Autumn foliage in Japan is beautiful, sometimes much more than the iconic hanami (cherry blossoms viewing season). Autumn and spring, these two seasons have different impact on Japanese culture. You can’t compare the 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 transform into red, orange, yellow and brown colors.

Autumn Leaves in Showa Kinen Park Tachikawa Tokyo
Colorful Autumn Leaves in Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa, in Tokyo. Photo credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

When autumn rolls around, 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 vividly colored leaves.

The tradition of hunting autumn foliage (Momijigari) has been practicing since a long time ago. Now, it is a popular thing to do for the people of Japan as well as for foreign tourists. One research showed that during fall the numbers of foreign tourists have increased.

In order to see beautiful autumn foliage in Japan, you will have to embark on a journey throughout the country’s most iconic koyo spots. This article will show you almost everything that you need to know about Japan’s stunning autumn colors season.

History of Autumn Color Viewing (Momijigari)

Autumn Red Maple Leaves in Japan
Red Maple Leaves in Autumn, Japan. Photo credit: Marufish at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

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 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) to the fullest.

Autumn Leaves in Nagasaki Japan
Autumn Leaves in Nagasaki, Japan. Photo credit: Marufish at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

The custom was forbidden to the general public to follow before the beginning of Edo Period. Only the noble family members of the time had tasted the fall colors beauty. In fact, it was in the Edo Period in which public have got the right to follow this custom.

They liked the custom very much, as a result still in this 21st century they celebrate the Koyo Season with a lot of joys and hopes. 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 have 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

Yellow Maple Leaves in Autumn! They will turn red after few days. Photo credit: Miyoupapa at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

Japanese autumn color has a great impact on its culture. Sometimes the atmosphere sounds like the Hanami. 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 the Heian period.

There is a popular Japanese novel called “The Tale of the Genji,” this is where the author had mentioned about the mind-boggling autumn scenery. 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, films, 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 eye-catching design of 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.

Beautiful Fall Foliage in Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa! Japanese Red Maple Leaves. Photo credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

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?

In the fall, there are some very significant holidays existed in Japanese tradition, 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 these holidays are about to come, people are off from work, and go out for hunting autumn foliage at different locations across the country.

Some people also tend to go on numerous hiking adventures in the woods. Many food vendors sell traditional Japanese sweets; on the other hand, you can buy crafts, clothes, and souvenirs from the temporary shops.

When Does Autumn Foliage Happen in Japan?

Mount Yamizo in Autumn, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
Mother and kids are on the way to see autumn colors, Mount Yamizo, Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan. Photo credit: Tomoaki INABA at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

I will give you the right answer but if you ask me about specific dates about when the fall foliage is going to happen, then I can’t answer you exactly. It depends on the weather and location you are going to visit to see the foliage.

Deciduous trees at the highest elevations start to change their colors first. You can’t expect to see fall foliage at the same time in Hokkaido and Okinawa Island. The distance between these two places is very far from each other.

To see incredible views of the fall color in Japan, you have to arrive here from Mid-September through Early December. This is said to be the best time to view Koyo. Though, November is the best of best time for hunting autumn colors on Honshu. And Hokkaido is at its best in mid-October.

The koyo season lasts for couple of weeks at a specific location, 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 up 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 guide you and show you the right path to enjoy the season.

The Name of the Colorful Autumn Trees in Japan

Japanese Maple Leaves
Japanese Maple Leaves. Photo credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

Are not you curious of knowing the trees that change colors in the autumn? Japan in the 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 the fall, 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. Please note that maple tree is the symbol of Japanese autumn.

Autumn Ginkgo Leaves, Japan
Ginkgo Leaves in Autumn. Photo credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

When 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 on the grounds.

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.

Color of Fall in Hokkaido! It could be snowy sometimes in late Autumn! Photo credit: kenley_kwok at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

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 also change their colors.

A kind of shrub called Nanakamado or Japanese Rowan (Sorbus commisxta) is the one you will see in many Japanese garden and slopes of the mountains. These green shrubs turn to red in autumn, thus how it will attract you with the colors. The Daisetsuzan National Park is the one you can visit to see these shrubs.

The Place Where the Earliest Autumn Foliage Appear in Japan

Nanzenji Temple's Autumn Colors, Kyoto.
Nanzenji Temple’s Autumn Colors, Kyoto. Photo credit: Hideyuki KAMON at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

Hokkaido is the first place where the earliest autumn foliage can be seen every year 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 National Park, when the trees there start changing their colors.

It is the earliest and famous fall foliage spot in the country. The perfect time to see koyo here is between mid September and early October. So get ready to embark on a trip to Hokkaido if you wish to see fall colors over there.

After the Hokkaido region gets infected by brightly colored foliage, it moves towards the 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

Autumn Colors in Kitano Tenmangu, Japan. Photo Credit: Norio NAKAYAMA at Flickr Through Creative Commons Licensing.

Here are the top 15 autumn leaves viewing spots in Japan. They are considered the most popular koyo spots, which you would gladly pay a visit to for an unforgettable travel experience. Most of these are considered as year round attractions for tourists. They are as follows:

1. Daisetsuzan National Park (Mid September to Mid October)

2. Hachimantai (Early to late October)

3. Lake Towada and Oirase Stream (Late October)

4. Rikugien Garden (Late November to Early December)

5. Koishikawa Korakuen (Late November to Early December)

6. Nikko (Early October to Mid November)

7. Fuji Five Lakes (Fujigoko) (Late October to Mid November)

8. Arashiyama (Late November to Early December)

9. Tofukuji Temple (Mid to Late November)

10. Shirakawago (Early October to Late November)

11. Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route (Late September to Early November)

12. Miyajima Island (Mid November)

13. Nanzenji Temple (Mid October to Mid November)

14. Sento Gosho Palace Garden (Mid October to Mid November)

15. Nara Park (Late November to Early December)

How to Enjoy Koyo (Autumn Color) Season?

