Lake Towada, autumn leaves
Photo: Minchun Chen/DreamstimeLake Towada in Aomori in autumn

12 most beautiful autumn destinations in Japan: from Kyoto to Aomori

Leaf Tokyo for these lakes, temples and forests, where you'll find some of Japan's most spectacular autumn foliage

Kaila Imada
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Aside from the ever-popular cherry blossom season, autumn in Japan is easily one of the best times to travel the country. The changing autumn colours, locally known as koyo, is highly anticipated, with annual forecasts predicting when the leaves will change from green to stunning shades of yellow, gold and red. 

Thankfully, there is ample time to enjoy this seasonal spectacle as temperatures vary throughout the country. This means you’ll be able to catch the leaves anytime from the end of September through to December. From the temples of Kyoto to the mountains in Hokkaido, keep these gorgeous destinations in your list if you want to see the best of Japanese autumn.

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Hello autumn

Kyoto, Kyoto

If you only have time to visit one place in autumn, Kyoto is your best bet. Japan’s cultural capital is home to some of the country’s most famous koyo spots including the picturesque Ruriko-in Temple, where the garden’s autumn scenery can be seen reflected on a polished black laquered table. Although Arashiyama is most popular for its bamboo forest, this countryside neighbourhood also offers beautiful autumn leaves on its forested mountains along the river. 

Kyoto’s temples are undoubtedly the highlight of the autumn season. You can catch gorgeous foliage at many temples including Tofukuji Temple, Kiyomizudera and Eikando. The peak time to visit Kyoto is usually from mid-November through early December.

Kurobe Gorge, Toyama

This lush ravine in the Northern Japanese Alps is one of the deepest gorges in the country. The area is most famous for the Kurobe Gorge Railway, which runs for 20km through the mountainous terrain with several stops along the way to enjoy panoramic views of nature. It’s a wonderful spot to visit come autumn, especially between late October and mid-November.

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Naruko Gorge, Miyagi

This jaw-dropping gorge in the north-western part of Miyagi prefecture is one of top natural attractions in the Tohoku region. From late October to early November, the trees here blush in  shades of gold and auburn. To get the best views, head to the Narukokyo Resthouse, where you can see the famous Ofukazawa Bridge from the observation deck. To immerse yourself in the gorgeous surroundings, take a stroll along the Naruko Gorge Walking Trail to the bottom of the gorge.

Minoo Falls, Osaka

Looking for a waterfall against a backdrop of autumn foliage? Minoo Falls in Osaka checks all the right boxes. The 33m-high waterfall is easily reached via a leisurely 45-minute trek at Minoo Park. Along the trail you'll pass a handful of local shops and temples, which add to the area's charm. A must-try speciality in autumn is the momiji leaf tempura sold at some shops in the park. To catch the autumn colours at their best, plan your visit around mid- to late November.

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Jozankei Onsen, Hokkaido

This charming onsen town in western Hokkaido is a favourite destination among koyo seekers. The view of the resort town is particularly memorable around this time of the year, as the area surrounding Hoheikyo Dam and the famous red Futami Suspension Bridge is awash with colourful foliage. For an aerial vantage point, ride the gondola at Sapporo International Ski Resort and see the blushing leaves from above. The best time to visit Jozankei Onsen is from early to mid-October.

Mikuni Pass, Hokkaido

The Mikuni Pass in Kamishihoro, which runs along National Route 273, sits at a staggering 1,139m above sea level. From this height, you’ll be afforded with some of the best views of autumn in Hokkaido from late-September to mid-October. The scenic drive cuts through Daisetsuzan National Park, where you’ll also find an abundance of trees which change colours as the weather cools. The best time to visit is between September and October, and there are free parking lots and lookout points along the way for you to take in the views.

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Lake Towada, Aomori

The largest caldera lake on Japan’s Honshu island is a sight to behold come autumn. Since the weather tends to be cooler up north in Aomori, the trees here tend to change their colours slightly earlier than their southern counterparts, with peak season usually around mid- to late-October. The shores are populated by beech trees, which turn bright yellow, and momiji maple trees, which are known for their vermillion shades. The thing that makes this scenic spot truly spectacular is the reflection of Mt Towada and its seasonal foliage on the lake’s still surface.

Nikko, Tochigi

Just north of Tokyo, Nikko feels like a mini Kyoto with its Unesco World Heritage-listed temples and picturesque nature, especially in autumn. There are many spots to take in the scenery but the Shinkyo Bridge and Ryuzu Falls offer some of the best photo ops. 

Shinkyo Bridge sits near the entrance to Nikko’s main shrines and temples. Its vibrant red colour matches perfectly with the seasonal vermillion foliage. Ryuzu Falls, otherwise also known as Dragon’s Head Waterfall, is part of Yukawa River and flows into Lake Chuzenji. In autumn, the leaves here turn shades of gold, orange and red, giving the waterfall a dragon-like appearance. The peak season for autumn leaves in Nikko usually runs from early October to early November.

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Nara Park, Nara

Nara Park is so extensive that you could spend an entire day trekking the grounds taking in all the autumn foliage. A particularly notable spot is the immediate area surrounding Todaiji Temple, which is populated by red momiji maple trees, brilliant yellow ginkgo and of course, the famous bowing deer. In the middle of Nara Park you’ll come across Ukimido, a beautiful wooden pavilion that looks as if it's floating on the pond. This special site is especially scenic in autumn as the colourful foliage reflects on the pond’s surface, creating an arresting optical illusion. Peak season in Nara roughly stretches from mid-November through December.

Lake Kawaguchiko, Yamanashi

Nothing screams ‘Japan’ more than a photo of Mt Fuji surrounded by beautiful autumn leaves. While any of the Fuji five lakes is a good spot to catch the seasonal foliage, Lake Kawaguchiko is especially stunning. The lake offers two vantage points: the Momiji Corridor along the Nashigawa River and the iconic Momiji Tunnel which gives you a shot of Mt Fuji framed by red maple leaves. The trees here don’t usually start to blush until mid to late November and should last until early December.

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Rikugien Garden, Tokyo

If you prefer to stay in Tokyo, there are still a good number of parks and nature attractions to enjoy the autumn leaves. One of the best spots in the city is Rikugien Garden. During peak autumn, the Japanese landscape garden usually hosts an evening illumination, a rare chance to see the foliage in a different light. The best time to visit? Try late November to early December.

  • Things to do

If you’ve had your fill of red momiji leaves and are looking for something different, head to Ibaraki’s Hitachi Seaside Park. Come autumn, the park's kochia (summer cypress) fields are a sight to behold. The small, bushy plants turn from bright green to brilliant red as the weather cools. This expansive park makes for a fun day trip as it can be accessed in just over an hour from central Tokyo. These bushes are at their best around mid-October. Later into the month, the bushes will take on a dusty golden hue.

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