Autumn in Japan
For most people, spring in Japan is the most iconic season of the year, but we can say that autumn is even more beautiful as the colors it’s more spectacular for a Japan Photo Tour. But when to see autumn colors in Japan?
Japan has four seasons with big differences, cherry blossoms in Japan, autumn with the fall foliage but also summers are hot and then you can enjoy lavender fields or beautiful landscapes of flowers, and of course, the winters where Japan is one of the snowiest countries in the world and you can enjoy incredible landscapes during this season.
As temperatures between the seasons, and especially from summer to autumn, have big differences, the colors of the leaves during the fall change into vibrant shades of orange, red, yellow, and brown. Making the landscapes perfect spots for photographers or painters.
When is fall in Japan? What is the best time to photograph the fall colors in Japan? Which are the best locations? This guide is thought to help the photographer to plan the perfect Momiji photo tour.
What does the name Momiji mean?
In Japan, the natural phenomenon has a particular name, and it’s called Koyo or Momiji (meaning red leaf). In the same way, the red leaf hunting activity gets the name of Momijigari.
The word Momijigari comes from two Japanese words: Momiji (紅葉) which means “red leaves” or “maple tree” and Kari (狩り), which means “hunting”.
A popular activity in the Japanese culture for centuries, that now tourists and especially photographers continue practicing.
How to say autumn in Japanese? The word for autumn is Aki (秋) which also means fall. The kanji symbol includes the characters 禾 (grain) and 火 (fire), so for Japanese the autumn means the grain of fire.
Maple leaves in Japanese culture
Before think about our photo tour, it’s good to know about the history of Momijigari. Popular since the Heian period (794-1195), it has had a profound influence on Japanese culture since the beginning of Japanese history. As a spiritual country, influenced by Buddhists, the fall foliage during autumn in Japan reminds us of the ephemeral of our lives, and the moments.
As in Canada, the maple leaf symbolizes a fall in Japanese culture and its use is widespread. Its referenced since the eighth-century, where the Manyoshu poetry already was writing about this phenomenon. Also during the classical Heian Period, in the famous novel ‘The Tale of the Genji’. It’s typical, as the cherry blossom, to find references about the Momiji in all kinds of Japanese cultural representations as kimonos, dishes or folding screens among others.
Also in the Japanese gastronomy, where you can find maple-shaped cakes during the fall, or even eat directly the leaves fried in tempura as a snack. Definitely an important season for the Japanese culture, that during this period you can enjoy not only with your eyes but also with all other senses.
Fall in Japan
To witness the Koyo, the best moment to see autumn colors in Japan, goes from early September to late December, according to the region. Also, the autumn colors of the fall, you can enjoy in many more places than the sakura, so the number of spots & locations for photography and the number of trees that will catch our attention as photographers are considerably bigger than in spring.
Like the sakura forecast 2021, the start of Autumn in Japan will be according to the weather. So, as much cold will be the summer, early will be the autumn in Japan.
The type of maple tree determines whether the leaves are red (Koyo), yellow (Oyo), or brown (katsuyo). Knowing this the landscape designers of the historical and present locations in Japan, created incredible parks and gardens that during this season became spectacular to photograph.
Autumn foliage season in Japan
According to the place you want to visit, you must be thinking about three main factors: the temperature, the latitude & the height. That means that in the north of Japan it will start sooner than in the south, also the same factor with the height, where fall will start early in the mountains. But as we said, also the temperature will modify every year the moment that fall will start, so each year you must be checking when start to become cold, so at this moment fall will start.
In general, Hokkaido is the first part of Japan where the autumn fall will start, around the middle of September. While in the main cities of central Japan usually, the best weeks are from the middle of November to the first week of December. These colors usually can be viewed between two weeks and more than one month. So to plan your photo travel, you must think before what do you want to visit, so at this moment you can choose the best weeks according to the location.
Where to see autumn colours in Japan
There really are no unfavorable places to enjoy the Momiji in Japan. From the big cities, where beautiful parks and streets turn into a show of colors to the amazing nature of the lost Japanese areas.
Here is our list of 10 best places to see autumn leaves in Japan during 2020 from South to North! As you can see, it’s a different list from the cherry blossom in Japan.
Daigoji is a large temple complex at the southeast of Kyoto, designated as a world heritage site. Here you will enjoy the autumn colors from the bottom where is located the main temple to the several temple buildings around the mountain. A very nice hiking trails to enjoy the Momiji and photograph this area during autumn in Japan.
- Estimated best viewing: Mid to late November
- How to get there: From Kyoto Station, take a JR train to Yamashina Station (5 minutes, 190 yen) and transfer to the Tozai Subway Line (8 minutes, 260 yen) to Daigo Station. From here you will have 10 minutes walk to the entrance.
Eikando Temple, Kyoto
A place to enjoy the fall colors during the day, but also during the evening when the illumination gives to the gardens a beautiful atmosphere. Along all the park, you will find numerous temples and pagodas. This way, your visit during autumn in Japan will be a perfect moment to capture incredible photographs.
