Japan Autumn Itinerary: Best Places to Visit in Fall
If you’re visiting Japan in autumn, one of the very first things you’re probably wondering is where to find the best places to see autumn leaves. In this Japan autumn guide, I’ll cover the best time to visit Japan for fall foliage, what to pack, and of course, the best places to visit! I’ve also included tons of tips and tricks to help you plan the perfect Japan autumn itinerary so that you can spend less time planning and more time enjoying all of Japan’s best bits.
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Planning a Japan Autumn Itinerary
Japan is unquestionably an excellent destination to visit year-round. However, few seasons can match the splendor you’ll witness during the fall season in Japan. Whether you’re ducking into hidden temples, exploring colorful shrines and pagodas, joining one of the many autumn festivals, or exploring the country’s magnificent parks – autumn in Japan is the best season to experience the country’s unique charm and beauty.
Before we get to the best places to visit during fall, here are some pre-planning tips to help you plan a Japan autumn itinerary.
- Search for the best hotel prices on Agoda. Prices during autumn in Japan tend to be slightly cheaper than cherry blossom season. Still, it’s always a good idea to book accommodation well in advance.
- It’s best to pre-order a portable wifi device for pickup at the airport. This way, you’ll be able to access transport schedules and maps easily, and plan your stops on the go.
- Get a discounted JR Pass to get around on multiple train lines hassle-free.
- Japan is an easy country to visit, and it is very convenient. Make sure to order an Icoca card (for Kansai, Chugoku and Hokuriku regions) or a Suica IC Card (for greater Tokyo, Niigata and Sendai regions) for pick up at the airport. With this card, you can easily tap-and-go on buses, trains, and other transit networks in Japan.
- It’s essential to think about your safety when you visit a new country. So, don’t forget to get travel insurance. This way, you can ensure you and your belongings are safe abroad. World Nomads has many excellent travel cover options at great price points.
- Grab a good guide book, like this Japan Lonely Planet. By doing so, you’ll gain valuable insights into Japan’s history, culture, customs and much, much more.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Japan in Autumn
Here are some extra tips along with the ones above to help you make the most of your time in Japan during autumn.
How much time to spend in Japan?
How long to stay in Japan is often a question most travelers struggle with the most. Since there are many beautiful places to see and things to do in Japan, deciding how long to stay in Japan can be tricky. And to be completely honest, you could easily spend weeks here and still feel like you haven’t seen it all!
That said, maximizing your time in Japan should be a top priority. If time permits, spend at least 2-3 weeks discovering all of Japan’s best bits. If that is not an option for you, spending at least 3-5 days in a specific city is encouraged. This way, you’ll have ample time to get a taste of the area.
Do I need a Japan Railway Pass?
Another crucial aspect to consider for a Japan autumn itinerary is whether or not to get a Japan Railway Pass. Since the JR Pass is quite expensive, mapping out your itinerary first and planning your stops can go a long way in helping you make this decision. That said, if you plan on traveling to different regions, getting a JR Pass will undoubtedly make things easier and cheaper.
Why Visit Japan in Autumn?
If you haven’t experienced fall in Japan, you’ve seriously been missing out! Autumn is an enchanting time to visit Japan. The streets are teeming with autumn colors ranging from fiery scarlet reds, bursting oranges and vivid yellows.
Besides the terrific scenery on offer, autumn in Japan also offers cooler temperatures, fewer crowds, and slightly more affordable prices than sakura season.
When is Autumn in Japan?
Autumn in Japan is generally from late September to December. Before you visit Japan in autumn, though, it’s essential to know that Japan has a multi-dimensional climate and terrain. Ultimately this means the peak season for viewing autumn leaves hugely depends on the temperature and, of course, the region. As a result, this can make planning a Japan autumn itinerary a bit tricky. However, that should not deter you from visiting Japan during the fall.
Proper research can go a long way in making your Japan autumn trip a success. Therefore, make sure always to check the official fall foliage forecast, which is updated yearly. Koyo (colorful autumn leaves in Japanese) generally appears in the north first. Then it gradually moves down to the center of Japan before finally reaching the south.
