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See Kyoto In Autumn - 11 Places To Visit For Foliage In 2021

福島

Translated by Lester Somera

Written by MATCHA

2020.03.30

Autumn is a stunning season in Japan and Kyoto, the ancient capital, is a must-see while traveling. Read on to find recommendations on where to enjoy fall foliage, from the national park Kyoto Gyoen to Arashiyama, and the best times to view the brilliant leaves.

Fall Foliage in the Ancient Capital of Kyoto

Rurikoin Temple, Kyoto

Rurikoin Temple, Kyoto

Dotted with many historical temples and shrines, the Kyoto area is a very popular travel destination. It is also known for having many areas to enjoy fall foliage. During this time, temples and shrines hold seasonal events, creating a spectacular sight.

The best time to see the brilliant gold and crimson leaves in Kyoto is between early November and early December.
Let’s take a look at 11 recommended spots for viewing foliage in Kyoto!

Where to See Autumn Leaves in Kyoto

Click each link to jump to information about that spot.

Areas Best Time for Viewing
1. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine Late November to early December
2. Kodaiji Temple Mid-November to early December
3. Kifune Shrine Mid-November to late November
4. Eikando Temple Mid-November to late November
5. Tofukuji Temple Late November to early December
6. Chion-in Temple Mid-November to early December
7. Kyoto Gyoen Late November to mid-December
8. Hakuryuen Garden Mid-November to late November
9. Ruriko-in Temple Early November to late November
10. Arashiyama Late November to early December
11. Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku no Michi) Mid-November to late November
See Kyoto In Fall - 11 Places To Visit For Foliage In 2018

1. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Kitano Tenmangu

Picture courtesy of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is where Sugawara-no-Michizane, the god of learning, is enshrined. It is the headquarters of the Tenmangu shrines in Japan, of which there are more than 12,000. People studying for tests or getting ready to take licensing certification exams often come here to pray for success.

The shrine is considered a sacred spot for those seeking academic achievements.

Be sure to see Momiji-en, where rows of around 350 maple trees run alongside the river. They were planted by Hideyoshi Toyotomi (*1) in concordance with an earthworks project, which was built in 1591.

From the special observatory, you can get a complete view of the compound. From the vermilion-lacquered Uguisubashi bridge, a designated national treasure, the scenery is even more stunning. We also recommend going to Baikoken to enjoy wagashi (Japanese sweets) and tea while you gaze out at the foliage.

The surrounding area has a footpath, as well. Once the maple leaves begin to change color, this area is illuminated in the evening.

Best Viewing Time

Momiji-en is open to from late October through early December. There is an illumination held each night from mid-November to early December.

*1: Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a famous shogun who was active during the Sengoku period, ascended from commoner status and unified the nation.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

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2. Kodaiji Temple

Kodaiji

Picture courtesy of Kodaiji Temple

Kodaiji Temple is popular for its seasonal illumination events. In particular, Karyochi Pond, located inside the temple compound, reflects the foliage like a mirror. The effect is so hypnotizing, it may cause you to lose track of time as you gaze into it!

Near Kodaiji is Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple, Kenninji Temple. You can get a great view of the beautiful leaves here, so we recommend visiting both.

Best Viewing Time

The evening light up is usually held from mid-October to early December.

Kodaiji Temple

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Kenninji Temple

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3. Kifune Shrine

Kibune Shrine

Picture courtesy of Kifune Shrine ©Yasuhiro Imamiya
Kibune Shrine, home to the god of water, has long been revered by people in Kyoto as the shrine that protects the prefecture’s water sources. The shrine is also very popular for its connection to luck in relationships.
A sightseeing highlight is the vermilion toro (lanterns) along the shrine road. The combination of fall foliage and light from the lamps envelops visitors in a warm, golden glow.

Best Viewing Time

The shrine is usually illuminated from early to late November, creating a truly magical atmosphere that encompasses the grounds.

Kifune Shrine

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4. Eikando Temple

Eikando

Picture courtesy of Eikando
Eikando Temple has long been called Eikando of the Maple Leaves. The temple is so renowned that it was written about in the first anthology of Japanese poetry ever created, in the Heian period.

The roughly 3,000 maple trees paint the spacious temple grounds in brilliant reds and golds each autumn. This is the only place where you can see maple trees together with natural stone walls, planted on the steep slopes near the temple hall and galleries.

Best Viewing Time

The temple is lit up at night from November 3 to December 2, showing visitors a different side that can’t be seen during the day.

Zenrinji Eikan-do)

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5. Tofukuji Temple

Tofukuji

Picture courtesy of Tofukuji Temple

Tofukuji Temple features Kyoto's largest temple edifice. In the autumn, the temple's 2,000 Japanese maple trees make for a spectacular sight. The view from the Tsutenkyo bridge, which connects the main temple and the Kaizando temple building, is stunning. Every fall, the temple bustles with many visitors who come for this view.

