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Fall Foliage in Northern Japan 2023: Top 11 Spots in Tohoku

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In northern Japan, the fall foliage can be enjoyed earlier than Tokyo and Kyoto - from around mid-October. Learn the best 11 fall spots in Sendai, Aomori, Lake Towada, Fukushima, and other areas in Tohoku.

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The Peak Season for Tohoku’s Fall Foliage

Fall Foliage in Northern Japan 2023: Top 10 Spots in Tohoku

Oirase Gorge. Photo by Pixta

The Tohoku region, which encompasses six prefectures in the northeastern part of Japan's Honshu Island, is home to both magnificent natural scenery and historical structures. Shirakami-Sanchi—a World Heritage Site in Aomori, Lake Towada, and the countless cultural heritage sites in Iwate's Hiraizumi are very beautiful in the fall.

The fall foliage season in Tohoku is usually between mid-October to late November. The region enters its peak season about two weeks earlier than Tokyo.

In this article, we introduce 11 fall foliage spots in Tohoku, a region brimming with spectacular scenery and outdoor activities. There is Jozenji-dori Avenue in Sendai 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.

Top 11 Fall Foliage Spots in Tohoku

1. Jozenji-dori Avenue in Sendai Mid-November
2. Entsuin Temple in Matsushima Late October – Late November
3. Naruko Gorge Mid-October – Early November
4. Mount Kurikoma in Miyagi Mid-September – Mid-October
5. Hiraizumi in Iwate Early to Mid-November
6. Oirase Stream in Aomori Late October – Early November
7. Lake Towada in Aomori/Akita Late October – Early November
8. Kakunodate in Akita Late October – Early November
9. Dakigaeri Valley in Akita Late October – Early November
10. Yamadera Temple in Yamagata Late October – Early November
11. The Goshikinuma Ponds in Fukushima Mid-October – Early November

Sendai: Jozenji-dori Avenue

Fall Foliage in Northern Japan 2023: Top 10 Spots in Tohoku

Photo by Pixta

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.

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2. Matsushima's 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.

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3. 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!

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4. Mount Kurikoma in Miyagi

Fall Foliage in Northern Japan 2023: Top 10 Spots in Tohoku

Picture courtesy of Kurihara City Commerce and Industry Tourism Department Rural Tourism Division

Mount Kurikoma, with an elevation of 1,626 meters, spans three prefectures: Miyagi, Iwate, and Akita. Due to its beautiful shape, this mountain is often referred to as the Queen of the Ou Mountain Range. There are nine well-maintained climbing trails suitable for both beginners and seasoned climbers.

Starting from the end of September, the scenic autumn foliage area known as the "Heavenly Carpet," considered the best in Japan, blankets the landscape, offering a 360-degree panoramic view.

Fall Foliage in Northern Japan 2023: Top 10 Spots in Tohoku

Picture courtesy of Kurihara City Commerce and Industry Tourism Department Rural Tourism Division

Recognized as one of the top one hundred mountains for flowers, Mount Kurikoma is home to over 150 species of alpine plants, creating a colorful spectacle with beautiful flowers adorning the mountain in spring.

The surrounding area is dotted with charming hot spring resorts, providing opportunities to relax and unwind after a challenging climb. With its breathtaking autumn foliage and the beauty of nature, Mount Kurikoma is a destination that guarantees enjoyment for people of all ages.


5. 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.

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6. Oirase Gorge

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!

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7. 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.

Fall Foliage in Northern Japan 2023: Top 10 Spots in Tohoku

Daikoku Shrine/Ebisu Shrine at Lake Towada. Photo by Pixta

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.

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8. 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?

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9. 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!

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10. Yamadera Temple

Top 10 Tohoku Autumn Foliage Spots In 2023

photo by Pixta
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.

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11. The Goshikinuma Ponds in Fukushima

Goshiki-numa

Photo by Pixta

Goshikinuma, 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.


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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!

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Main image by Pixta

 

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