Unveiling Japan's Autumn Magic
There's something undeniably magical about autumn in Japan. As the scorching summer retreats, it gives way to the cooler, softer, and gentler autumn season. The transformation is stunning—leaves turn from vibrant greens to a riot of reds, oranges, and yellows. The autumn leaves in Japan, known as koyo (紅葉), transform the landscape into an artist's palette.
But the autumn experience isn't just about visuals. It extends to the rich culinary traditions, colourful festivals, and unique cultural experiences that mark the autumn season. Let's embark on a journey to discover the five most beautiful autumn destinations in Japan, where the autumn leaves, and autumn colours paint a captivating tableau.
Kyoto: The Ancient Capital Dressed in Autumn Colours
Night-time autumn leaves illumination at Kiyomizu | Photo by Pakutaso
Our first destination is the city of Kyoto (京都), where the best autumn scenery can be found in the city's many temples and shrines. The iconic Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers breathtaking views of autumn foliage. Here, the crimson and gold autumn leaves form a spectacular backdrop to the ancient temple. But Kyoto's autumn magic doesn't stop at temples. It continues in the city's traditional Japanese garden, such as the Shosei-en Garden (渉成園), a hidden gem whose pond reflects the vibrant autumn colours.
Yudofu | Photo by photoAC
Autumn in Kyoto also means tasting yudofu (湯豆腐), a warming dish of simmered tofu perfect for the autumn season. For snacks, nothing beats enjoying matcha-flavoured sweets while watching the autumn leaves in Japan flutter to the ground.
Tokyo: Urban Landscape Meets Traditional Autumn Colors
Statue of Saigo Takamori in Ueno Park | Photo by photoAC
Showa Memorial Park | Photo by photoAC
Showa Memorial Park (昭和記念公園) steals the spotlight in the outskirts of Tokyo, especially for those seeking to admire the radiant golden ginkgo leaves. The park, while quite expansive, ensures you won't overlook the majestic avenue of ginkgo trees—just follow their delightful fragrance.
Daigaku imo | Photo by photoAC
In Tokyo, autumn is also the season for imo (sweet potato), which is used to make various traditional snacks. Nothing feels more comforting than biting into a warm daigaku-imo (大学芋) or candied sweet potato while strolling under the autumn foliage. If you're up for a culinary adventure, a bowl of ramen, Tokyo's comfort food, is the perfect way to end a day of leaf viewing.
Hakone: Autumn Leaves amongst Hot Springs and Fujisan
Hakone Ropeway | Photo by Guilhem Vellut (CC BY 2.0 DEED)
A short train ride away from Tokyo brings us to Hakone (箱根), a town famous for its hot springs and stunning views of the elusive Mount Fuji (富士山) and Lake Ashi (芦ノ湖). In autumn, the Hakone Ropeway (箱根ロープウェイ) offers a bird's-eye view of the autumn foliage covering the mountains, with the iconic Mount Fuji rising majestically in the background.
Yose dofu | Photo by photoAC
Food in Hakone is a celebration of local ingredients and traditional cooking methods. A must-try is the yose tofu (寄せ豆腐), a local hot pot dish with tofu and seasonal vegetables that's perfect for the cool autumn season. And don't forget to try the onsen manju (温泉饅頭), a sweet steamed bun that's best enjoyed after a relaxing soak in a hot spring.
Nara: Autumn Leaves in Historical Settings
Nara deer | Photo by photoAC
Our next stop is Nara (奈良), a city rich in history and natural beauty. During the autumn season, Nara Park (奈良公園) becomes an ideal spot for viewing autumn leaves. The deer roaming freely among the colourful foliage makes for an idyllic autumn scene.
Kakinoha sushi | Photo by photoAC
Nara's culinary scene is a treasure trove of local and traditional dishes. Don't miss the chance to try kakinoha sushi (柿の葉寿司), a unique type of sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. For dessert, indulge in kuri kinton (栗きんとん), a traditional sweet made from chestnuts, a popular autumn ingredient.
Hokkaido: Untouched Wilderness and Autumn Colors
Daisetsuzan National Park | Photo by Hokkaido Tourism Promotion Organization
Our final destination is Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. The island's Daisetsuzan National Park (大雪山国立公園) is often the first place in Japan to see autumn colours, with leaves starting to red as early as September. With its high mountains and hiking trails, Daisetsuzan is perfect for those seeking a more adventurous autumn experience.
Genghis Khan｜Photo by Hokkaido Tourism Promotion Organization
Hokkaido's food scene, known for its fresh and high-quality ingredients, doesn't disappoint either. Try the Genghis Khan (ジンギスカン), a local grilled mutton dish, after a day of exploring. For a lighter snack, the melon-flavoured soft serve, particularly Yubari Melon (夕張メロン), is a refreshing treat you won't forget.
Bonus: Osaka – Koyo and Momiji Tempura
Momiji Tempura | Photo by photoAC
While Kyoto often steals the limelight during Japan's autumn season, don't overlook the enchanting display of autumn foliage in neighbouring Osaka Prefecture (大阪), especially at Minoh Falls (箕面大滝) in Minoh City. To make your experience even more delightful, Minoh City has a culinary surprise up its sleeve: momiji tempura (紅葉天ぷら).
Maple leaves are coated in a light, crispy batter and fried to perfection, creating a harmonious blend of flavours and textures. It's a must-try while immersing yourself in the autumnal splendour of Osaka, adding a touch of culinary adventure to your koyo exploration.
Bonus: Aomori – Apple Delights and Scarlet Foliage
Oirase Keiryu in autumn | Photo by Aomori Prefecture
We cannot end our list without a special mention of Aomori (青森), Japan's apple capital, known for its vibrant autumn foliage. Oirase Stream (奥入瀬渓流), with its clear water cascading down moss-covered rocks, surrounded by trees displaying vivid autumn colours, is one of Aomori's best autumn sights.
Aomori apples & apple pie | Photo by Aomori Prefecture
After a day of autumn leaves viewing, treat yourself to the region's specialty: apples (りんご)! Try them fresh or in various forms like apple pies, ringo no tarte tatin (apple tarte tatin), or ringo ame (りんご飴 apple candy). If you're a seafood lover, you must indulge in Aomori's ichigoni (苺に), a luxurious seafood soup, to warm you up in the cool autumn weather.
Summary: A Symphony of Autumn Colors, Cuisine, and Culture
From the ancient temples of Kyoto to the untouched wilderness of Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido, each autumn destination in Japan offers a unique blend of nature, culture, and cuisine. The best autumn experiences in Japan aren't just about admiring the beautiful autumn leaves and colours, but also about immersing oneself in the local culture, trying regional dishes and snacks, and taking part in traditional activities and festivals.
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