CultureEnjoy the Autumn Leaves
Autumn is the time when all around Japan is brightly colored with the red and yellow leaves of fall. The autumn leaves highlight the beauty of the ancient shrines and temples and also create a colorful oasis for busy people in urban areas.
Mount Daisetsu (best time: mid to late September)
Mount Daisetsu is part of the Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group which consists of a group of volcanic peaks over 2,000 meters. The autumn foliage season in Japan begins here.
Mount Hakkoda (best time: late September to early October)
Mount Hakkoda is in the Hakkoda Mountains, a volcanic mountain range in Aomori City in Aomori Prefecture. The ropeway ride is a great opportunity to see the beauty of its nature. The snow starts falling as early as late October and creates a beautiful contrast between the white snow and the red and yellow leaves.
Mount Zao (best time: early to late October)
Mount Zao is a compound volcano formed by various volcanic peaks over 1,700 meters. The drive around this area when the autumn foliage is out is dramatic. There is a famous hot spring area (Zao Onsen) with several sulfur spring sources spouting strong acidic hot spring water since its discovery, according to legend, about 2,000 years ago.
Nikko (best time: mid-October to mid-November)
Views of famous ancient temples and shrines including Nikko Toshogu Shinto shrine, Rinnoji Temple, and Futarasan Shrine, nestled amongst the vivid colors of autumn foliage are mesmerizing. There are many other places to visit including the famous winding Irohazaka Road and the Senjogahara Wetlands.
Oze (best time: early to mid-October)
Oze, a vast area extending across Fukushima, Niigata, Tochigi, and Gunma prefectures, is one of the largest highland marshlands in Japan. There are about 800 rare plant species. The marshlands shine like gold with autumn foliage.
Korankei Valley (best time: mid to late November)
This valley, located in the Aichi Kogen Quasi-national Park in Aichi Prefecture, is famous for about 4,000 maple trees. Red, orange, and yellow leaves are beautifully reflected on the crystal clear water of the streams.
Kenrokuen Garden (best time: mid-November to early December)
Kenrokuen Garden, which is located in Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture, is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan along with Kairakuen in Ibaraki Prefecture and Korakuen in Okayama Prefecture. The red maple leaves in late autumn create a sense of the beauty seen since ancient times.
Tofukuji Temple (best time: mid-November to early December)
Tofukuji Temple is a Buddhist temple in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto Prefecture. The valley viewed from Tsutenkyo Bridge connecting the main hall with the Kaizando building is filled with colorful maple leaves. It looks like a sea of red clouds!
Nara Park (best time: late October to early December)
This public park is located in Nara City, Nara Prefecture. The area includes the grounds of Todaiji Temple and Kofukuji Temple. The ancient temples nobly stand amongst the beautifully colored leaves.
Miyajima (best time: mid-November)
Miyajima, a small island located outside Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture, is one of the Three Most Beautiful Spots in Japan. Red, orange, and yellow leaves beautifully highlight Itsukushima Shrine, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mount Misen towers behind the shrine and Momijidani Park is located at the foot of the mountain.
Oboke Koboke Gorges (best time: mid to late November)
Oboke Koboke Gorges are located in the middle of the Yoshino River in Tokushima and Kochi prefectures. Take a pleasure boat ride down the ravine and enjoy the autumn leaves!
Yabakei Valleys (best time: early to late November)
The Yabakei Valleys in Oita Prefecture are famous for oddly-shaped rocks and beautiful peaks formed by the lava as it cooled while flowing from the ancient volcanoes and erosion from the river. The unique scenery highlights the beauty of the maple and ginkgo autumn leaves viewed from the observatory.
Tokyo Metropolitan Area
Meijijingu Gaien (best time: late November to mid-December)
Located in the heart of the city, Meijijingu Gaien has about 150 huge ginkgo trees. It is mesmerizing to walk in the 300-meter-long golden tunnel formed by the trees.
5-minute walk from JR Shinanomachi Station
Mount Mitake (best time: early to mid-November)
Mount Mitake is one of the most popular hiking places near Tokyo. Enjoy the beautiful foliage in the rock garden along the 1-km nature trail with its massive and strangely-shaped rocks located between Nanayo no Taki Waterfall and Ayahiro no Taki Waterfall.
Take a bus (about 10 minutes) or walk (about 45 minutes) to Cable Shita from JR Mitake Station, and then take the cable car (6 minutes) or hike (about 60 minutes) from Takimoto Station to Mitakesan Station.
Showa Kinen Park (best time: early to mid-November)
Rows of ginkgo trees with bright yellow leaves in two areas and the red leaves of the maple tress in the Japanese garden are especially beautiful. It is refreshing to ride around the park on a rental bike.
