Colourful autumn leaves, known as koyo in Japanese, draw just as many visitors in autumn as the cherry blossoms do during spring. The viewing of autumn leaves has been a popular activity in Japan for centuries. Today people still set out all over the country to find the best spot to view the beauty of the stunning blend of yellow, orange and red leaves. The season lasts from September through to early November, depending on the weather and location.
Famous spots for viewing the autumn foliage are dotted all across the country, especially in parks, temples and mountainous regions. See below for a list of some popular autumn leaves viewing destinations and the approximate best time of year to visit.
Please note: Suggested viewing dates represent averages of actual peak viewing dates over the past several years. Viewing dates are subject to change due to weather conditions.
Late September to Early October
A top destination in Hokkaido, with lakes, hiking trails and hot springs. End a day of golf, canoeing, or paragliding with a refreshing tankard of local beer.
Take the Jukai Line and Aspite Line toll roads. Hiking trails near the summit offer lakeside views ablaze with autumn colours.
Mt. Nasu-dake, Tochigi / Fukushima
Head out on foot from the Sanroku cable-car station and enjoy a wonderful patchwork of autumnal reds, oranges, yellows and greens. The climb takes just under an hour. In the evening, recover from your hike at the Nasu-Yumoto-onsen spa.
Togakushi Heights, Nagano
Don’t miss the shrine Togakushi-jinja and its hiking trails. Look out for the nature reserve with its mountain flowers. You might even spot wild rabbits or squirrels. Try making your own noodles at the nearby Soba Noodle Museum.
Shiga Kogen, Nagano
This is where the alpine skiing events took place at the Winter Olympics in 1998. There are more than twenty hiking trails, guaranteed to satisfy your desire to get away from it all.
Early October to Mid October
Lake O-numa Quasi National Park, Hokkaido
The view of Mt. Komagadake across Lake O-numa is spectacular. Cycle or walk around lakes O-numa and Ko-numa to revitalize yourself both physically and mentally.
Mt. Zao-san, Yamagata / Miyagi
Drive along the Zao Line and Zao Echo Line toll roads to admire the rugged landscape. Take the cable car to the summit for a panoramic view of the autumn colors. A good place to stay the night is the spa Zao-onsen.
Yatsugatake Heights, Nagano / Yamanashi
Yatsugatake Heights has two faces: to the south it is wild and rocky, while to the north there are thick coniferous forests and lakes. There are plenty of resort facilities and spas in the foothills and the region’s natural beauty can be appreciated year-round.
Subaru Line, Mt. Fuji, Shizuoka / Yamanashi
This toll road connects the lake Kawaguchi-ko with the foothills of Mount Fuji. As you drive through the forest, you’ll see five lakes below you and the Japan Alps in the distance. The foothills are the habitat of the protected Japanese serow.
Mid October to Late October
Lake Towada-ko, Akita / Aomori
Hop on a sightseeing boat for a great view of the mountains. In nearby Okuirise there are breathtaking gorges. During a three-hour gorge walk, you’ll pass fourteen waterfalls and be delighted by the beautiful autumn colors.
Kinu-gawa River, Tochigi
The Kinu-gawa River is famous for its hot-spring resorts. Admire the autumn colors from the window of your hotel. Nikko is not far away, where you can visit the lake Chuzenji-ko, the Kegon Falls and other natural wonders.
This is Japan’s best-known mountain resort. It’s a great place to visit in the heat of summer; but its fine boutiques, restaurants and museums also welcome visitors in autumn.
Late October to Early November
Risshaku-ji Temple, Yamagatai
Soon after leaving Yamadera Station, there’s a magnificent view of the temple Risshaku-ji, perched on a rock. Climb to the top for stunning views.
Lake Inawashiro-ko, Fukushima
Mt. Bandai-san and Mt. Azuma-san have good roads and are popular autumn destinations. To the north of Bandai-san, there are many excellent sight-seeing spots such as Lake Hibara-ko, and Lake Goshiki-numa with its incredible colors of red and blue.
Lake Ashino-ko, Kanagawa
A visit to Mt. Fuji is an absolute must for visitors to Japan. There are many spas in the foothills as well as beauty spots such as Lake Ashino-ko, which can be visited by cable-car.
Eihei-ji Temple, Fukui
This is one of Japan’s best known Zen temples. Take part in zazen meditation here, or just visit the nearby souvenir shops, which sell local delicacies such as goma-dofu and shojin-ryori.
Takachiho-kyo Gorge, Miyazaki
Admire the autumn colors from the boats that travel the gorge. Get to Takachiho by the Takachiho-railway, which crosses the highest railway bridge in Asia. The views from the train’s windows are spectacular.
Early November to Mid November
Aoba-dori Avenue, Sendai, Miyagi
Sendai’s trees are an amazing blend of red, gold and yellow in autumn. Take a day-trip to the islands of Matsushima, where oysters are in season at this time of year.
Nagatoro-kyo Valley, Saitama
Head downstream on the Ara-kawa River to see the maple leaves. Nearby Mt. Hodo-san is accessible by cable-car and the view from the peak is spectacular.
Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
This is one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan. Relax with a bowl of Japanese green tea while viewing the garden. Kanazawa is famous for traditional crafts such as Kaga-yuzen textiles and Kutani-yaki pottery which make great souvenirs.
Momiji-dani Park, Miyajima Island, Hiroshima
Momiji-dani means Maple Valley and turns a bright red color in autumn. Go to the top of Mt. Misen by cable-car. The nearby Itsukushima-jinja shrine is also a World Heritage Site.
Mid November to Late November
Yoro Valley, Chiba
The valley has eight hiking trails, which take between 4 and 8 hours. They all provide excellent opportunities for viewing autumn leaves. After your hike, head for Kamogawa for a delicious seafood dinner.
Imperial Palace, Tokyo
Tokyo, too, has its autumn colors. Take a stroll near the Imperial Palace, with its golden gingko trees. The Ginza shopping district is also nearby the Palace.
Autumn on the Hotsu-gawa River can be enjoyed by boat or by toy train. The view of the river from the Togetsu Bridge is also worth seeing. And don’t miss the nearby temples, such as Jojakko-ji.
Eikando Temple, Kyoto
The gardens here are ablaze with color in autumn. The temple serves such delicacies as maccha green tea and yu-dofu and is lit up at night each November.
Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto
The castle grounds are cloaked in golden-yellow gingko leaves in autumn. The park Suizenji-koen is another famous local beauty spot. It covers a huge area and has a traditional “strolling” garden dominated by a miniature Mt. Fuji.