Autumn foliage in Japan is beautiful, sometimes much more than cherry blossoms flower viewing season. Autumn and spring both of these seasons have different impact on Japanese culture. You can’t compare autumn colors beauty with spring beauty and that’s the real fact. Everything seems different between these two stunning seasons. During this koyo (autumn colors) season, leaves of the deciduous trees on the mountains slopes, valleys, river sides, and country roads including the grounds of shrines, temples, parks, public gardens all turn red, orange, yellow and brown colors.
When autumn rolls in the nature starts changing on its own way. Trees of maple, Japanese rowan, ginkgo, Japanese larch and others plants & shrubs make the nation abundance of full of natural beauty with their colorful leaves.
The custom of hunting for autumn foliage (Momijigari) had been practicing since a long time ago. Now, it is a popular thing to do for the Japanese as well as for foreign tourists. One research showed that during fall season the numbers of foreign tourists have increased over time.In order to see autumn blossoms in Japan you have got to come here in Japan. This article will show you almost everything that you need to know about Japan’s autumn colors season.
History of Autumn Color Viewing (Momijigari)
History always draws my attention. It teaches me something that were unknown to me before. It shows important facts that help us to realize something we had never knew before. Now, it is time for telling you about the history of autumn color hunting. Most of the popular festivals and natural events that are held each year in Japan, they all have a good historical background. Japanese did not start for hunting autumn colors back in 19th century or few years back. This tradition was first introduced by noble families back in Heian Period (794-1185). This is one of the oldest Japanese traditions that people still keep it going. People used to go out for a stroll in the autumn and enjoy momijigari (red maple leaves viewing).
The custom was not for general public to follow before the beginning of Edo Period. Only the noble family members of the time had tasted autumn colors beauty. In fact, It was in the Edo Period in which general public have got the right to follow this custom. They liked the custom very much, as a result still in this 21st century people of Japanese celebrate Koyo Season with lot of joys and hope. As long as the land of the rising sun would exist in this world, I am sure this tradition will never be abolished. Some people had asked me this several times “what is the different between Koyo and Momiji? Here is the answer for you if you are curious of this. Koyo literately means colorful autumn leaves and Momiji refers red maple leaves or tree.
Autumn Foliage Impact on Japanese Culture
Japanese autumn color has a great impact on its culture. Sometimes the atmosphere sounds like the Hanami season when beautiful cherry blossoms are in full bloom. If you look back to Edo Period then you will get a clear picture of this autumn season. People had started celebrating this custom since then even before during Heian period.
There is a popular Japanese novel called “The Tale of the Genji,” this is where the author had mentioned about autumn. It is a Heian Period novel, so a time long ago people were very concerned with this custom. Right after that until today, you will find the word of autumn foliage in different literature such as on many Japanese folktales, poems, stories, novels and etc.
Since Momiji (red autumn leaves) is the symbol of autumn in Japan, women usually wear maple leaf themed of kimonos and yukatas. Here women like to wear such kimonos and stroll down the street or along the garden paths to view beautiful autumn colors. As you know, Japanese people are very fond of arts, this is for what; many artists depict autumn color into their art works such as on wall paintings, hand fan, room divider, chopsticks and etc.
I have seen so many Japanese hand paintings that were depicted red maple leaves. In fact, maple leaf is used as motif in many forms of Japanese arts. People of Japan eat maple leaves as tempura. Do you?
During the fall, there are some very significant holidays existed in Japan and shichi-go-san is one of them. Except this one there are other holidays such as taiiku-no-hi, undou-kai, and bunkano-hi. When people have these holidays they are off from work and go for hunting autumn foliage at different spots throughout the country. Many food vendors sell traditional Japanese sweets; on the other hand you can buy crafts, clothes and souvenirs from temporary shops there.
When Does Autumn Foliage Happen in Japan?
I will give you the right answer but if you ask me about specific dates when fall foliage happens then I can’t answer you truly. It depends on the weather and location. The leaves at the highest elevations start to change color first. You can’t expect to see autumn colors at the same time in Hokkaido and Okinawa Island. The distance between these two places is very far from each other.