It’s also good to know that Japan typically classifies the autumn foliage forecasts in two sections one for yellow leaves and one for red leaves.
Where to See Autumn Leaves by Month
If you’re visiting Japan in October, the best place to see autumn leaves will be in Hokkaido. The weather during October in Japan is pleasant. So, you’ll still get to enjoy sunny days without the heat and humidity that usually accompanies summer in Japan.
While visiting Tokyo during the month of November is a huge must, you’ll also find plenty of places to see autumn colors nearby. Mount Fuji, Nikko, and Nagoya are other great places to consider for a Japan autumn itinerary. Since the weather in November is relatively dry and mild, it’s a great time to see spectacular autumn colors in many parts of the country.
Early December is the last chance you have to see the beautiful fall leaves in Japan. And the best place to see autumn colors is in the Kansai region – especially Kyoto, Nara, and Arashiyama. Expect mostly dry weather conditions, but since the winter months are drawing nearer, it does start to get quite chilly.
What to pack for Autumn in Japan?
Visiting Japan in autumn does require a bit more planning when it comes to packing. Since the temperature can differ quite drastically from one region to the next, it’s essential to check the weather forecast for the area you intend to visit. During the day, you can expect pleasant temperatures in most places, but the mornings and evenings can be especially cool.
The key to packing for autumn in Japan is layers – lots and lots of layers. Since it’s probably going to be chilly in the morning and evenings, pack clothes that will keep you warm but also ones that won’t take up too much space in your luggage. I’ve yet to master minimal packing, so I won’t even attempt to give you a breakdown on how many items of clothing to pack. Instead, make sure you pack at least the following:
What to wear in autumn
- Long pants, jeans, dark-colored slacks are perfect fall wear in Japan.
- You’re definitely going to need a warm coat or at least a down jacket like this one.
- Light thermal wear is a great way to keep warm without having to pack heavy woolen clothes that take up lots of space.
- Long-sleeved shirts or tops.
- Long skirts or dresses that you can pair with solid-colored tights.
- Comfortable walking shoes or sneakers. If you’re going to be hiking, it’s probably best to bring hiking boots too.
- Make sure to pack a scarf or a pashmina.
- A great hat, like a beanie or a felt fedora hat, is also an excellent add-on to your Japan autumn packing list.
Other essentials to pack for a Japan autumn itinerary
- Packing a good camera when visiting Japan in autumn is a must. (Especially if you want to take photos of all the gorgeous autumn leaves.) I never travel without my Olympus Mirrorless Camera and my iPhone.
- Packing a day bag is yet another must if you like to travel hassle-free. This Tumi backpack is excellent for daily use and folds flat, making it completely packable.
- You might also need a travel plug. Japan uses type A and B sockets, and the standard voltage is 100V with a frequency of 50/60 Hz. This world travel plug covers over 200 countries and is an excellent add-on to your travel gadgets. What’s more, you can use up to 5 devices simultaneously.
- If you’re worried about your phone’s battery running out, it’s always a good idea to travel with a power bank. This slim power bank is super small, and 90% lighter than other power banks on the market.
- Since you simply cannot predict the future, it’s always best to make sure you and your belongings are covered while traveling in Japan. World Nomads has lots of excellent and affordable packages. Applying for cover online is super easy, and only takes a few clicks.
10 Best Places to Visit in Japan During Autumn
Now that you know when to visit Japan and what to pack, it’s time to discover the absolute best places to see autumn colors in Japan. With the help of fellow travel bloggers, we’ve put together the most incredible places not to miss on your Japan autumn itinerary.
Ready to dive into the best places to see autumn leaves in Japan? Let’s go!
Blessed with centuries-old temples, colorful shrines, bustling markets, and fine food, Kyoto is a must when visiting Japan in fall.
While there are many beautiful places to see autumn leaves in Kyoto, a visit here would simply not be complete without stopping by Kyoto’s most iconic landmarks.
