Traveling to the culturally rich destination of Japan is fantastic any time of year. Fall, however, is perhaps the most magical season. Cooler, sunny weather paired with gorgeous foliage (“Koyo” in Japanese) creates ideal conditions for exploring this East Asian archipelago. Enjoy visiting major points of interest and natural attractions in the comfortable, less humid weather that autumn brings.
Wander through forests turning crimson, orange and gold, indulge in seasonal fare, soak in traditional onsen hot spring baths, and relish the fading of the summer crowds in the Land of the Rising Sun. Fall seems to linger in Japan as well, providing a wider window for traveling during this picturesque season.
From beautiful coloring in Tokyo’s gardens to foliage-backed temples in the northern city of Aomori, the fall season in Japan is a true work of art. Discover 10 incredible reasons why fall in Japan is the best time to visit this alluring destination.
With cooler temperatures and leaves of gorgeous autumnal hues, the weather is the perfect reason to visit Japan in the fall. Camera in hand, capture some of the most famous sites amid dazzling colorful scenery. Although the weather conditions can vary geographically in this long, skinny country, fall is the one time of year where the temperature is generally favorable anywhere you go. Leaf transformations start in the north, working its way down to the southern region.
Stroll Yokohama’s striking Sankeien Gardens, just outside of Tokyo. A spectrum of autumn-infused colors frames the historic structures from all over Japan that now reside within the gardens. Marvel at the impressive pagoda that stretches three stories high. Wander along winding pathways past ponds and ornamental flower beds, the sound of birdsong in the trees.
Fall in Japan is the start of “Koyo” (foliage) or “Momiji-gari,” meaning “hunting red leaves.” Crimson-colored maple trees, yellow and brown ginkgo, chestnut, oak, beech, Japanese elms, and poplars dot the landscape, filling every scene with vibrant color.
Onuma Park in Hakodate is a prime example of fall’s splendor in Japan. Walk, cycle, or canoe while taking in the rich foliage. Stroll over the park’s 18 ornamental bridges, admiring the autumn vistas reflecting in the serene lake.
Although spring’s famous cherry blossom season is an extremely popular time to visit, it’s also very busy. You’ll avoid some of those crowds while still experiencing colorful scenery during autumn. Enjoy a little more elbow room at popular attractions like the Mt. Fuji region, Nara Park, and Kyoto’s famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Of course, some well-known spots such as Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing will always be busy. In the case of the famous neon-lit intersection, the crowds are what gives it such vibrancy and buzz.
Discover awe-inspiring fall scenery around Japan’s iconic volcano and the Fuji Five Lakes, situated at the base of the mountain’s northern slopes. This is a perfect spot for museums, hot springs, and hiking through forests of dazzling color, with magnificent mountain views.
For another superb lakeside view of Mt. Fuji, venture to Lake Ashinoko in Hakone. Admire the conical, snow-capped volcano, its lower slopes swathed in crimson and amber, from the shores of this caldera lake. Other highlights include Hakone Shrine—one of the best torii gates in Japan—and Imperial Palace, both of which can be seen during a leisurely boat ride or from trails within the Onshi Hakone Park.
Cultural Events and Festivals
One of the top reasons to experience the fall season in Japan is for the many cultural events and festivals that occur during the cooler and less humid autumn months. October and November are filled with celebrations tied to Japan’s rich culture, embracing centuries of history and showing off traditional costumes, rituals, and dances. Whatever region you choose to visit, there’s something exciting going on in the fall.
Celebrate the autumn harvest Japanese style; Kyoto’s Zuiki Festival gives thanks with an elaborate procession of handmade portable shrines featuring scenes from cultural legends. Kyoto’s most theatrical parade is the Kurama Fire Festival, where locals bearing flaming torches and dressed in traditional warrior garb parade up to the Yuki-jinja Shrine to welcome the spirits, culminating in a huge bonfire.
On Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, you’ll be enchanted by the city of Hakodate’s autumn leaves festival. Known as “MOMI-G Festa,” this fall fest pays homage to this gorgeous season in the city’s parks and gardens, offering fabulous leaf-peeping opportunities along tree-lined walkways to live music. Time your visit from the end of October into early November.
Visiting the island of Okinawa in October may just give you the chance to witness one of the region’s most popular and thrilling events. The Naha Great Tug-of-War Festival, which dates back to the 17th century occurs the second weekend of the month and is quite the sight.
Thousands of participants pack the streets to tug on a mammoth rice straw rope that stretches approximately 650 feet and weighs 43 tons.
The autumn culinary scene is one of the top reasons to visit Japan in the fall. You’ll find seasonal dishes and treats that truly shine during this time of year. Persimmons, or “kaki,” are a staple in Japanese cuisine within the fall months.
The vibrant, orange fruit can be eaten fresh or dried, making the perfect healthy snack. Another fall gastronomy highlight is “kuri,” or chestnuts, usually served warm. They’re also used within desserts as well.
Make sure to try one of the most popular autumn culinary delights when visiting Japan. Matsutake mushrooms (pine mushrooms) are considered a delicacy, harvested in the fall months. Savor their taste in mushroom soup or enjoy them grilled, or even just steamed with rice.
The Japanese sweet potato, or “yakiimo,” is another classic signifying autumn in Japan. It’s thought to provide the ultimate warmth and comfort and is usually eaten with butter and salt.
The Pacific saury fish is served for similar reasons; it’s fatty, tasty, and considered comforting as the seasons change.
Fall in Japan is a pure photographer’s paradise. Landscapes adorned with beautiful foliage, exotic temples framed by autumnal hues, and clear light create endless opportunities for capturing amazing images.