To see fall color in Japan you have to arrive here from Mid-September to Early December. In fact, this is the best time to view Koyo. Though, November is the best of best time for hunting autumn colors across Japan.
The koyo season lasts for couple of weeks at specific locations while on the other hand the hanami season stays for a week only. So you get more time to explore autumn beauty here in Japan. You must rely on autumn foliage forecast so that you could catch the latest news. Japanese daily newspapers, websites, TV, radio all these media will ensure you where fall foliage happens.
Sometimes it takes time for deciduous trees to show their utmost autumn beauty. It is because of global warming! Annual rainfall and average temperature have a great impact on this matter. However, keep your eyes open on the forecast and I am sure it will lead you to do what you want.
The Name of the Colorful Autumn Trees in Japan
Are not you curious of knowing the trees that change colors in the autumn? Japan in autumn is colorful and it is possible only because there are some trees that turn red, yellow, brown and orange.
The one that leaves turn red is called a maple (kaede) tree. It is a native tree in Japan. The shape of the maple leaf (Momiji) is just unique and majestic to me. During autumn season, at first, its leaves turn yellow then day by day they become orange and then red. As maple is a native tree here, it is for sure that there are many maple trees you can find throughout Japan from north to south. In fact, maple tree is the symbol of Japanese autumn.
If it comes to a tree that remains only yellow from green than it would be Ginkgo tree. This is one of the famous trees that you will see in Japanese soil. It leaves never turn red rather they stay golden yellow until they fall down. Icho Namiki (Ginkgo Avenue) is pretty popular Koyo spot for viewing this tree in the autumn season. This avenue is actually located in the capital city of Japan, Tokyo.
Here is given the other trees that change their colors in autumn. They are: Japanese larch (Karamatsu), Japanese elm, Japanese oaks, wax tree, Japanese horse chestnut (tochinoki), Japanese lacquer tree, Japanese beech (buna), Japanese zelkova (keyaki), cherry trees and grasses.
A kind of shrub called Nanakamado or Japanese Rowan (Sorbus commisxta) is the one you will see in many Japanese garden and mountainous ranges. These green shrubs turn to red in autumn, thus how it will attract you with the colors. Daisetsuzan National Park is the one you can visit to see these shrubs.
The Place Where the Earliest Autumn Foliage Appear in Japan
Hokkaido is the first place of which earliest autumn foliage can be seen in Japan. Unlike cherry blossom that appears in southern part of Japan, Okinawa, fall colors appear first from the north. Many visitors come to visit Hokkaido’s Daisetsuzan Mountain when the trees start changing their colors. It is the earliest well recognized fall foliage spot. The exact time for seeing koyo here is in mid September. So get ready for having a trip to Hokkaido if you wish to see fall colors over there early. After Hokkaido region gets autumn foliage throughout it then it is time for changing color in Tohoku region. The best time for viewing autumn foliage in this region is in mid-October.
Please find out the best autumn foliage spots in the Hokkaido region.
Best Autumn Color Viewing Spots in Japan
Here are the top 12 autumn colors viewing spots of Japan. They are the all time best koyo spots you would ever visit during autumn season. Most of them are very well reputed by the foreign tourists because they had found some uniqueness among them.
- Daisetsuzan National Park (Mid September to Mid October)
- Hachimantai (Early to late October)
- Lake Towada and Oirase Stream (Late October)
- Rikugien Garden (Late November to Early December)
- Koishikawa Korakuen (Late November to Early December)
- Nikko (Early October to Mid November)
- Fuji Five Lakes (Fujigoko) (Late October to Mid November)
- Arashiyama (Late November to Early December)
- Tofukuji Temple (Mid to Late November)
- Shirakawago (Early October to Late November)
- Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route (Late September to Early November)
- Miyajima Island (Mid November)
- Nanzenji Temple (Mid October to Mid November)
- Sento Gosho Palace Garden (Mid October to Mid November)
- Nara Park (Late November to Early December)
How to Enjoy Koyo (Autumn Color) Season?
