Written by Jasmine O
15 Top Fall Things To Do In Japan - Stunning Foliage, Festivals, And Food
Fall in Japan is ideal for travel, with mild weather, lovely foliage, traditional events, and tasty dishes. This article shares 15 great activities to try during fall, from hiking near Tokyo, to seeing famous temples, to celebrating Halloween in Osaka. Read to learn how to best enjoy a seasonal trip
15 Great Activities to Relish Fall in Japan
Japan's fall season is considered one of the best times for travel. There is so much to experience, from the vibrant red, yellow, and orange foliage to harvest festivals and mouthwateringly delicious cuisine. The mild weather makes an autumn trip all the more enjoyable and many activities possible.
This article suggests fifteen things to do in fall for an exciting and memorable trip. Continue reading to learn unique and seasonal activities suitable for all interests and recommended places to go.
Fall Things to Do
- 1. Tokyo: Hike Mt. Takao like a Local
- 2. Gaze Up at the Harvest Moon
- 3. Kyoto: Relish Fall Colors in Arashiyama
- 4. Trek Along Minoo Falls
- 5. See Traditional Festivals
- 6. Visit Rikugien at Night
- 7. Explore Nikko on a Day Trip
- 8. Hakone: Get Lost in the Pampas Grass
- 9. Frolick in the Cosmos Fields
- 10. Enjoy the Bright Red Kochia Shrubs
- 11. Celebrate at Oktober Fest
- 12. Experience Halloween in Japan
- 13. Warm Up with Hot Pot Dishes
- 14. Try Nutritious Japanese Sweet Potato
- 15. Munch on Mochi and Japanese Confections
1. Tokyo: Hike Mt. Takao like a Local
Photo by Pixta
Mt. Takao in Hachioji, western Tokyo, is considered the world's most climbed mountain with its 2.6 million annual visitors. It is easily accessible from the city center, as it is around an hour-ride by train from Shinjuku and Tokyo stations. The mountain's location makes it very popular with Tokyo residents.
It is a gorgeous hike in the fall in particular when the temperatures cool down, and the leaves change colors (this occurs around mid- to late November). There are multiple trails to choose from ranging in difficulty, and you can also ride a cable car or ropeway.
Food like dango (skewered mochi) and refreshing drinks await hikers at the top, as well as a Mt. Fuji view (on a clear day).
2. Gaze Up at the Harvest Moon
Moon viewing, or otsukimi is an annual tradition in Japan, typically occurring between mid-September and early October. On this night, families and friends gather to gaze up at the full moon with Japanese sweets (usually dango). This has been practiced for hundreds of years and originates from giving thanks for the harvest.
In 2020, moon-watching festivals and large scale events may not occur due to the coronavirus. For events to look forward to in 2021 and beyond, Sankeien Garden in Yokohama usually holds an moon-viewing event in the evenings during mid-September.
Take the opportunity to partake in this unique event and experience the season; many areas offering moon-viewing will sell dango and Japanese sake on the premise.
3. Kyoto: Relish Fall Colors in Arashiyama
Arashiyama is one of the most famous places in Kyoto for fall scenery. Typically, the leaves start to change around mid-November and last until December. Arrive early to avoid crowds if you can, as it is a popular area to view the foliage.
Be sure to bring your camera for pictures along the Togetsukyo Bridge (pictured above) with the gorgeous trees lining the river, and of Tenryuji Temple, a World Heritage site.
Fall also brings traditional performances to Arashiyama, and vendors will sell seasonal treats. Be sure to take in the season with all five senses when you visit.
4. Trek Along Minoo Falls
Photo by Pixta
Minoo Falls is a famous fall foliage spot in the greater Osaka area where visitors can take in the beautiful natural surroundings. Minoo is around 30 minutes away from Osaka Station via train, making for an easy day trip.
The hike to the waterfall easily accessible from Minoo Station, and vendors selling local specialties, like maple leaf tempura, can be found along the way. The leaves transform into crimson and gold hues in November, making the area all the more beautiful. It takes around 40 minutes to get to the waterfall by foot; the path is inclined but accessible to beginner hikers.
5. See Traditional Festivals
Fall is a season with many festivals throughout Japan. For instance, the Takayama Festival, an event with floats and traditional performances, is one of the most prominent in the country, occurs in fall. Another must-see is the speedy wooden floats of the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri in Osaka, historically practiced to pray for a good harvest.
For a festival in Tokyo, head to Asakusa for Tori no Ichi, an event where local businesses go to purchase decorative bamboo rakes thought to bring good luck and fortune. Kanuma, a city in Tochigi Prefecture near Nikko, is famous for its annual autumn festival with decorative wooden floats.
6. Visit Rikugien at Night
Photo by Pixta
Rikugien is a traditional Japanese garden in the heart of Tokyo. Its lush landscape is inspired by historic waka poems, with manmade hills, a vast pond, and rest spots where visitors can pause their strolls and take in the gorgeous grounds. In the fall, the grounds are illuminated, creating a dreamy scene worth seeing in person.
The grounds are is lit up from sundown to 21:00 nightly during the fall foliage period (around mid-November to early December). The mystical atmosphere will take you away from the city center to a relaxing world filled with nature.
7. Explore Nikko on a Day Trip
Photo by Pixta
Nikko is a trove of historical, cultural, and outdoor activities. With Toshogu Shrine, Rinnoji Temple, and Futarasan Shrine, three World Heritage Sites, along with Lake Chuzenji and multiple hiking areas, Nikko makes a great weekend trip from the Tokyo area. Nikko is accessible using the JR Pass as well as on the Tobu Line from Asakusa.
