子温泉) in Miyagi Prefecture
Chubu Region: Home to Japan’s Gorge-ous Mountains and Valleys
Takase Gorge | Photo by Field Gallery Design
Home to the Japanese Alps and some of the highest mountains in Japan, the Chubu Region (中部地方 Chūbu Chihō) is the gateway to autumn activities. The top autumn leaves-hunting spots include:
- Korankei (香嵐渓) in Aichi Prefecture
- Kiyotsu Gorge (清津峡) in Niigata Prefecture
- Kamikochi (上高地) and Takase Gorge (高瀬渓谷) in Nagano Prefecture
Autumn is also a time for celebrations and festivals. The old town of Takayama in Gifu Prefecture hosts the famous Takayama Festival (高山祭 Takayama Matsuri) in early October where the autumn colours frame the traditional parade of exquisite festival floats.
Kansai Region: Postcard-Perfect Autumn Spots
Autumn in Kyoto | Photo by Unsplash
The Kansai Region (近畿地方 Kinki-chihō) is the hub of autumn sightseeing activities because of the famed Kyoto Prefecture. From Tofukuji Temple (東福寺) to Arashiyama (嵐山), Kyoto is the postcard-perfect autumn destination. Many of the prime viewing spots are UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Kiyomizu Temple (清水寺) and Nijo Castle (二条城) and they are open for night illumination events so you can enjoy the magic of the autumn leaves under the moonlight.
Photo by Unsplash
Take a train to neighbouring Nara Prefecture to continue the autumn journey through historical landmarks like Todaji Temple (東大寺) alongside with autumn trees and adorable deers. Venture further out to Wakayama Prefecture for a sacred retreat in the midst of autumn colours at Koyasan (高野山).
How to Enjoy Autumn in Japan
Autumn is a popular season to explore Japan, so the weeks building up to when most of the autumn leaves turn full colours can be rather busy. Here are some more tips for you to experience the best of Japan in the autumn months and enjoy the autumn like a seasoned local.
3 Tips For Planning Your Awesome Autumn Trip
Photo by JNTO
- The early bird catches the worm–start your day and head to the autumn leaves viewing spots early. You can enjoy the tranquil atmosphere with less crowds and take gorgeous photos in the gentle morning light.
- Check the autumn leaves forecast daily for live updates about the colours of the leaves and choose which viewing spots to visit. Keep your itinerary flexible so you can make changes to your day plans according to the weather and the changing colours of the autumn leaves.
- Make your hotel bookings early, especially for cities known for their autumn viewing sights like Kyoto. If possible, secure advanced tickets to popular attractions and scenic boat and train rides to skip the lines.
What to Wear
As the temperatures will vary depending on where you travel to, the best is to dress in layers. Light jackets and coats will keep you warm in the northern and mountainous areas and you can go light when you are in the cities like Tokyo. Put on comfortable and sturdy shoes for your outdoor hikes and long walks.
What to Eat
Aomori apples | Photo by Aomori Prefecture
Autumn is the season of bountiful harvest as you can enjoy shokuyoku no aki (食欲の秋), which means an “autumn appetite”. Fruits and produce are harvested before the arrival of winter and you can indulge in a variety of delicious autumn food. Fruits like apple, pears, and persimmons are in abundance and sweet potatoes and chestnuts can be enjoyed in many ways from roasted to being used in desserts.
Photo by photoAC
If you are lucky to come across momiji tempura (紅葉 天ぷら) that is only available in autumn, buy a bag of it and savour this addictive, crunchy snack made from maple leaves coated in batter and deep fried. This snack originated from Osaka’s Minoh City and it is now sold in many other places in Japan too.
Discover Japan's Seasonal Offerings with JAPAN RAIL CLUB
Can’t wait to experience autumn in Japan? Consider this a teaser post for JAPAN RAIL CLUB’s upcoming autumn-themed box, dear reader! Every month, JAPAN RAIL CLUB specially curates a box of Japanese snacks from all over the region and deliver it right at your doorstep. Experience the best of Japan’s harvest season in the comforts of your home with our upcoming “Autumn Breeze” Omiyage Snack Box from 1-30 November.
And for all of you eager autumn visitors, here’s an exclusive promo code to get $20 off when you subscribe to a 3-month plan and above at JAPAN RAIL CLUB between 1-30 November: "ILOVEAUTUMN". Remember to input the code before carting out!
Let's welcome the season of autumn with delicious seasonal snacks from Japan!