Walking and viewing Ginkgo trees autumn nature. Photo credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing

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 across Japan. Take photos of the fall foliage you discover either in the wild 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.

Autumn Colors – Traditional Style Japanese Bridge in Kyoto. Photo credit: marufish at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing

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 can be found on the grounds of many Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples, you do have a great opportunity to explore the hidden treasures of the temples and shrines. And of course you can also learn the history of each scared landmarks.

Wear a 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 if you know how to speak Japanese, then don’t hesitate to ask them something related to the season and their traditions.

Kyoto – Heaven of Autumn | Autumn Colors Guide for Kyoto Visitors

Togetsukyo Bridge Autumn Colors in Arashiyama. Photo Credit: Agustin Rafael Reyes

If someone wants to see a real heaven in this world then he/she can visit Kyoto in the fall. In fact, the natural beauty of Kyoto is absolutely gorgeous. Being an oldest city of Japan, many tourists visit Kyoto almost every season.

The numbers of tourists increase in the fall, and becomes one of the bustling cities in Japan due to lots of crowds. The best time to see autumn foliage there is between mid November and early December.

Kyoto offers almost everything it has to offer you. There are many places to go to see foliage in the area, they all make a great fall adventure. 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.

Sento Gosho Palace Garden Autumn Foliage, Kyoto
Sento Gosho Palace Garden Autumn Foliage, Kyoto. Photo credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

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 all year round. 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 can also enjoy a scenic train ride of “Saga Scenic Railway.” It runs along the Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka. It will be easier for you to see beautiful autumn colors while enjoying a ride on this train.

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 how gorgious this place could be in autumn 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

Shinkyo Bridge in Autumn, Nikko. Photo Credit: Marufish at Flickr.

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 in mid October to mid November. You will be thrilled seeing the autumn beauty in Japanese garden, waterfalls, lake, marshland areas and mountainous slopes.

Ryuzu waterfall in Nikko, is the one you could visit during autumn. Scenic beauty of fall colors are hidden here unless you make a visit to this waterfall.

Here are the other spots you must visit in Nikko: 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?

Rikugien Garden night autumn colors in Tokyo. Photo credit: marufish at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

Tokyo is a bustling city with some beautiful traditional style Japanese gardens, historic shrines and temples. Usually, foreign tourists want to explore Tokyo city with a purpose of seeing its top destination. I guess for them I will share some of the best koyo spots they could visit in Tokyo.

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 some time to visit the following spots and I am sure you will have an experience of a lifetime.

Night view of Autumn colors in Rikugien garden is amazingly breathtaking! So I suggest you to spend a lovely evening there.

1. Rikugien Garden

2. Icho Namiki (Ginkgo Avenue)

3. Mount Takao

4. Koishikawa Korakuen Garden

5. Showa Kinen Koen/Garden

6. Yoyogi Park

If these are not what you think are the best, then there are other notable places to see fall foliage in the city, check the list here.

Finally, the best time to see autumn colors in Tokyo is from late November to early December.

Experience the Autumn Beauty of the Tohoku Region

Mount Hakkoda Fall Colors. Photo Credit: Aomori Tourism Times.

Tohoku is one of the best regions to experience impressive autumn colors. A lot of tourists visit Tohoku year round, it’s because the area 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 have found that Tohoku’s fall foliage beauty and the colors could not be compared with those places you usually find in Tokyo. It is my personal thought, and others who once visited Tohoku in the 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.

The area offers you several ways to enjoy the autumn colors offering a number of outdoor activities. It will be an awesome experience for you to see autumn leaves up from the sky when you take the Mount Hakkoda Ropeway.

You will be thrilled exploring some beautiful river gorges that usually look like a heaven in autumn. While on the other hand, historic samurai district of Kakunodate makes you feel like you have gone back to the Edo period of autumn. Do you want to know more about Tohoku’s autumn foliage? Please read this article.

Useful Japan Autumn Travel Tips

Autumn Colors at Kuhonbutsu Temple, Tokyo. Photo credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

Here I am going to share few autumn travel tips for you so that you don’t face any problem in Japan.

1) 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 2020 here.

2) Order your Japan Rail Pass and IC Cards such as Suica, PASMO, Kitaca and etc. to travel on almost all trains, buses, and subways.

3) Bring a lot of cash because international credit or debit card sometimes don’t work here.

4) Wear warm clothes such as sweater and jacket including a cap/hat.

5) Before you arrive in Japan, please make sure to make a hotel reservation in advance.

6) Check out your camera’s memory and have your camera battery fully charged.

7) Don’t break the law of the certain places where you would be visiting. And don’t throw trashes elsewhere, you are always advised to use trash cans instead. It’s our responsibility to clean the environment as much as possible to make the World a better place to live in.

8) You can eat street foods such as sweets, tea, Yakiimo and etc. in Japan because they are very hygienic and healthy.

9) Always stay connected with the internet, check out this pocket wifi device. It’s very useful!

10) Prior to visiting a place, find useful information about it, that may include its location, how to get there, opening and closing hours, admission fee and etc.

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 change colors will be sad too! When time comes, 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 time to welcome the seaon 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 this autumn 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 forever. Please note “No matter what time you visit Japan, it should always be in your travel bucket list!”