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Top 10 Tohoku Autumn Foliage Spots In 2021

Learn about Tohoku's top autumn foliage spots and when to best enjoy the season. These nature-filled spots in Sendai, Aomori, Fukushima, and other areas in northern Japan are great for enjoying the outdoors in fall--after a full day, you can even enjoy the view while you soak in a hot spring.

2021.03.27

The Peak Season for Tohoku’s Fall Foliage

tohoku fall

The Tohoku region is located in northern Japan and encompasses six prefectures (*). This area is home to both magnificent natural landscapes and historical structures, such as Shirakami-Sanchi—a World Heritage Site in Aomori—and countless cultural heritage sites in Iwate's Hiraizumi. These are especially beautiful in the fall.

While the foliage season varies by location, it typically takes place between mid-October to late November. The region enters its peak season about two weeks earlier than Tokyo.

In this article, we’ll introduce autumn foliage spots in Tohoku, a region brimming with spectacular sightseeing areas and outdoor activities. There’s Jozenji-dori Avenue for those who want to enjoy the foliage and shopping, or Lake Towada and Oirase Stream for those wishing to be surrounded by nature. Pick the locations that best suit your travel itinerary.

Due to COVID-19, travel restrictions may still be in place in Japan during the fall season. Please check for information on local policies when planning your trip.
*Tohoku's six prefectures: Aomori Prefecture, Iwate Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture, Akita Prefecture, Yamagata Prefecture, and Fukushima Prefecture

Table of Contents

Click the spot’s link to directly head to the introduction of each corresponding location.

Spot Annual Peak Season
1. Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture), Jozenji-dori Avenue Mid-November
2. Matsushima (Miyagi Prefecture), Entsuin Temple Late October – Late November
3. Miyagi Prefecture, Naruko Gorge Mid-October – Early November
4. Iwate Prefecture, Hiraizumi Early to Mid-November
5. Aomori Prefecture, Oirase Stream Late October – Early November
6. Aomori/Akita Prefecture, Lake Towada Late October – Early November
7. Akita Prefecture, Kakunodate Late October – Early November
8. Akita Prefecture, Dakigaeri Valley Late October – Early November
9. Yamagata Prefecture, Yamadera Late October – Early November
10. Fukushima Prefecture, Goshiki-numa Mid-October – Early November

1. Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture), Jozenji-dori Avenue

Jozenji-dori Avenue

Picture courtesy of Sendai Tourism, Convention and International Association

Coined the "gateway to the Tohoku region," at Miyagi Prefecture's capital city of Sendai, visitors can enjoy nature while strolling the streets of Jozenji-dori Avenue. With streets lined with zelkova trees stretching for 700 meters, you can admire the amber-colored leaves while taking a walk or simply sitting on the benches.

Nearby, you’ll find art galleries, trendy cafes, and the entertainment district of Kokubuncho Street. A guesthouse is also close by, making this a great spot to start your autumn foliage trip.


2. Matsushima (Miyagi Prefecture), Entsuin Temple

Entsuin Temple

Photo by Pixta

Matsushima, a sightseeing spot renowned for its peaceful scenery, is just 30 minutes by train from Sendai Station. Entsuin Temple is a famous autumn foliage spot in this scenic area. Its four different Japanese gardens are brilliantly colored in warm red and yellow hues from the trees.

While the seasonal foliage is beautiful in the daytime, do consider visiting the temple during its evening illumination. Several of Matsushima’s sightseeing spots, including Entsuin Temple, are illuminated at night to add to the captivating autumnal scenery. During this season, concerts featuring traditional Japanese instruments like the taiko drum, guitars, and violins are also performed.

The fall foliage illumination takes place annually from the end of October through November. The schedule for 2021 is currently pending.

3. Miyagi Prefecture, Naruko Gorge

Naruko Gorge

Photo by Pixta

Travel two hours by either train or bus from Sendai Station to reach the amazing 100-meter deep Naruko Gorge. Every year, autumn foliage paints the valley crimson. There are several ways to enjoy the gorge. You can admire the autumn view from Naruko Gorge Resthouse’s observation deck, or walk along the 2.2 kilometer-long Ofukazawa Promenade.

The nearby Naruko Onsen Village is a hot spring town with nearly all the different types of hot springs found in Japan. After viewing the autumn foliage, ease your travel fatigue by soaking in some baths at Naruko Onsen Village!

4. Iwate Prefecture, Hiraizumi

Chuson-ji Temple

Chusonji Temple’s Kyozo Scripture Hall (Photo by Pixta)
Hiraizumi is known for its many historical structures centered on Buddhist Jodo-shiso (*1) ideology. Its five Buddhist temples and historic locations, which include Chusonji Temple and Motsuji Temple, are registered as World Cultural Heritage sites by UNESCO.

There are numerous halls on the Chusonji Temple grounds. Built in 1124, the pathway leading to Konjikido Hall and the simple yet stunning Kyozo Scripture Hall are beautifully colored by maple trees in the fall.

If you love Japanese gardens, then you should visit Motsuji Temple. There, you can enjoy the autumn foliage that decorates the Jodo Garden. The Oizumi-ga-ike Pond—which stretches 180 meters east to west—and the autumn foliage make for a picture-perfect combination.

