The wave of blossoming of reds, oranges and yellows that burst through Japan in the autumn season is highly anticipated. From late October the exciting hum begins. Chatter about where the best spots for viewing autumn in Japan are talked about amongst friends, family and co-workers. Koyo, known as the changing of leaves, is during the fall season and holds almost the same excitement as what cherry blossoms are to spring in Japan.
During this time many people in Japan escape central cities to experience the tranquility and peace that the mountains offer. An enjoyable activity is going on a hiking trail in the blushing mountains, or strolling through traditional Japanese gardens. Whether you stay within the city limits or take a chance and explore the wider areas of Japan, there’s a place for anyone. Before the season ends, we have created the top 5 must-visit koyo spots to enjoy the change of autumn leaves.
Changing trees in autumn in Japan
Two of the most important trees that koyo viewers flock to are the momiji and ginkgo trees. Momiji, refers to the stunning red Japanese maple trees and maple leaves. The momiji trees are revered as being one of the most beautiful maple trees, especially during the fall season. The delicately thin leaves evolve to vibrant colors as the chill settles on Japan. From a lively yellow to a striking crimson red. It is to no surprise that these trees became a popular motif in poetry, arts, literature and fabric patterns in Japanese history.
Ginkgo trees, also called ichō, are a different type of changing autumn leaves in Japan. These trees display brilliant golden autumn foliage. The unique looking autumn leaf is highly valued in Japan, and can be seen across the country at Shintō shrines, public parks, and along roadways. The ginkgo leaves are a sturdy tree that have been in Japan for over a 1000 years and have become a major symbol for the fall season.
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Meiji Jingu Gaien, Tokyo – The golden ginkgo avenue
Just 20 minutes by train from Shinjuku station is the Aoyama Icho Namiki Ginkgo Avenue in Meiji-jingu Gaien Park. This road boasts towering ginkgo trees that create an eye-catching golden road from the mid November to early December. The vivid yellow 300m-long tunnel not only gives a stunning view when looking up, but also creates a beautiful blanketed path of bright yellow leaves on the ground. This area is free to enter and view anytime of the day, but make sure not to miss out on the illuminations that happen daily after sunset.
Mt. Takao Autumn Leaves Festival
Take a breath of fresh air and explore nature only an hour away from central Tokyo! Mount Takao is a popular autumn spot to visit for Tokyoites, is easily accessible and allows a quick trip to view the beautiful autumn colors. The trail is hikeable for people of all ages, and is broken at the halfway point. The first section can be hiked, or you can take a cable car or chair lift for a semi-birds eye view of the fall trees.
The second section is a 45 minute walk to the top of the mountain, however, along the way there are a multitude of places to stop. You can even enjoy freshly grilled mochi dango halfway up the hike. Once you reach the peak, you can enjoy the views, and even eat at the soba restaurant at the top! During the month of November on the weekends you can expect to see exhibitions like taiko drumming, orchestra performances and dance performances.
Lake Kawaguchi – Maple Corridor
One of the more popular destinations to travel out to is Lake Kawaguchi in the Fuji Five Lakes area. The Maple Corridor, or Momiji Kairou, is a fall festival held every year from the end of October to mid November. The 1.5km-long fall leaf avenue has 60 blossoming red maple trees that perfectly illustrate the ideal Japanese experience.
The festival is the perfect excuse to head out of the cities and explore nature a bit more. If made into a day trip, you can experience the magnificent sight of Mt Fuji and view the vibrant red fall colors. The festival hosts roadside food stalls, and souvenir stalls which are perfect companions for the romantic night illuminations! Only a few hours by car, bus and train, this fall foliage experience is definitely worth the planning.
In the Northern area of Greater Tokyo is the Tochigi Prefecture and Nikko. Nikko draws a large amount of travels all year round, and of course autumn is no different. This region is an autumnal wonderland of sprawling trees, all in various stages of change. Nikko has a multitude of areas to visit like Tosho-gu Shrine, 100 meter-long Kegon Falls, Nikko National Park and the Akechidaira Ropeway. The area of Nikko is a spot full of natural beauty and shows the vision of autumn in Japan.
All areas are reachable via public transport, but it does get a bit tedious planning a trip around a bus route. To ensure that you can experience all that Nikko has to offer, using a car is the preferred method of transportation.
Kiyomizu Temple – Kyoto
Experience the natural beauty of one of the oldest cities in Japan during the most vibrant season. Kyoto has an abundance of koyo spots at temples, castles, shrines and gardens. You can visit spectacular spots that are famed for their views, and one of those spots is Kiyomizu Temple. This temple is often a tranquil and peaceful shrine to visit, but during October and November it becomes a core destination for locals and tourists alike. It is easy to see why though. The Kiyomizu Temple shines under the sun, and illuminates the beautiful hearty wooden structure. The temple is elevated above street level which gives spectators a beautiful vantage point of the vivid trees.
Luckily the temple is in central Kyoto, making it accessible by walking down the restored streets or simply via a bus stop!
A common question for people planning a trip to Japan, is “what season is the best to visit Japan”. In truth, autumn is the perfect season in Japan. The temperature is perfectly mild, there are more sunny days than rainy, and there are delicious seasonal foods. If you’re planning to visit, don’t forget to check out the official dates. The optimal viewing of koyo changes from year to year, so autumn in Japan 2022, will vary in 2023. Make sure to check the foliage dates, to take part in the true magnificent fall colors of Japan.
What season would you like to visit in Japan? Are there any other spots on this list you’d like to see? Let us know in the comments below.