There are number of ways one can enjoy this season on its own way. Suppose, I can go out and just walk along the road where both side is covered with colorful autumn foliage. That’s charming! Don’t you think so?
You can stroll down or just walk around at different best koyo spots throughout Japan. Take photos of fall foliage you discover either in the wild area or on the grounds of temple & shrines.
Buy and eat out there since in this season many food vendors open temporary shops. They sell traditional Japanese cuisines including sweets, tea and other foods for you.
If you go out with friends or just your family members then organize a nice picnic party under autumn colored trees. This is one of the perfect times for having outdoor picnic party like Hanami.
Since autumn colors are seen in many shrines and Buddhist temples, so you have a great opportunity to explore those temples and shrines.
Wear light jacket as often it gets cold out there and rain could make some trouble, so carry an umbrella.
Meet with Japanese people out there and ask them things about koyo season if you want to know something and of course make friendship with them.
Kyoto – Heaven of Autumn | Autumn Colors Guide for Kyoto Visitors
If someone wants to see a real heaven in this world then he/she can visit Kyoto during autumn season. In fact, the natural beauty of Kyoto is gorgeous. Being an oldest city of Japan, many tourists visit Kyoto almost every season. The numbers of tourists increase in the fall; it becomes one of the busiest cities because of full of crowds. The best time to see autumn foliage is from mid November to early December.
Kyoto offers you almost everything else it has while you have to accept it just. Can you do that? I know you are running out of time! To find the best autumn color spots I will help you here. Kyoto is seen as a city of geisha, temples, castles and shrines. The places like temples, castles, shrines make a perfect koyo spot during fall season. Over there you will see traditional tea houses, Japanese garden bridges, Buddha statues and so on.
Well, I better tell you to go to Arashiyama. This would be your first koyo spot in Kyoto. It is a tourist district in Kyoto. A lot of visitors come here to see its beauty. This place welcomes you to see Nisonin temple, Togetsukyo bridge, Tenryuji Temple, Gohji temple, and Otagi Nenbutsuji temple, and Hozugawa river side. Standing on the Togetsukyo bridge and pointing your eyes on the colorful mountainous slopes you can enjoy viewing autumn foliage. You also can take a ride of “Saga Scenic Railway.” It runs along the Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka. It will be easier for you to beautiful autumn colors while having this train trip.
The second autumn color spot of Kyoto could be Kodaji temple. In fact you will see traditional Japanese gardens here such as rock garden, tsukiyama style garden, and zen garden. There are many maple tress including cherry and ginkgo. These trees would certainly make you happy showing their utmost beauty.
Here it goes the number three spot. This is about a forested valley called Takao. The area is beautiful and located in north of Kyoto; you can’t realize it until you arrive there. Three historic temples are situated here; they are Kazonji Temple, Jingoji Temple, and Simyoji Temple. Among these Jingoji is the best one to explore Koyo beauty. Please find the top 10 autumn foliage spot in Kyoto.
However, there are other few spots of Tokyo you will know later in this article.
Nikko – One of the Best Autumn Color Spots in Japan
Nikko is one of the top autumn colors spots in Japan. This spot is full of natural beauty. To see fall nature here you must arrive here mid October to mid November. You will be thrilled seeing the autumn beauty in Japanese garden, waterfalls, lake, marshland areas and mountainous slopes. For example Ryuzu waterfall is the one you could visit during autumn. Scenic beauty of fall colors are hidden here unless you make a visit to this waterfall. Autumn foliage and waterfall together in front of you will amaze you very much for sure. Here are the other spots you must visit in Nikko: Ryuzu Waterfall, Yumoto Onsen, Shoyoen garden, Irohazaka Winding Raod, Senjogaha Marshland and Kegon Waterfall. Are you wiling to visit Nikko in Autumn? Then read this article that features how you could have a great autumn trip there including the autumn foliage forecast, access, top places for autumn leaf, travel guide and many more.
