MATCHA's English language editorial board. We are bringing you the latest travel information on Japan. Yoroshiku!
In a city as full of historical wonders as Kyoto, you can rest assured that the fall foliage is breathtaking too! Here are eight of the best places to view the fall colors in Japan's ancient capital.
MATCHA's English language editorial board. We are bringing you the latest travel information on Japan. Yoroshiku!
Written by Keishi Kawakami
The ancient capital of Japan, Kyoto is a city known worldwide for its numerous historical buildings, especially its temples and shrines. While there are many famous cherry blossom spots in Kyoto, the fall colors here are just as magnificent. Many people come to Kyoto in the fall just to appreciate the sight of vivid red Japanese maple trees against a backdrop of traditional Japanese architecture.
The best time to see the autumn colors in Kyoto is from late November to early December, when the trees have fully changed color. Here are seven must-see autumn foliage spots in and around the Kyoto area, as well as recommendations for other places near each main location that can be easily accessed as well.
The first place many think of when hearing 'Kyoto' is the Gion and Higashiyama area, as it is where you will find a great number of the most famous temples, shrines and other historical sites in Kyoto.
Kiyomizudera Temple is one such place and is a particularly famous autumn viewing spot. This UNESCO World Heritage site was founded during the Heian era (794 - 1185) and has been one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto for decades.
From the platform, you can not only overlook the city of Kyoto, but take in the sight of the mountains turned red by the maple trees as well. The trees are illuminated here in the evenings from about November 12th to December 4th, although this varies slightly from year to year.
|Address||Kyoto, Higashiyama, Kiyomizu 1-294|
|Accepted Credit Cards||-|
|Nearest station||Kiyomizu-Gojo Station, Keihan line|
|Access||25 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station|
|Price||Entrance fee - high school age and over 400 yen, junior high age and under 200 yen|
In this area, you can also find Kodaiji Temple, Entokuin, Maruyama Park, Kyoto-Ryozen Gokoku Shrine, Kennin-ji, Chionin, and Shorenin Monzeki as well.
Photo courtesy of: Kodaiji
Kodaiji Temple becomes a hot spot for visitors in fall, thanks to their autumn illuminations, which take place from October 21st-December 10th.
During this time, lights are projected up onto the trees in the Hashintei in the Honjoen garden, which is breathtaking, while the reflections of the leaves in Garyochi pond's mirror-like surface are a sight you won't soon forget.
Plus, their bamboo forest is also illuminating, creating an altogether different atmosphere than that of the day.
Near Kodaiji, you will also find Kyoto's oldest Zen temple, Kenninji too, which is another popular and beautiful autumn leaves spot.
Kodaiji is a 15 minute walk from Gion Shijo Station.
The admission fee is 600 yen for adults and 250 yen for junior high and high school students. The temple is available for worship from 9:00-17:30 (reception closes at 17:00), but the illuminations take place from sunset to 22:00 (last entry at 21:30).
While this area is perhaps best known for its rows of department stores and shopping streets, like Shijo-dori, Teramachi-dori, and Pontocho-dori, which follows alongside Kamogawa river, here you will also find many beautiful maple and ginkgo trees as well.
Nanzenji is a Zen Buddhist temple that was founded in 1291 and has been recognized as a nationally designated Historic Site. Nanzenji is also famous for its karesansui garden, which is considered one of Japan's top Places of Scenic Beauty.
Nearby you will also find temples such as Ginkakuji, Eikando, and the incredible Philosopher's Walk, as well as Anrakuji, Honenji, Konkai Komyoji, and Shinnyodo, although the final two are a bit of a walk compared to the rest.
Among the many scenes of autumn leaves in Kyoto, the view found here is so famous that it has been lovingly called Momiji no Eikando (Eikando, the temple of the red maple leaves) since long ago. Within the precincts of this temple, some 3000 maple trees grown and develop their brilliant fall colors in unison each year.
