Autumn Colors: Popular Spots & Hidden Gems
Autumn in Japan is magical.
The light has a golden quality that makes everything sparkle and Japanese maple trees seem to set the whole country aflame. Finally, the summer heat dissolves and everything slows down.
The Art of Travel wants to share some of our favorite spots to enjoy the autumn colors. We’ve divided these into two categories: famous destinations and hidden local favorites. Both offer thrilling views, but may suit different travels in unique ways. Read on for more info.
Japan’s Top Famous Autumn Spots
For the Whole Family: Miyajima
The sun sets over slopes of multicolored trees, lighting up Itsukushima Shrine’s famous ‘floating’ Torii Gate. At that exact moment a deer appears. This is autumn on Miyajima Island. The island, located near Hiroshima, is a fantastic place to visit with children. Friendly deer roam the streets, always willing to be fed and petted, and there are plenty of activities to keep the whole family happy. For an easy walk we recommend Momijidani Park or ‘Maple Valley Park’. As the name suggests, it is filled with maple trees that turn crimson in autumn. For stunning views, particularly at sunset, take the cable car (or hike if you are feeling brave) to the top of Mount Misen. Here you’ll find the Miyajima Misen Observatory, designed by the famous architect Hiroshi Sambuichi, with fantastic views of the Hiroshima bay. You may even run into some monkeys!
Best time to visit: Mid-November
Highlight: The view from Mount Misen at sunset
For Culture Afficionados: Kiyomizudera, Kyoto
Kyoto is incredible in every season, and autumn is certainly no exception. Almost all of Kyoto’s temples become beacons of color as their gardens and surroundings display spectacular foliage. Eikando Temple, Tofukuji Temple, and Kiyomizudera are our top temple picks for the autumn months. The Art of Travel recommends Kiyomizudera in particular. It is one of Kyoto’s signature World Heritage sites and offers sweeping views of the city against a colorful backdrop. The trees around the temple’s large wooded stages turn a deep red in autumn, and the entire grounds are illuminated at night to showcase the stunning foliage. Although Kyoto can get extremely busy during autumn, The Art of Travel can arrange an exclusive private tour of Kiyomizudera to ensure that you get the most out of your visit.
Best time to visit: Late November to early December
Highlight: The Art of Travel’s exclusive private visit of Kiyomizudera
For Urban Travelers: Icho Namiki Avenue, Tokyo
If you prefer a more urban approach to autumn, there is no better place than Tokyo. Icho Namiki (Ginkgo Avenue), located in Tokyo’s trendy Aoyama neighborhood, is the place to go for some autumn color in the middle of the city. The wide avenue of gingko trees becomes flamboyantly yellow, and when the sunlight hits just right it seems the entire world is golden. If you prefer to experience autumn in a garden setting, the Koishikawa Korakuen Garden is excellent. One of Tokyo’s oldest and most impressive Japanese garden, there are plenty of opportunities to admire the foliage around its many ponds. Mount Takao is also a good option for travelers looking for a short day-trip from the city.
Best time to visit: Late November to early December
Highlight: The avenue of gingko trees right in the city center.
For Those Who Like It Busy: Nikko
Nikko is one of Japan’s best-known autumn destinations. With its proximity to Tokyo, and array of breathtaking natural scenery, it is easy to understand why. From gushing waterfalls and crystal lakes to marshlands of splendid color, Nikko is truly an autumn wonderland. This does mean that it can get very busy, particularly during peak season in October. Expect traffic jams and limited availability if you plan to spend the night. If you don’t mind a more crowded autumn experience, you are sure to be rewarded with dazzling scenic beauty.
Best time to visit: Early October to mid-November
Highlight: The colors around Kegon Waterfall
For Fuji fans: Lake Kawaguchi
If you are looking for the most photogenic spot in all of Japan, this might be it: the sparkling Lake Kawaguchi with Mount Fuji framed in vivid red and yellow foliage in the background. Autumn is the ideal time to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji. Good weather and poignant colors act as the perfect backdrop for the majestic mountain. Lake Kawaguchi also hosts an Autumn Festival in November, featuring a corridor of maple trees and nighttime illuminations.