10-minute walk from JR Tachikawa Station
Mount Takao (best time: mid-November)
The beautiful autumn foliage tunnel welcomes cable car passengers. The Momiji Matsuri (Maple Tree Festival) is scheduled for November 1st to 30th.
3-minute walk to the cable car station from Takaosanguchi Station on the Keio Takao Line
Mukojima-hyakkaen Garden (best time: early to mid-December)
This famous park, which name literally means “a garden with one hundred flowers,” has been charming visitors since its establishment in the Edo period.
8-minute walk from Higashi Mukojima Station on the Tobu Isesaki Line
Hamarikyu Garden (best time: mid-November to early December)
Hamarikyu is one of the most famous gardens from the Edo Period, nationally designated both a special scenic beauty spot and a special historic spot. Have a cup of maccha (green powdered tea) at Nakajima-no-ochaya (Nakajima tea house) while enjoying the beautiful colorful leaves.
7-minute walk from Shiodome Station or Tsukijishijo Station on the Oedo Subway Line
Tonogayato Garden (best time: late November to early December)
The red maple leaves amongst the green bamboo leaves create a beautiful forest passageway.
2-minute walk from Kokubunji Station on the JR Chuo Line/Seibu Line
Koishikawa Korakuen Garden (best time: late November to early December)
Koishikawa Korakuen is one of the famous gardens established in the Edo period. The design was influenced by a Chinese Confucian scholar so this park is filled with landscapes named after famous places in China. Enjoy the serene atmosphere of the park with its vivid red foliage.
2-minute walk from Iidabashi Station on the JR Chuo-Sobu Line/Subway Tozai, Yurakucho, and Namboku lines
Rikugien Garden (best time: late November to mid-December)
Flame-colored leaves cover this famous park in autumn. There is a light-up event at night.
7-minute walk from Komagome Station on the JR Yamanote Line/Subway Namboku Line
Otaguro Park (best time: early to mid-December)
The house of a famous music critic was renovated including its circuit-styled Japanese garden. The highlights are the rows of 90 year old gingko trees and the lit-up maple trees.
7-minute walk from Ogikubo Station on the JR Line
(1) Autumn foliage front
Japan’s autumn foliage season begins in Hokkaido in mountains over 3,000 meters in mid-September. The autumn foliage “front” descends day by the day, reaching the Pacific Coast in early December. Various media, such as TV news and websites, report the advance of the foliage front every year. Check it out to find when and where to see the best autumn foliage.
Japan Travel and Tourism Association
(2) History of momijigari
Tours to view autumn foliage are called “momijigari,” which literally means “autumn foliage hunting.” This term has been around for a long time, appearing in Japan’s famous classic literature Man-yoshu (The Anthology of Myriad Leaves), the oldest anthology of poetry, and in Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji), said to be the world’s first novel. There are some records from the Heian period (794-1185) of aristocrats enjoying the beauty of autumn foliage and writing poems. In the Edo period (1603-1867), momijigari became widely popular among ordinary citizens as well as local lords who traveled to famous spots for autumn foliage with their subordinates. Momijigari trips became even more popular in the Meiji period (1868-1912).
Excerpts from the Hyakunin Issyu (poetry anthology: One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each)
ちはやぶる神代もきかず竜田川 からくれなゐに水くくるとは 在原業平朝臣
Chihayaburu, kamiyo mo kikazu, tatsutagawa,
karakurenai ni, mizu kukuru toha
by Ariwara no Narihira Ason (#17)
The water of the Tatsuta River is glowing bright red with red maple leaves scattered all around. I have never heard of such a thing happening even in time immemorial when many mysterious things are said to have happened. It reminds me of the burning passion for each other that we used to have…
Note: When Narihira saw a screen with a picture of the Tatsuta River red with the leaves of maple trees, he was struck by the beauty and wrote this poem, referencing his forbidden love with a princess that he had to give up.
小倉山峰のもみぢ葉こころあらば 今ひとたびのみゆき待たなむ 貞信公
Ogurayama, mine no momijiba, kokoro araba,
ima hitotabi no, miyuki matanamu
by Teishinko (#26)
Dear maple leaves on the Mount Ogura, please do not fall before the Emperor comes, if you understand people’s feelings and reasoning…
奥山に紅葉ふみわけ鳴く鹿の 声きくときぞ秋はかなしき 猿丸太夫
Okuyama ni, momiji fumiwake, naku shika no,
koe kiku toki zo, aki ha kanashiki
by Sarumarudayu (#5)
Autumn is a season of loneliness. Sounds of a deer crying for his better half along with the sounds of stepping on a pile of autumn leaves deep in the mountain makes me feel really lonely…