Visit one of the country’s most celebrated castles in the Aomori Prefecture. Built in the early 1600s, the iconic Hirosaki Castle is a much-photographed Japanese landmark in the spring, swathed in pink cherry blossoms. However, vibrant reds, oranges, and ochre in the fall make for an equally dazzling setting.
Venture to the Yamaguchi Prefecture, where you’ll find the impressively crafted Kintaikyo Bridge, located just south of Hiroshima, in Iwakuni. The historic wooden bridge consists of five arches and crosses over the Nishiki River, connecting to Kikko Park.
This is a popular place for photographers, particularly in the fall months at sunrise or sunset when the soft light appears to make the foliage glow.
Another Japanese destination perfect for fall photography is Nara Park, just south of Kyoto. Here, you’ll discover numerous photo ops, including the Todaiji and Kohfukuji Temples and the Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
Among these architectural treasures, you’ll spot deer, considered sacred to Japanese culture, roaming around. Nara is already a magical place, but add in gorgeous fall foliage and it’s a photographer’s dream.
Ideal Hiking Conditions
Crisp and cool autumn weather all over the country creates favorable conditions for outdoor activities, especially for hiking in Japan’s rich wilderness. For example, visit the Shiraito Falls near Mt. Fuji, considered one of Japan’s most beautiful cascades.
The series of thin, silvery streams, originating from Mt. Fuji’s snow, will have you feeling like you’ve stepped into the pages of a fairytale. Fall coloring only amplifies the waterfall’s beauty, with reds and golds highlighting the scenery.
Marvel at the wondrous Yabakei Gorge, an exquisite natural playground located approximately an hour from the city of Beppu in southern Japan. Enjoy leaf-peeping along hiking and cycling trails throughout the gorge, carved by the Yamakuni River.
Impressive rock formations, soaring cliffs, and mysterious caves dating back more than two million years are just some of the Yabakei highlights. Cultural sites with a storied history such as the stone Yabakei Bridge, Rakan-ji temple, and the Kaiseki-en Garden are also yours to explore.
For one of the country’s most striking vistas, make sure to stop at the famed Hitomi Hakkei, meaning “eight views in one glance”, in the Oku Yaba valley, where trees twist around sheer-sided, jagged rock pillars of the surrounding Japanese mountains.
Discover another natural wonder with a hike to Kobe’s gorgeous Nunobiki Falls. Known as “divine falls,” this set of cascades has inspired Japanese art and literature. They can be enjoyed with a tram ride on the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway, or by a short trek.
Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with not only views of the falls, but also a sprawling vista of the city of Kobe. Autumn hiking is one of the top reasons that fall in Japan is incredible.
Read: Best Hikes in Japan
Japan is known for its onsen, or hot spring spas. The best time of year to enjoy these relaxing pools is the cool autumn months when the warm, healing waters are most inviting in the crisp air. Observing foliage colors from the comfort of outdoor onsen baths will easily be one of the highlights of your trip to Japan.
Relax at Ibusuki Onsen, a unique spa experience by the sea, about an hour from the city of Kagoshima. Allow yourself to unwind in a warm lava sand bath (“sunamushi”) on one of Japan’s best beaches, or choose the more traditional outdoor hot springs.
Hokkaido is known for having many popular onsen baths as well. One of the most well-known is Nonoribetsu, featuring 11 different hot springs with varying mineral properties.
Islands off of mainland Japan are known for their idyllic beaches, lush rainforests, and vibrant marine life. Destinations such as Okinawa and Ishigaki are popular during the summer months, so autumn can be the optimal time to enjoy exploring them with fewer crowds, and in more temperate weather. This is the perfect time to connect with the outer islands’ stunning natural beauty.
Ishigaki in the Yaeyama islands generally stays warm and sunny into October before cooling down at the end of the month. Venture around Kabira Bay where you can discover colorful coral gardens from glass-bottomed boats. For a different vantage point of this photogenic bay, walk to the hilltop observation point where you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of turquoise waters and surrounding islands.
Admire stunning coral cliffs at Okinawa’s Cape Manzamo, situated on the island’s western coast and part of Okinawa Kaigan Quasi-National Park.
See if you can spot the elephant shape in the rock formations and stand in awe at the panoramic vista stretching over the East China Sea as the powerful waves crash below. Stargazing in the autumn months is also spectacular on the island of Okinawa.
Read: Best Beaches in Okinawa
Blooming Seasonal Flowers
Trees aren’t the only autumnal stars in Japan. Although they produce a wonderful spectrum of leaves to view, many beautiful flowers also come into bloom, among them chrysanthemum, spider lily, and cosmos flowers, signifying the change in season.
This makes the traditional Japanese gardens feel particularly enchanted. Visiting places such as Kyoto’s Osaka Castle is a chance to discover a diverse collection of flora, from dianthus, bellflower, arrowroot, bush clover to Japanese pampas grass.
The pampas grass is known to have a particularly dazzling effect, with shimmering gold and silver hues highlighted by the sun. Near Mt. Fuji, in Hakone, the Sengokuhara Pampas Grass Field is one of the most famous spots to visit in the fall. Fields of this rippling grass create a brilliant effect that shouldn’t be missed.
Discover why Japan is known for its enchanting autumn season. From stunning foliage and seasonal foods, perfect temperatures, and a rich cultural scene, a fall trip to Japan is sure to be a memorable one.
A cruise is a terrific way to experience all the joys of fall in Japan. Browse our luxury cruises to Japan and plan your vacation today.