Right before the hall and pathways, you will see the Iwagaki Momiji come into view; this is a colorful sight only found at Eikando. Plus, at nights from November 7th-December 6th, this area is illuminated, making it a popular place to visit both day and night in fall.
Take the #5 City Bus from Kyoto Station and get off at the Nanzenji Eikando bus stop. It will take about 35 minutes and costs 230 yen one way. From the bus stop, it is then a three minute walk.
Entry for adults is 600 yen, and 400 yen for elementary to high school aged students. During the illuminations, entry for those of junior high age and over is 600 yen.
Visiting hours are from 9:00-17:0 (reception closes at 16:00), while the illuminations run from 17:30-21:00 (reception closing at 20:30).
The Kitayama area has a stylishly modern vibe and is home to numerous cafes and restaurants. While it may sound like an unlikely place to find fall sightseeing spots, this area is also where the famous Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji, and the rock garden of Ryoan-ji can be seen.
First built in 947, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane (*1), the god of learning and education, and is frequently visited by students of all ages coming with wishes to do well on their exams. There are about 10, 000 Tenmangu shrines found throughout Japan.
On the western side of the precincts, you will find Momijien, where about 300 maple trees grow along the riverside. The view of the autumn leaves from the Uguisuibashi bridge and the tea room, Baikoken to the north of the river is magnificent.
Another highlight of this spot is the foundation; built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (*2), Odoi, an earthen embankment fortification, is a registered historic site itself.
Momijien is open from late October to early December. Entry costs 700 yen per adult, and 350 yen each for children.
This area is open from 9:00-16:00, and when the fall colors begin, the area is illuminated from sunset to 20:00 every day.
For more on Kitano Tenmangu Shrine and how to reach it, check out Kitano Tenmangū Shrine, Kyōto - Offer A Prayer To The God Of Scholars.
*1 Sugawara no Michizane: a noble, scholar and statesman during the Heian period that, because of his love of learning, became the God of Learning posthumously.
*2 Toyotomi Hideyoshi: one of key daimyo in Japan during the Sengoku period.
Ninnaji, head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, is another lesser visited spot in this area. Within its precincts numerous National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties of Japan as well.
Three other must-see fall spots in this area include Touji-in, Kouryu-ji, and Kurumazaki Shrine.
A short distance from Kyoto's city center, the Arashiyama and Uzumasa are perhaps the most popular of all the fall viewing spots in Kyoto, and are often bustling with people from October to December as a result.
Arashiyama is popular spot for both cherry blossoms and autumn leaves. The season of autumnal leaves paints the entirety of Arashiyama in shades of red and yellow, and the sight of the mountain reflected on the surface of the water is even more stunning that photos can do justice.
There are many famous and little know shrines, temples and other sightseeing spots dotting the region, one of note being the Togetstu Bridge as it stands with Arashiyama as its backdrop.
To learn more about Arashiyama and how to best access it, please read A Kyotoite's Recommended Travel Route For Saga And Arashiyama.
Tenryuji is the head temple of the Tenryu branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism, founded in 1339, and another of Kyoto's many UNESCO World Heritage sites.
As this area is renowned for its fall beauty, there are many other places that visitors to Arashiyama/Uzumasa should check out: the bamboo forest, Nonomiya Shrine, Okochi Sanso (the former home of the actor Denjiro Okochi), Jojakkoji, Nisonin, Gioji, Adashino Nenbutsuji, Kyu-Sagagosho Daigakuji, Seiryoji, Houkyouin, and Enrian.
The most famous place in the Fushimi area is of course Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine and its thousand torii gates that lines its pathways, while Uji, a famous tea producing area, is best known for Byodoin, a World Heritage site anyone familiar with Japanese currency will instantly recognize as being the building found on the ten yen coin.
Should you head out to the north of Kyoto, you will find yourself surrounded by mountains and stunning natural sights that are beautiful all year round, but are especially photogenic during the fall.
If you are in the Kibune area, Kifune Shrine and Kuramadera Temple are musts. Kifune Shrine, while famous for their summer Tanabata Festival, is where the gods of water and of marriage are enshrined, which makes it a very popular place to visit all year round and a stunning place to see in fall, with the red and gold leaves surrounding this mountain shrine.
