Translated by Sandy Lau
Autumn In Japan 2020 – How To Enjoy The Fall Foliage Season
Written by MATCHA
Viewing autumn leaves is a popular activity in Japan during the fall. In this article, we introduce when the beautiful landscape and leaves are best observed, famous viewing spots and tips for admiring the autumn scenery in 2020.
Autumn Foliage in Japan – A Sight Unique to this Season
If you’re visiting Japan in fall, then you may be visiting for the purpose of enjoying the autumn foliage (koyo). Autumn foliage refers to the leaves of trees that begin to turn crimson and yellow together with the deepening of autumn.
Cherry blossoms that bloom in the spring have a pretty pink color. On the other hand, autumn leaves change in hue depending on the species of the tree and the period. The sight of the repeatedly overlapping colors of the leaves is like a painting only seen during this season.
When do the leaves begin turning colors? What about the climate and what to wear during the autumn? What kind of autumn leaves spots are there in Japan? We’ve collected all the information you’ll want to know about fall leaves in this article!
When is the Best Time to See the Autumn Leaves?
Map above is from 2018; areas and dates will be updated when new information is available. From: Weathernews (2018/10/03)
The autumn leaves season naturally takes place during the autumn.
Here is a compilation of the best times to see the autumn leaves throughout Japan and the average temperatures of these regions during that month listed from north to south.
|Region||Annual Peak Period||Average Temperature|
|Hokkaido (Sapporo)||Late October||11.8℃|
|Miyagi / Sendai||Mid-November||9.4℃|
|Kyoto / Osaka||Early December||7.0℃ (Kyoto)
The autumn leaves season changes depending on the climate of that year, location (height above sea level), and other factors. For example, in the Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group in Hokkaido, said to be where the foliage change the earliest in Japan, leaves begin to change colors on the summit as early as late August.
Depending on the species of the tree, there are some with leaves which fall within two weeks after changing, while others will continue to lose their leaves over the course of a month. It may not be as short as cherry blossoms, which begin to fall within a week, there are times when trees leaves may fall earlier than expected due to the weather. It might even be wise to consider yourself lucky if you see the leaves before they fall.
Climate and Clothing During the Autumn in Japan
The autumn leaves season will vary depending on the region, but usually takes place from around middle October to the beginning of December. Japan during this period will often have relatively clear weather and days with pleasant weather and fresh air.
Be sure to bring long-sleeved clothing and thin sweaters during October. For November, you’ll want to bring jackets and thicker sweaters due to the colder weather. Once it’s December, you’ll need a coat for many of the places that you’ll be visiting.
Please refer to Autumn In Tokyo: Seasonal Activities, Weather And What To Wear for details on the climate and what to wear during autumn in Japan.
How to Enjoy the Fall Leaves in Japan and What to Bring
In Japan, going to see the autumn leaves is called momijigari. The word “gari” or “picking” may be attached to the word, but the practice itself actually means to visit the fields or mountains to enjoy and see the autumn leaves. You don't have to actually go picking for autumn leaves!
Popular autumn leaves spots are often in the mountains, so be sure to wear shoes that are easy to walk in. It’ll also be reassuring to have clothes that protect against the cold in the chilly weather. Mountain weather changes very easily, so we suggest bringing along rain gear. By doing so, you can refresh both your mind and body by choosing a day with great weather to hike up a mountain in autumn.
If the autumn leaves have already fallen, please take a look at the ground. The fallen leaves might be covering the ground like a carpet!
8 Great Autumn Leaves Spots in Japan
If you’ll be traveling to Japan in the autumn, the beautiful autumn leaves are something you’ll definitely want to witness. In this article, we’ve compiled together eight of our recommended autumn leaves spots from all over Japan.
1. Jozankei, Hokkaido
In Jozankei, located about one hour by bus from central Sapporo, you can enjoy various activities amid the autumn leaves.
Enjoy the autumn leaves while riding a canoe, as shown in the picture, or while horse riding. If you take the ropeway, you can also look down on the autumn leaves from the top of the mountain. Jozankei is also a hot spring district, so be sure to utilize the hot springs and heal your fatigue on the way home.
2. Oirase Stream, Aomori
Oirase Stream is a stream that flows from Lake Towada in Aomori. The clear stream is a continuous gentle, but sometimes rough flow that runs approximately fourteen kilometers between boulders and trees.
