A lot of people would say that spring is the best time to travel to Japan, since it lets you avoid the country’s biting winter cold and sweltering summer heat. But really, you can get that same comfortable, sightseeing-conducive weather in autumn too.
Granted, coming in autumn means you’ll miss the cherry blossoms, but you’ll be right on time for Japan’s dazzling fall colors. Even better, Japan’s crimson foliage offers a longer viewing window than the cherry blossoms, meaning you don’t have to plan your trip so precisely in order to enjoy the scenery.
Of course, once you’ve decided to travel in Japan during the fall, the next step is to pick your specific destination, and to help with that Japanese travel site Jalan polled 533 of its users and put together this list of the top 10 spots to see the fall colors in Japan.
10. Korankei Gorge (best viewing period: mid-November to early December)
A doable day trip from Nagoya, Korankei is famous for the maple leaves lining the hiking paths through the foothills of nearby Mt Iimori.
9. Meiji no Mori Mino Quasi-National Park (mid-November to early December)
Don’t let the anticlimactic-sounding “quasi” qualifier fool you. This Osaka nature park has hiking trails that climb high mountains, multiple Buddhist temples, and the breathtaking 33-meter (108-foot) Mino Waterfall, seen above.
8. Metasequoia Road (early November to early December)
Japan has a number of paths lined with the trees also known as dawn redwoods, but this particular one is located in Shiga Prefecture and stretches for 2.4 kilometers along the access road to the Makino Highland outdoor leisure area in the town of Takashima.
6 (tie). Hitachi Seaside Park (mid-October)
While maples are the first thing to come to mind when imagining beautiful fall foliage, this sprawling park in Ibaraki Prefecture is famous for its hills covered in kochia shrubs, which we visited for ourselves not long ago. Though they’re green for most of the year, during the fall they turn an otherworldly crimson, making a visit to the park an extremely rewarding day trip from Tokyo (and the park is gorgeous in a whole other way in the spring).
6 (tie). Naruko Gorge (late October to early November)
Miyagi Prefecture’s Sendai would be the urban staging base for a foray into Naruko. Once there, travelers are split as to whether the best option is to see things from ground level by strolling along the Ofukazawa Waking Trail or from the trains that run across dizzyingly high bridges over the valley, but the view is beautiful enough that you really can’t go wrong either way.
5. Kokoen Garden (mid to late November)
Hyogo Prefecture’s immaculately preserved Himeji Castle is often called Japan’s finest standing samurai stronghold, but make sure to also leave some room on your itinerary for Kokoen, a garden located just a few minutes’ walk from the castle’s gate. Kokoen makes use of the Japanese garden design concept of “borrowed scenery,” and the grounds are laid out in a way so that Himeji Castle can often be seen lying in the background of the red leaves.
4. Sumata Gorge (early November to late November)
highlight of a hike through this wooded river valley in Shizuoka Prefecture is the part where you cross the Yume no Tsuribashi, or “Suspension Bridge of Dreams.” As always when crossing a swaying suspension bridge, it’s best for your nerves not to look down, so it’s nice to have all the pretty autumn trees to keep your eyes focused straight ahead.
3. Maple Tunnel (early November to mid-November)
Like with the Metasequoia Road mentioned above, we’ll need to get a little more specific as to which maple tunnel took the number-three spot. It’s the one in the Fujikawaguchiko district of Minamitsuru in Yamanashi Prefecture. If the only part of that geography that rings a bell is “Fuji,” that’s because the arching maple trees are on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi, with Mt Fuji standing majestically past the opposite shoreline.
2. Tsutanuma (mid-October to late October)
Some call Tsutanuma a lake. Others dub the Aomori Prefecture body of water with a one-kilometer circumference a mere pond. Semantics aside, it’s large (and calm) enough that the water forms a perfect reflecting mirror, making it seem like the entire world has been dyed vermillion.
1. Byodoin Temple (early November to late November)
Taking the top spot in the poll was Byodoin. Ironically, this beloved Kyoto travel destination is actually something that Japanese people see almost every time they buy a drink out of a vending machine, since it’s pictured on one side of the 10-yen coin.
But no matter how many times you’ve seen Byodoin in currency form, you haven’t really seen it until you visit the actual site in the town of Uji. While Byodoin is stunning in any season, it’s especially so in fall, when the leaves change color just enough to match the hue of the building’s vibrantly painted timbers.
And if you somehow get tired of seeing all those reds, oranges, and yellows, you’ll still be in luck, since Uji is where Japan’s best matcha is grown, meaning the town is also full of cafes with menus full of green tea desserts.
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