Best time to visit: Late October to mid-November
Highlight: The view of Mount Fuji from the lake
Japan’s Best Hidden Autumn Spots
For Nature Lovers: Jozankei Onsen, Hokkaido
From dense forest foliage to winding mountain streams, this small onsen town is the perfect option for untouched autumn beauty. Jozankei Onsen is situated along the Toyohira river, approximately an hour’s drive from Sapporo. Here you’ll find bubbling hot springs overlooking vast expanses of crimson and amber. With many walking trails and nature activities on offer, this is our top recommendation for nature-lovers and thrill-seekers alike.
Best time to visit: Late September to mid-October
Highlight: The kayak tour down the Toyohira river
For Art Enthusiasts: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture
Kanazawa is a city for art-lovers. This is reflected in the very fabric of the city, from its workshops and galleries to its streets and gardens. Kanazawa’s geisha districts seem fixed in time as the autumn sunlight gently warms the dark wood of the surrounding traditional houses. Nearby, the Kenrokuen Garden’s delicate nature is transformed by the bright colors reflected in its tranquil pond. Art enthusiasts will also appreciate the way the complex colors of the gold-leaf and lacquerware, crafts that Kanazawa is famous for, seem in perfect harmony with the golds and deep reds of the changing leaves. We recommend visiting during the KOGEI Art Fair Kanazawa (November 16th to November 18th, 2018) to make the most of both the autumn foliage and the city’s vibrant arts and crafts scene.
Best time to visit: Mid-November to early December
Highlight: KOGEI Art Fair Kanazawa in November
For Hikers: Mount Daisen, Tottori Prefecture
The volcanic Mount Daisen is home to Chugoku region’s highest peak at 1709m. This makes it the ideal place to gaze upon the spectrum of autumnal vegetation in the valleys below. If you are brave enough to climb the four kilometers of steep stairs to get to Mount Daisen’s peak, you will be amazed by the patchwork blanket of vermillion and amber trees spread out before you. The hike itself is strenuous but scenic. You will first pass through a thick beech forest with leaves crunching underfoot, before emerging halfway up the mountain to panoramic views surrounded by tall grasses and alpine flowers. There are also plenty of other hikes in the area and some impressive temples to visit.
Best time to visit: Late October to early November
Highlight: The view from the top of Mount Daisen at dawn.
For Road-Trip Fans: The Venus Line, Nagano
The Venus line is a 90km scenic road connecting the sprawling highlands of central Nagano. Known as one of Japan’s most beautiful drives, it is made up of a winding succession of wetlands, plateaus, wooded groves, rivers and waterfalls. In autumn, the road offers breathtaking views of changing leaves, with a rich variety of landscapes on offer. The road also passes the Utsukushigahara open-air art museum, a sculpture park of over 350 large-scale art installations arranged on a grassy plain. In the autumn months, the plain comes alive with multicolored hues, adding a new dimension to the impressive sculptures.
Best time to visit: Mid-October to Mid-November
Highlight: The open-air art museum in autumn foliage
For the Ultimate Autumn Experience: Oirase Stream
It is no secret that Tohoku, Honshu island’s northern region, is The Art of Travel’s top pick for fabulous autumn destinations. Oirase Stream in particular showcases the best of autumn. The 14-km mountain stream, surrounded by lush forest and known for its waterfalls, is ideal for nature-lovers and comfort-seekers alike. With luxury accommodation options, wonderful onsen, hiking trails, and plenty of culture and history, this is a wonderful autumn destination for any type of traveler.
Best time to visit: Late October
Highlight: Moss-hunting along the stream’s lush banks.
The Art of Travel is ready to create a special custom itinerary for your autumn adventure that includes some of the memorable locations listed above. Contact us to begin your seasonal journey.