You can enjoy the beautiful scenery here throughout the year, but the entire area is dyed in vivid colors during the autumn leaves season. There are also well-maintained roadways and promenades along the stream, making this an area that anyone can easily take a stroll in.
The stream is located around a 120-minute bus ride from Shin-aomori Station, or 90 minutes from Hachinohe Station. It is in the heart of Towada-Hachimantai National Park.
3. Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine, Nikko
Picture courtesy of the Nikko City Tourism Association
Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine, located in Nikko, Tochigi, is a famous sightseeing spot in Japan that is also registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The wonderful sight of the autumn leaves can be seen near the sacred bridge of Nikko Futarasan Shrine. If you travel further to Kegon Falls, you’ll also find a view that combines the 100-meter waterfall together with the autumn leaves.
Definitely please read Visit Nikko In The Fall! A One-Day Autumn Leaves Tour Plan for a one-day travel plan from Tokyo to Nikko’s fall foliage spots.
4. Rikugien, Tokyo
Rikugien is another one of Tokyo’s several famous autumn leaves spots. It is a historical Japanese garden built in 1702. Once it becomes autumn, the garden will be decorated with autumn leaves found in 450 Japanese maple trees, along with 600 other maple varieties and gingko trees.
The garden will be illuminated after sunset, giving the autumn leaves a different look from the daytime for you to enjoy.
5. Rurikoin Temple, Kyoto
Rurikoin Temple in Kyoto is one lesser-known spot out of the several areas famous for foliage in Kyoto. Here, you’ll be able to see a painting-like scenery, interweaving light, and shadows together with the bright leaves.
Normally Rurikoin Temple cannot be visited, but it is opened to the general public for a limited time in the spring and autumn. In 2019, the temple is scheduled to open October 10. We definitely hope that you make the visit.
6. Minoo Park, Osaka
A famous autumn leaves destination in Osaka is Minoo Park. A major attraction is Minoo Falls, surrounded by nature, and the path leading to the waterfall acts as a hiking trail.
Minoo Park is famous for a slightly unusual product: a fried maple leaf snack called maple leaf tempura. The product is coated in sweet batter that makes it perfect as a snack with a deliciously addicting flavor.
7. Momijidani Park, Hiroshima
Picture courtesy of Hiroshima Prefecture
Momijidani Park is a famous destination for autumn leaves, located about ten minutes on foot from the World Heritage Site of Itsukushima Shrine. The park is lined with about 700 maple trees that turn brilliant colors every year from mid to late November. The autumn colors surrounding Momiji Bridge is an especially beautiful sight.
8. Maizuru Park, Fukuoka
Picture courtesy of Fukuoka City
Maizuru Park in Fukuoka Prefecture is an autumn leaves spot easily accessible in ten minutes by subway from Hakata in central Fukuoka. Originally the location where Fukuoka Castle was built in the Edo period, it is now a park. To this day the stone walls and other traces of the castle still remain as a reminder of that period.
The Origin of Momijigari
It is said that Japan began to enjoy the autumn leaves as a leisure activity sometime during the middle of the Edo era. However, poetry expressing admiration for gingko trees exist in the Man’yoshu, Japan's earliest collection of poetry dating back to the eighth century. As a result, various theories exist surrounding the origin of this culture.
There are also various theories on the origin of the word momijigari. “Momijigari” originally referred to hunting animals such as wild boars and birds. One theory states that the activity of going to gather the beautiful autumn leaves was likened to that of hunting by the nobility, thus becoming known as momijigari.
There is also a legend surrounding Mt. Togakushi in Nagano stating that long ago, there was once a female demon by the name of Momiji who attacked travelers. She was punished by order of the Emperor at the time for her crimes. Theories state that this legend is the origin of “momijigari.” The names of famous plays found in Noh and Kabuki theater called “Momijigari” were also created based on this legend.
Let’s Go See the Autumn Leaves
Momijigari is a way of enjoying autumn which has been practiced in Japan for many years. We hope you venture outside and see the beautiful autumn leaves if you’ll be visiting Japan during this season.
Original Author: Tomomi Sawada
This article is an updated version of an article originally published on August 26, 2016.