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Where to best experience Japan's autumn foliage

Autumn in Japan lasts from September to November, when fiery blends of yellow, orange and red leaves bring the parks and rural areas of Japan alive. Known as koyo, the colourful autumn foliage is as popular as the spring cherry blossoms, with more strongly contrasting seasons here in Japan, than virtually anywhere else. You’ll find infinite opportunities for eye-watering photo opportunities throughout your autumn journey.

Vie for the best viewing spot and drink in beguiling vistas all across Japan, as the trees slowly change colour. From mid-September it appears an artist has gone crazy with their oil paints, leaving liberal splashes of cadmium everywhere you look. In appreciation of this fabulous natural artwork, visitors throng to their favourite spots to appreciate the koyo.

The best places to go for some serious leaf peeping opportunities, are higher in the north, where the climate is cooler. Autumn plays a huge part in Japan’s culture and is celebrated enthusiastically by young and old through their cuisine and festivals. There’s good news too as the autumn colours last a little longer than the delicate flowers in spring.

See below for some suggestions for popular destinations to view the autumn leaves and the approximate best time of year to visit.

Fuji Five Lakes

Best time to go: Late October to mid-November

For eye-popping iconic views of Mount Fuji framed by golden autumn foliage, take a trip to Fuji Five Lakes.  The shores of Lake Kawaguchiko are a great place to admire the colourful trees. Or Hakone, for even more impressive shades of yellow, orange and red on your picturesque autumn visit. No trip to Tokyo would be complete without a trip to Hakone and as well as its beguiling autumn foliage you can explore gardens, temples, a lake and museum while you’re there.

Lake Chuzenji, Tohoku

Best time to go: Late September to early November

Walkers and hikers will love Lake Chuzenji. Located 1,269 metres above sea level, this is Japan’s highest lake. The best way to enjoy the abundant natural charms of the Lake Chuzenji area is to walk the lovely hiking trails on the lakeside. For a more leisurely viewing, take a boat trip along the river to see the autumn colours emanating from the beech, lacquer and maple trees reflected in the shimmering lake.

Nikko

Best time to go: Early October to mid-November

A big shout out to Nikko for being one of the best places to see Japan’s autumn foliage. An easy and enjoyable day out, you can reach Nikko in about two hours using Tokyo’s high-speed efficient train system. What’s more, Nikko has a stunning temple and is also the resting place of a famous shogun. Spend time in the lovely national park, kicking up the autumn leaves and exploring the nearby forests around the aforementioned Lake Chuzenji. Or why not drink tea and indulge in an onsen at the hot spring town of Yumoto Onsen? What could be better on a crisp autumn day?

Hokkaido

Best time to go: Mid to late September

Fall in love with dramatic mountain scenery in Daisetsuzan National Park. The lesser known, wilder northern island of Hokkaido is first to burst into an absolute riot of colour. An area that is well known for its mountains, volcanoes, lakes and springs - adventure seekers can hike through amazing scenery to Mount Asahidake, Ginsendai or Kogen Onsen for a memorable and really spectacular show of colour. Or if you prefer to keep your feet on lower ground, seek out Sounkyo which is equally glorious early to mid-October.

Ozegahara

Best time to go: Late September to mid-October

The national park of Oze is only 100 kilometres from Tokyo and easily reached by train for a genuine red-carpet experience.  This is the place to go to see something completely different and is an area very popular with walkers and hikers. Instead of looking up, here in Oze you’ll be gazing down in admiration at the sumptuous red carpet of grass that can be seen here in Autumn.  Get on the VIP list and see for yourself the kusamomiji ‘autumn grass’ laid out before you, with a backdrop of mountains and lush greenery.

Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route

Best time to go: Late September to early November

If you fancy something a little different on your Japan travels, this might well be just the ticket. In fact, four tickets, because to get there you’ll be travelling on trains, cable cars, buses and ropeways!  The koyo on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route is well worth the effort and you’ll have fun getting there too. The Alpen Route links Toyoma City with Omachi Town and you’ll see a vast range of eye-popping autumn colours along the different elevations in the lovely northern Japan Alps.

Lake Towada and Oirase Stream

Best time to go: Late October to early November

For one of Japan’s most famous autumn leaf viewing spots, travel up north to the invitingly beautiful region of Lake Towada, close to the Hachimantai Mountains. Fall colours are at their most magnificent here and at nearby Oirase Stream and well worth a visit if you’re looking for great autumn vistas.

Shosenkyo Gorge

Best time to go: Late October to mid-November

Be pleasantly lured away from the city of Tokyo to Shosenkyo Gorge for lustrous autumn leaves. Japan's most beautiful gorge is a beguiling and spectacular sight during the autumn leaf viewing season. You’ll be treated to vibrant hues, especially when the narrow gorge is lit up in the evenings. Just two hours by car or four by train from Tokyo; Shosenkyo Gorge is part of the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park and it covers an area with vast forested mountains, valleys and little rural villages.  Hike along Arakawa River from the Nagatoro Bridge to the 30 metre-high Sengataki Waterfall. Stop for souvenirs and refreshments in the little village just above the waterfall and take the cable car up to the panoramic viewing deck for sublime views of Mt Fuji and the fabulous autumn foliage.

Korankei Valley, Chubu

Best time to go: Mid to late November

Marvel at the Maple trees in the Korankei Valley near Nagoya. The perfect little spot for viewing autumn colours when you’re out and about in the Chubu Region in central Japan.  The walking trails are covered with hundreds of these beautiful trees, around Mt Limori and along the Tomoe River.  Pack a tasty picnic and head to Taigetsukyo Bridge for the best photos. A perfect reminder of your wonderful holiday in Japan and the spectacular autumn foliage. Why not visit a workshop in a nearby traditional village while you’re there? You can make your own Japanese handicrafts and make some bamboo decorations, warazori (straw sandals) or washi (Japanese paper) postcards.

Kyoto

Best time to go: Mid November to early December

The colour chart in Kyoto is off the scale, which is why it’s one of the most popular places in Japan to admire the autumn leaves. Visit the parks, temples, shrines and gardens at night, when the trees are lit up and you can really appreciate the full colour spectrum. Kyoto is known as the “City of Ten Thousand Temples” so you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to seeking out somewhere to go.  Bursting with culture and a rich heritage, Kyoto should be top of your list when looking for somewhere to go in Autumn or indeed at any time of the year.

Tokyo

Best time to go: Late November to early December

A thrilling city that should already be high on your wish list. Choose to visit in the autumn months though and you’ll have the best of all worlds. Get your fill of cosmopolitan city chic and some hi-tech exploration and then relax in the stunning parks and surrounding areas, to view the colourful autumn leaves. Take a stroll on the famous Gingko Avenue, lined with gingko trees every shade of yellow, orange and red. If you head out of the city to Mount Takao you can see autumn’s colour show a little earlier around mid-November.

Rikugien Gardens, Tokyo

Best time to go: Late November to early December

Beautiful at any time of the year, enjoy some hot tea in the tea house at Rikugien Gardens in Tokyo and while away a few hours enjoying the Japanese landscaped gardens.  The autumn foliage from the maple trees are a stunning sight and if you’re there during peak koyo season, you’ll be treated to evening illuminations of the trees. Why not go during the day and back again in the evening? Togetsukyo Bridge, the Fujishirotoge viewpoint, and the stream running by the tea house are perfect spots to get some superb photos of the autumn leaves.


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