Japan’s famous scenery reaches breathtaking levels as the leaves change in autumn.
Photo: ©Yasufumi Nishi/© JNTO
In Japan, each season is celebrated for its unique beauty, but autumn holds a special place in the collective hearts of the nation. As the weather cools the leaves begin to turn, and the whole country gets ready for kouyou—the wonderful tradition of viewing the changing leaves.
Autumn rivals cherry blossom season as the most magical time to visit Japan’s many parks and gardens. Japan is well known for its natural beauty, boasting so many World Heritage Sites, temples and gardens it’s impossible to see everything in one trip. But in autumn, lush green mountains come alive with brilliant reds, yellows and oranges, temples are adorned with a crown of vibrant colour, and gardens become wonderfully romantic refuges of warmth and beauty. If you’re lucky, you may even stumble across a traditional Japanese wedding at one of the gardens, the bride and groom pledging their love under elegant branches of red leaves.
The trees responsible for Japan’s beautiful autumn spectacle are the many species of Japanese maple and ginkgo. Japanese maple leaves turn a particularly bright and stunning red, and autumn scenery has inspired art, poetry and songs for centuries in Japan.
While cherry blossom season in spring is well known the world over, there is one area where kouyou has it beat. The cherry blossoms are only around for a few scant weeks, whereas the leaves stick around from September to December, making for more chances to see the scenery, and fewer crushing crowds. The cool breezes of autumn are a welcome respite from the humidity of summer, perfect for long, leisurely days under the changing leaves. There are dozens of spots for picturesque autumn views, and below we’ve outlined some of the most breathtaking places to take in the majesty of autumn.
With gorgeous weather and spectacular views, it’s no wonder kouyou is such a treasured tradition in Japan.
Located on the outskirts of Kyoto, Mt. Arashi is a sight to behold in the fall. The mountain soars above a tranquil river, and during autumn the trees make a gorgeous blanket of colour. Get immersed in the beauty of the mountains with a trip on the Sagano Romantic Train. Don’t worry, despite the name this pretty train ride is not restricted to couples. The train passes through the mountains, giving riders a close-up view of the autumn foliage. It’s a must-see for anyone in Arashiyama during fall.
Showa Kinen Park, also known as Showa Memorial Park, is easily one of the best spots to take in the autumn foliage in Tokyo. Rent a bike for ¥600 and enjoy a gorgeous ride on the park’s biking trail as the golds, bronzes and reds of the various trees whiz by. The park takes up two square kilometres of western Tokyo, so there’s plenty of room for everyone, and the wide variety of trees creates a beautiful autumn palette.
Kankakei Gorge, Kagawa
The Kankakei Gorge in autumn is one of the Kagawa area’s claims to fame, and is ranked as one of the three most beautiful gorges in Japan. The ropeway that runs across the gorge offers the best view. From above, the autumn colours spread out like a fiery carpet. Alternatively, hiking trails between the two ropeway stations allow for a closer encounter with the rich autumn scenery. The gorge is in the middle of Shodoshima Island, which can be accessed by ferry.
The Miyajima area of Hiroshima is known for two of the most iconic landmarks in Japan: Itsukushima Shrine, also known as the “floating” shrine, and its giant red Torii, or gate, which sits in the water nearby. However, Miyajima is also a beautiful spot for taking in the splendour of Japanese autumn. Red Japanese maples make the perfect complementary backdrop to the stunning red shrine and Torii that dominate the area, creating a scene that seems right out of Japanese mythology.
Nikko has so many wonderful spots to view the foliage it’s impossible to list them all. One can get beautiful photos of the leaves surrounding one of Nikko’s stunning waterfalls, or take in the leaves as a perfect setting for Nikko’s many famous temples. Or maybe the tranquil reflection of the leaves on Lake Chuzenji might be your thing. But perhaps the most breathtaking scenery is the hiking trail along the Senjogahara Plateau Nature Trail. The trail doubles down on the beauty of Nikko as the gorgeous autumn forest opens onto picturesque marshes.
It’s said that a priest named Sanei of the nearby temple planted the first trees of the gorge in 1634, and now over 4,000 trees blanket the valley. The trees line the Tomoe River, and their reflection on the water gives the illusion of being surrounded by a vibrant autumn wonderland. But the highlight of the season is without a doubt the Momiji Matsuri festival. During the festival, the trees are illuminated at night and seem to glow, creating a dreamy and romantic atmosphere.