Every Sunday from 6:30 am, there is a zazen meditation meeting held at Tofukuji. After meditation, you can also see the fall leaves in the morning.

Best Viewing Time

The foliage at Tofukuji Temple can usually be enjoyed from mid-November to early December.

Keihiyama Tofukuzenji Temple

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6. Chion-in Temple

Chion-in Temple

Picture courtesy of Chion-in Temple
Chion-in Temple is the head temple of the Jodo Buddhist sect in Japan. It is home to many important cultural assets, including Sanmon Gate, the largest two-story wooden gate in Japan, and Mieido, which enshrines the saint Honen, founder of Jodo Buddhism.

Chion-in Temple is also famous for the enormous size of its bell, which is rung on New Year’s Eve. Standing 3.3 meters tall and weighing about 70 tons, the bell needs 17 monks to ring it.

For foliage, we suggest visiting Yuzen-en garden and Hojo garden,  at the east side of the Sanmon Gate. The sight of changing leaves encircling the ponds is simply beautiful. There is also an evening light-up event where visitors can enjoy temple enveloped in a magical evening atmosphere.

Best Viewing Time

Chion-in Temple is usually lit up from the beginning of November until the beginning of December.

Chion-in

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7. Kyoto Gyoen

Kyoto Gyoen

Picture courtesy of Ministry of the Environment, Kyoto Gyoen Management
Kyoto Gyoen, with its 65-hectare area, is one of the most popular parks in Kyoto. Historically a residential area with rows of estates during the Edo period, many of the mansions and gardens from that era are still intact, spreading their tasteful aesthetic vibe throughout the area.

There are many trees here that are over a century old and, in the fall, the Japanese zelkova and gingko trees turn brilliant colors. Go at your own pace and enjoy the foliage inside the vast park to your heart’s content.

Best Viewing Time

The fall foliage at Kyoto Gyoen is best enjoyed from late November to mid-December.

8. Hakuryuen

Hakuryuen

Picture from Hakuryuen, A Secret Garden in Kyoto
Hakuryuen, which is open only for specific times on a reservation-basis, an allows only 100 visitors a day, is a very special place to view the fall foliage in Kyoto.

The gorgeous moss that extends throughout the garden combines with the autumn leaves stunningly. Tickets go on sale at Eizan Demachiyanagi Station starting at 9:00 in the morning. A lot of people line up in advance of the start time, so we suggest going early. Admission in October costs 1,300 yen, which increases to 1,600 yen in November and December (prices as of 2018).

Best Viewing Time

The ideal time to visit Hakuryuen is around mid-November to late November.

White Dragon Garden

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9. Ruriko-in

Ruriko-in

Picture from Kyoto's Ruriko-in Temple: Artistically Tinted Autumn Leaves
Ruriko-in is home to the stunning Ruri Garden, with an amazing carpet of moss, and Garyu Garden, in a shape representing a dragon soaring to the heavens. You can enjoy the gardens from a variety of perspectives as you gaze down from the study.

On the second floor, the leaves reflected in the glossy black floor are particularly beautiful, resembling a painting. Ruriko-in is open for viewing starting October 1.

Best Viewing Time

The foliage at Ruriko-in is best enjoyed around mid-November to late November.

Rurikoin

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10. Arashiyama

Arashiyama

Picture courtesy of (c)Kyoto City Media Support Center
Arashiyama is a popular destination year-round, with blossoming cherry trees in the spring and new green leaves in summer. The autumn scenery here is just as beautiful, and the area is filled with places to see the leaves. The Togetsukyo Bridge is especialy stunning thanks to its mountainous backdrop, and World Heritage site Tenryuji Temple has picturesque trees surrounding its 12-meter pagoda.

Traveling around on the Sagano Romantic Train to see the foliage is another activity that you shouldn't miss. Be sure to visit Arashiyama when you come to Kyoto!

Best Viewing Time

Visit Arashiyama between mid-November and early December to get the full impact of the fall colors.

Saga-Arashiyama Station

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11. Philosopher's Path

Philosopher's Path

Picture courtesy of Kyoto City Media Suport Center
The 1.5-kilometer Philosopher’s Path goes from Ginkakuji Temple and runs in the direction of Eikando and Nanzenji Temples. There are canals (*4) along the road, and when autumn approaches, the trees beside them turn brilliant colors.

Once the height of the fall foliage season is over, the red and gold leaves have formed a carpet on the road, creating an inviting path for strolling. When you visit the surrounding temples make sure to take in the scenery with a peaceful walk.

Best Viewing Time

Take a stroll down the Philospher's Path between mid-November and late November.

Philosophy road

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Take in Kyoto's Beautiful Fall Season

Kyoto boasts numerous places where visitors can enjoy the fall foliage, attracting many tourists at this time of year. To avoid the rush, we suggest visiting famous locations early in the morning and spending the rest of the day at lesser-known spots. We hope you enjoy autumn in Kyoto!

Main image by 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.