Fall is one of the most lovely seasons in Nikko. The larger-than-life nature here creates a seasonal rainbow, attracting many visitors. Go between mid-October and mid-November to relish the colors. After immersing yourself in nature, soak in the hot springs of Kinugawa or Yumoto onsens, which have been used for centuries in Japan, for a truly relaxing experience.
8. Hakone: Get Lost in the Pampas Grass
Hakone is another ideal day trip destination from Tokyo, located around two hours from Shinjuku. Known best for its view of Mt. Fuji, high-quality hot springs, and unique mountain geography, Hakone is a favorite destination of many. Take the ropeway for a scenic ride to observe the rugged landscape that comes alive with color during fall.
Seeing the pampas grass (known as "susuki" in Japanese) in the Sengokuhara area is a one-of-a-kind experience. The fields of this wild grass turn a silvery-golden shade that sparkles in the sun. Explore the fields between late September and early November to capture great memories. There is a path cleared, making it easy to navigate through this breathtakingly beautiful spot.
9. Frolick in Cosmo Fields
Picture from Showa Kinen Park – A Year-Round Flowering Park For Young And Old
Cosmo flowers bloom in Japan during fall, creating a stunning contrast with the bright blue sky. Large-scale flower fields like the 15,000 square-meter field of Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park introduce the beauty of this delicate flora on a larger-than-life scale.
Head to the colorful fields during the park's Cosmos Matsuri, which runs September 14 through October 27, 2019. The events feature three flower-filled areas with vivid pink and yellow cosmos.
10. Enjoy the Bright Red Kochia Shrubs
Kochia is a unique plant that changes color throughout the year, transforming into a vivid reddish-pink during fall. Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki Prefecture is well-known for its hills of bright pink Kochia that visitors can walk through.
Kochia turn pink starting in early October and fade in hue by the end of the month. The otherworldly shrubs seem never-ending on the rolling hills of the park. In the fall, there are cosmos and an impressive rose garden to see, making it ideal for a day trip.
11. Celebrate at Oktober Fest
Oktober Fest can be found throughout Japan during fall. Large-scale celebrations happen in Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka. Festival-goers can enjoy a glass or two of German beer and European-inspired snacks, and events often include musical performances.
One of the most popular is Yokohama Oktoberfest, located at the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. In 2019, the event runs from October 4 through October 20. Stop by for a lively evening or afternoon after sightseeing in the international port city.
12. Experience Halloween in Japan
Halloween is not widely celebrated in Japan, but there are opportunities to dress up and experience a spooky holiday spirit in the evening.
Universal Studios Japan hosts Halloween Horror Nights, where visitors can enter a zombie-filled world in the evening. Shibuya attracts thousands of people in costume around the Scramble Crossing and major shopping areas. Osaka's Amemura area is also filled with locals and visitors dressed up.
For daytime amusement, try Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea, as both parks allow guests to come dressed as their favorite Disney character. The parks are also decorated with a seasonal motif, has special food and souvenirs, and features Halloween-themed shows. The events in 2019 run from September 10 to October 31.
There are also a number of limited-edition Halloween sweets at convenience stores and supermarkets to add to the fun.
13. Warm Up with Hot Pot Dishes
Fall is considered the season for good food in Japan, with hearty dishes and savory flavors to suit the colder temperatures.
A fall favorite of many are hot pot dishes, like shabu-shabu, sukiyaki, and nabe. All three are interactive dishes, where the diner cooks fresh vegetables, proteins, and noodles in the broth before eating. Dip the finished product in sesame sauce or egg before enjoying. Major restaurant chains, like Nabezo and Onyasai, have all-you-can-eat options and are highly recommended.
Oden is another classic fall dish that can be savored at food stalls, convenience stores, and restaurants. Fish, vegetables, and tofu are typical ingredients in this slowly-stewed dish. Bring your appetite so you can try these satisfying seasonal flavors.
14. Try Roasted Japanese Sweet Potato
Picture from Roasted Sweet Potato Shop Fuji - Choose Between 8 Different Flavors!
Japanese sweet potato is a food praised for its high nutritional content and delicious and creamy flavors. Roasted sweet potato, or "yakiimo" in Japanese, is sold all across the country in a variety of flavors; supermarkets carry them, street stalls and traveling vans offer them freshly baked, and there is even an annual festival in Tokyo dedicated to the sweet spud.
Sweet potato tastes best in the fall and colder months when it is in-season. Take part in Japan's love for this healthy vegetable and try one for yourself. Stop by a specialty store, like Fuji in western Tokyo, which carries around eight varieties of roasted sweet potato.
During the fall, sweet potato-based sweets and dishes in Japan are very popular. For those looking for something different, try daigaku imo (candied sweet potato) or other confections. Kawagoe with its traditional townscape, accessible from Tokyo as a day trip, is famous for its sweet potato sweets and flavors.
15. Munch on Mochi and Japanese Confections
Photo by Pixta
Fall is one of the best times to try wagashi, or traditional treats, including mochi-based sweets. Wagashi is very seasonal; you can try flavors of chestnut, sweet potato, persimmon, and apple. The appearance of these delicate confections is also inspired heavily by the time of year.
To try high-quality sweets, head to a Japanese cafe. One recommendation is Toraya, a famous Japanese confectionery, for shopping. The detail and precision paid to the appearance and flavors will impress all. Refer to the official website for locations and shops with a cafe where you can sit down and have tea and dessert.
Savor Fall This Year
Fall brings new sights and activities to enjoy in Japan, from gorgeous foliage to traditional events and decadent seasonal desserts. Take in all this refreshing season has to offer, including the moderate climate. Traveling around Japan in fall will surely be an unforgettable experience.
Main image by Pixta