Additionally, special visits are allowed inside the main hall in October. Events such as Chusonji Temple's Autumn Fujiwara Festival—where ancient dances preserved in the region will be performed—take place from November 1st to the 3rd. We recommend that you enjoy these seasonal experiences that are held once a year!

*1 Jodo-shiso: the ideology of reciting Buddhist sutras with the belief of traveling to the blissful afterlife, otherwise known as Pure Land Buddhism.

5. Aomori Prefecture, Oirase Stream

Oirase Stream

Picture courtesy of Aomori Tourism Association

Oirase Stream is a mountain stream that flows for fourteen kilometers from Lake Towada in Aomori Prefecture. A natural forest surrounds the stream on both sides, where you can take a stroll among the vibrant autumn foliage.

While inhaling the fresh air, walk down the trail and listen to the flow of water to refresh both your mind and body. Despite being in a forest, the trails are made up of gently sloping roads that are easy to walk.

The Asura Rapids and Kumoi Waterfall are gorgeous spots for photography. Take a picture of the beautiful river flowing together with the fall colors!

6. Aomori and Akita prefectures, Lake Towada

Lake Towada

Photo by Pixta

Spanning across both Aomori and Akita, Lake Towada is a gem-like caldera lake created by volcanic activity. It is said to have been created nearly 200,000 years ago. Walk along the lake’s shore, or head up to the observation deck to enjoy the autumn leaves with a lake view.

Visitors can also take a pleasure cruise and admire the mountains from the lake. Other activities, like canoe or boat tours that visit secluded areas, are hosted as well. We recommend these activities to visitors looking to actively enjoy the scenic outdoors.

7. Akita Prefecture, Kakunodate

Kakunodate

Photo by Pixta

Kakunodate, in Akita Prefecture's Semboku City, flourished as a castle town in 1620. During this period, the living quarters of samurai and merchants were separated into the north and south. In fact, this separation still exists to this day.

Once autumn arrives, the historic samurai houses against the backdrop of black wooden walls and crimson-colored foliage draws tourists from all over.

Kakunodate photos

Picture courtesy of Tazawako Kakunodate Tourism Association

It’s also possible to rent a kimono from Aoyagi Samurai Manor Museum—which once was a samurai residence—or from a traditional inn located in the area (Japanese). Why not stroll around the historical streetscape while dressed in Japanese traditional clothing this autumn?

8. Akita Prefecture, Dakigaeri Valley

Dakigaeri Valley

Picture courtesy of Tazawako Kakunodate Tourism Association

Dakigaeri Valley, measuring a total length of ten kilometers, is home to a stunning mountain stream and a lush, primeval forest. Long ago, the valley was a rugged mountain path so narrow that people could only pass in opposite directions by embracing passing hikers. This dire situation gave rise to the name “Dakigaeri,” which means “holding on (hugging) to return."

These days, a gentle pathway into the valley has been built, so visitors can freely stroll while safely enjoying the scenery. It's located in Semboku City, just like Kakunodate, so it's a convenient place to visit several autumn foliage spots on your trip!

9. Yamagata Prefecture, Yamadera Temple

Yamadera

Risshakuji Temple on Mount Hoju, also known by the nickname Yamadera, is a Buddhist temple constructed on a cliff. You’ll find several halls and stone Buddha statues scattered throughout the temple grounds. You'll be climbing up a staircase totaling 1,015 steps to reach the inner sanctuary, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes!

Yamadera Temple

Picture courtesy of Yamadera Tourism Association

A great spot for autumn foliage is Godaido Hall. The hall was built protruding from the cliff, and gives you a view of the nearby towns and slowly reddening mountains below.

Also be sure to stop by the large gingko tree behind Hie Shrine, which is located near the mountain trail entrance. Believed to be over 1,000 years old, this large tree turns a sparkling golden color in the autumn foliage season.

10. Fukushima Prefecture, Goshiki-numa

Goshiki-numa

Photo by Pixta

Goshiki-numa, or five-colored ponds, is a group of lakes in Fukushima Prefecture. A phreatic eruption (an explosion of steam and rocks caused by magma) occurred on Mount Bandai in 1888, resulting in the formation of dozens of lakes. The lakes have varying shades of emerald green or cobalt blue, allowing visitors to admire the beautiful contrast of the lakes against the red and golden colors of the autumn trees.

You can enjoy paddle boating on Lake Bishamon, the largest lake in Goshiki-numa. There are also walkways that take between an hour to an hour and a half to finish, so please enjoy each of the entrancing lakes and their various charms.


Relish Fall in Tohoku

Unlike the autumn foliage decorating Kyoto and Nikko, the Tohoku region makes it possible to admire the dramatic color of autumnal mountains and trees in the middle of nature. Additionally, visitors can revel in the annual autumn foliage within the backdrop of historic structures. Head to Tohoku to discover a gorgeous region with an authentic Japanese landscape!

Main image by Pixta
Original Author: Eri Okubo
This article is a rewritten version of an article originally published on October 20, 2016.
Main image from Pixta

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.