Where to See Autumn Leaves in Tokyo?
Tokyo is a busiest city with some beautiful traditional style Japanese public garden, shrines and temples. Usually, foreign tourists want to explore Tokyo city with purpose of seeing its top destination. I guess for them I will share some best Tokyo Koyo spots here. Those who wish to go to Tokyo first or last to see autumn colors I have a travel guide for you which is very important. Just manage time to visit the following spots and I am sure you will be glad to visit these places in Autumn. Night view of Autumn colors in Rikugien garden is amazingly breathtaking!
- Rikugien Garden
- Icho Namiki (Ginkgo Avenue)
- Mount Takao
- Koishikawa Korakuen Garden
- Showa Kinen Koen/Garden
- Kuhonbutsu temple
Finally, the best time to see autumn colors in Tokyo is from late November to early December.
Experience the Autumn Beauty of Tohoku Region
Tohoku is one of the best regions to experience real Japanese autumn colors. A lot of tourist visit Tohoku all year round because it is blessed with beautiful nature, hot springs, hiking trails, river gorges, mountains. My autumn experience to this place says, one must visit Tohoku during the autumn season. Autumn colors in Tokyo and Kyoto or other parts of Japan have been explored by me. Here, I found that Tohoku’s fall foliage beauty and the colors could not be compared with those places you usually fine in Tokyo. It is my personal thought and others who once visited Tohoku in autumn say the same thing like mine. I think you won’t be different as well.
Tohoku itself has got some famous Japan’s autumn leaves viewing spots such as Hachimantai, Lake Towada, Oirase Stream, Mount Hakkoda, Naruko Gorge, Kakunodate Samurai District and Bandai-Azuma Skyline. Tohoku offers you several ways to enjoy seeing the autumn colors. It will be awesome experience for you seeing autumn leaves up from the sky when you take the Mount Hakkoda Ropeway. You would be thrilled exploring some beautiful river gorges that usually look like heaven during autumn. While on the other hand, historic samurai district of Kakunodate makes you feel like you have gone back to Edo period of autumn. Do you want to know more about Tohoku’s autumn foliage? Please read this article.
Useful Japan Autumn Travel Tips
Here I am going to share few autumn travel tips for you so that you don’t face any problem in Japan.
- Autumn colors forecast is very important. Don’t come here in Japan when you don’t know which city or region is going to change its color. Get the latest Japanese fall color forecast 2016 here.
- Buy Japan Rail Pass and Suica Card for traveling all over Japan by train and buses.
- Bring a lot of cash because international credit or debit card sometimes don’t work here.
- Wear warm clothes such as sweater and jacket including a cap/hat.
- Before you arrive in Japan, please make sure to make a hotel reservation in advance.
- Check out your camera’s memory and battery well.
- Don’t break the law of the certain places you would be visiting.
- You can eat street foods such as sweets, tea, Yakiimo and etc. in Japan because they are very hygienic and healthy.
- Get a map. Get it here. and
- Find useful information about the place you will visit.
Please read the following informative article if you are going to visit Japan for the first time. Travel tips for travelers who want to visit Japan for the first time.
Could Autumn in Japan Make you Sad?
I hope you will not cry but surly you would be sad while leaving this country after having a memorable autumn trip. Won’t you be sad? We all would be sad when this season will be ended up. Even the main source, the trees that become colorful will be sad too! All those vibrant colored leaves would fall down and touch the grounds. In fact, this is the way our nature changes. Once we all say goodbye, while on the other hand we wait for the date to welcome it again in the next year.
However, I hope this article helps you to decide whether to visit Japan in autumn or not. What do you think of it? Are you coming here in Japan? I do hope you will visit Japan in autumn at least once in your life. If you don’t make it then I am sure you will regret it for forever. Japan should be in your travel bucket list! Thanks for reading.
Copyright 2014 @ takkhis