- Estimated best viewing: Mid to late November
- How to get there: From Kyoto Station (Kyoto Ekimae bus stop), take bus number 5 to Nanzen-ji Eikandodo bus stop. You can also take the Tozai line (not covered by the JR Pass¨) to Keage station, which is a 20-minute walk away from Eikando Temple.
Our last spot in Kyoto (you can find many more places in the city) that we will recommend is the Arashiyama area. Here, you will enjoy the views of the mountains to small temples that during autumn get special colors. Another interesting option is to get a ride by boat at the Katsura River.
- Estimated best viewing: Late November to early December
- How to get there: Take the JR San-In or JR Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station. In 10 minutes walking, you can reach Katsura river.
Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Avenue, Tokyo
Filled of the ginkgo tree, is the official tree of Tokyo. You can find it all around Tokyo, but the most famous walk is on Ginkgo Avenue at Meiji-jingu Gaien Park. Enjoy the yellow colors of these trees during autumn to get amazing pics.
- Estimated best viewing: Late November to early December
- How to get there: The avenue is just 700 metres away from Shinanomachi Station, on the JR Chuo-Sobu line.
Rikugi Garden, Tokyo
Enjoy the Momiji even during the night at the Rikugi Garden. Also, the lakes along the park will reflect the autumn colors, offering you a perfect spot to capture beautiful photos. The entrance fee of ¥300, is a minimum charge for the show you will find here.
- Estimated best viewing: Mid November to early December
- How to get there: Walk 700 meters from the JR Komagome Station (Yamanote line).
Okunikko region, Nikko
Nikko is an indispensable visit during autumn in Japan. You can enjoy here the Japanese nature, and capture the Momiji during a long period because there is many different wide ranges from the mountains of the Okunikko region to the Nikko town area down in the valley.
If you arrive at early October, you will find in the high elevations. While if you visit in early November the best spots will be down the valley. Places like Lake Chuzenji or Ryuzu & Kegon Falls are a must-see visit in the area.
- Estimated best viewing: Late September to early November
- How to get there: We recommend visiting with a rental car, as you will find the best spots in the Okunikko region and there is no public transport.
Nara Park, Nara
Surrounded by beautiful temples and landmarks, this park offers you also the experience to photograph the deers that live in the area. The yellow colors during autumn will make your visit to Nara a unique experience that you can’t miss if you visit Kyoto & Osaka.
Don’t miss the visit to Todaiji Temple & Kasura Taisha. The first one is considered the world’s largest wooden building and is surrounded by many maple trees. The second one is decorated with thousands of stone lanterns and big trees that during autumn offer the best pics.
- Estimated best viewing: Mid November through late November.
- How to get to Nara Park: From Kintetsu Nara Station walk around 5 minutes, or from JR Nara Station about a 20 minutes walk.
Fuji Five Lakes
Enjoy the Momiji at Mt. Fuji is a must during your Japan travel in autumn. Lake Kawaguchiko offers you a perfect spots to frame this famous mountain with red leaves. Also in the area you can find few historical villages to complete your visit to Mt. Fuji.
- Estimated best viewing: Late October to mid November.
- How to get to Lake Kawaguchiko: Take the Fujikyu Railway from Otsuki Station at Tokyo (JR Chuo line) to Kawaguchiko Station. You also can reach by bus from Tokyo, Kofu, and Gotemba.
Oirase Stream, Aomori
If you are looking to find places in northeast Japan, we suggest you visit the Oirase Stream & Lake Towada. The largest crater lake in Japan & located in Aomori Prefecture will offer you beautiful hiking to photograph many waterfalls and scenic rapid in the forest.
- Estimated best viewing: mid to late October.
- How to get to Oirase Stream: Take the JR bus from Aomori or Hachinohe stations. From there, you’ll take the bus bound for Towada-ko. Get off at Yakeyama. Once there, you can easily walk to the trailhead for the Oirase Stream.
Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido
Another interesting hiking destination in the north is the Daisetsuzan National Park. Hokkaido will be the first place all around Japan where autumn colors will appear. Also, the unspoiled nature of the area makes this area a great spot for nature lovers.
- Estimated best viewing: mid September to mid October.
- How to get to Daisetsuzan National Park: Renting a car is the best way to see this National park.
Historical forecast to see autumn colours in Japan by region
Using the 2019 forecast (2020 will be ready soon), you can check the estimates data is based on average best viewing times from previous years. So it can help you to prepare your photo tour, as it helps us every year to prepare our Japan Photo Tour.
Check this report often for further updates to the fall colors 2020 forecast.
Forecast for red leaves viewing dates
|Location||Forecast for red leaves||Average date for red leaves|
Forecast for yellow leaves viewing dates
|Location||Forecast for yellow leaves||Average date for yellow leaves|
Hope this post helps you to prepare your travel to see autumn colors in Japan. If you want to join us during any of our Japan photo tours, we will be glad to show you this beautiful country. During autumn you will be able to visit & photograph places as Mount Fuji, Nikko valley, Kyoto, Koyasan & Tokyo during the best weeks to photograph the fall in Japan.
If you are planning to visit yourself in Japan, we highly recommend you do some private excursions. With the help of any private guide in Japan your trip will be more comfortable.