From Kifuneguchi Station on the Eizan Line, take the bus and get off at Kifune bus stop. It will take about five minutes, and costs 160 yen one way. From the bus stop, it is a five minute walk to the shrine.
There are no entry fees for Kifune Shrine.
The shrine gates are open from 6:00-20:00 (May 1st-November 30th), 6:00-18:00 (December 1st-April 30th). Only during the illuminations are the hours extended.
In the Ohara area, you should definitely check out the temples Sanzenin, Jikkoin, Housenin, and Jakkoin.
While Kyoto Station itself is quite the sight to see all year round, thanks to its futuristic architecture, there are also plenty of scenic spots to enjoy around it too.
Located near Kyoto Station is Tofukuji Temple, one of the largest oldest Buddhist temples in Japan.
The autumn colors when viewed from Tsutenkyo, the bridge that connects the Kaizando Temple, the main temple building, and Fumonin gate, is a masterpiece.
The rich, colorful autumn leaves here draw an incredible number of viewers every year.
It is a ten minute walk from the southeast exit of Tofukuji Station to Tofukuji Temple. Admission to Tsutenkyo and Kaizando is 400 yen for adults, and 300 yen for elementary to high school aged children.
The hours at Tofukuji vary as follows: April to October 9:00-16:00, November to early December 8:30-16:00, and early December to March from 9:00-15:30.
Photo courtesy of: Chionin
At Chionin Temple, you will find the largest wooden building in Japan, the Sanmon and the Mieido, where sacred images of the sect's founder and other holy persons are kept, as well as many other Important Cultural properties.
This is also the head temple of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, and where you will find the extremely famous joya no kane too.
At Chioin, the autumn leaves are illuminated from November 3rd to December 3rd. Of particular note are the leaves in Yuzen'en, near Sanmon.
Chionin Temple is a five minute walk from Higashiyama Station. The temple is open from 9:00-16:30 (reception closes at 16:00). Admission to the garden costs as follows:
Yuzen'en costs 300 yen for adults, and 150 yen for children. Hojo Teien costs 400 yen for adults, 200 yen for children, and a combined ticket to see both will cost adults 500 yen, and 250 yen for children.
Photo courtesy of: Ministry of the Environment Kyoto Gyoen Maintenance Office
A national park covering about 65 hectares, Kyoto Gyoen is one of the representative sights to see in Kyoto. Within the grounds some 50,000 trees grow, and the sight of the autumn zelkova and ginkgo trees is impeccable. Here you can leisurely appreciate the fall colors amid spacious natural surroundings.
Kyoto Gyoen is a three minute walk from either Marutamachi Station or Imadegawa Station. There are no entry fees for this park.
Over the month and a half long span from October 14th to December 3rd, only 100 people per day are allowed to visit Hakuryuen, a fall color location few people may have heard of before.
As only 100 people are permitted to visit each day, this spot is ideal for those that would like to take their time and savor the fall colors in a quiet, less crowded environment. Not just the fall colors, but the vast moss garden is a must-see sight here as well.
To learn more about Hakuryuen, see Hakuryukan: A Secret Garden in Kyoto.
Rurikoin is a historic temple located in Yase, Kyoto. What sets it apart as an autumn leaves spot is how the light enters and filters through the garden, which causes the appearance of the leaves themselves to change depending on which angle you view them from.
From the two stories of the hall overlooking the garden, the landscape around you changes quite dramatically. The view from the second floor is particularly impressive, as the vibrant leaves are contrasted against a shiny black stage - it's breathtaking.
See Kyoto's Rurikoin Temple: Artistically Tinted Autumn Leaves to learn more.
There are of course hundreds of sightseeing spots in the greater Kyoto area, making it impossible to list them all in a single article, but if you take these seven places as your starting points, you're sure to find some truly awe-inspiring autumn views during your stay in Kyoto.