Start your autumn leaf-peeping adventure (or momijigari) by visiting Kiyomizu-Dera – a breathtaking Buddhist temple founded in 778. Besides its unique history, Kiyomizu-Dera features lavish gardens, hidden shrines, an impressive viewing platform from which you can take in the enchanting scenery, and even a medicinal water spring.
Further afield, drop by Kyoto’s most visited sight – the 15th-century Kinkakuji (also called the Golden Pavilion). Here, a stroll through the immaculate gardens is obligatory, but the star attraction is undisputedly the Zen temple itself with its gold leaf-covered top floors.
If you’re looking for equally beautiful autumn scenery sans the crowds, duck into Ginkaku-Ji. Here, at the Silver Pavilion, colorful autumn scenery abounds. Make your way through the sublime gardens, explore the temple buildings, and don’t forget to take a photo of the stunning moss garden!
Whether you’re ducking into temples, visiting some of the superb gardens, or simply wandering the streets, you really won’t need to go too far to see colorful autumn leaves in Kyoto. Oh, and visit during peak season (late November to early December) to experience fall in Kyoto at its very best!
Suggested Kyoto Day Tours
A day trip to Arashiyama should be high on your list of things to do when visiting Japan in autumn. Besides visiting the iconic Bamboo Grove, there’s plenty to keep you busy in Arashiyama, which is why it’s not surprising that this little gem is often touted as one of the best day trips from Kyoto.
The Togetsukyo Bridge offers an excellent vantage point for fall foliage viewing. Visit from late November to early December to see the entire mountain covered in beautiful vibrant autumn colors! After a relaxing stroll across the bridge, make your way back to town. Walk along the promenade or, better yet, hop in riverboat to experience the beautiful scenery from a completely different vantage point.
Further afield, walk through the bamboo forest before stopping by Tenryuji Temple – an important World Heritage Site, and one of the top 5 Zen temples. There are several buildings to explore here, but make sure not to miss the beautiful pond and surrounding grand terraces of the Sogenchi Garden.
Whatever you decide to do, tour Arashiyama at your leisure, taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells. It’s a breathtaking area and one of the best places to add to any Japan autumn itinerary.
Suggested Arashiyama Day Tours
Nara is one of the best places to see autumn colors in Japan. Located less than an hour away from Kyoto, Nara is an easy day trip from anywhere in the Kansai region.
Besides being easily accessible, Nara boasts an impressive history and was actually the first permanent capital city of Japan. Today, Nara is full of historical treasures, century-old temples, lovely parks, and free-roaming deer.
There are several excellent spots to see autumn colors throughout the city. First head out to Nara Deer Park for a gentle stroll and a chance to meet the friendly deer. From here, you’ll be right on the doorstep of one of Japan’s most famous and oldest temples – Todaiji. Explore the sublime gardens and then discover all the beautiful treasures housed within the temple complex. Make sure to visit the Daibutsuden Hall as this is where you can get a close-up view of the towering 15m-tall Buddha statue and make a special wish.
Further afield, a visit to Nara’s most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha is also obligatory. Here you can admire the shrine’s main offering hall, explore the various shrine buildings and follow hidden paths lined with more than 3000 stone lanterns.
It’s essential to know, though, Nara is a popular area and does become quite crowded. To skip the crowds, try to avoid weekends and make sure you head out as early as possible. Autumn leaves usually peak between late November to early December, but it’s always best to check the updated forecast.
Suggested Tours for Nara
Recommended by Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan.
Nikko is a fantastic destination for autumn foliage because the foliage season lasts much longer here than elsewhere in Japan. This is due to the full range of elevation between the town of Nikko and its mountainous surroundings. If you’re here in early to mid-October, you’ll want to head up to the highest peaks, to places like Yudaki waterfall or Ryuzu waterfall. A bit later, around mid to late-October, the famous Kegon waterfall and the slopes around Lake Chuzenji burst into color.
And if you arrive in early to mid-November, you’re best off sticking to Nikko town itself. You might have to search a bit harder here, as much of the trees in and around the city are evergreen. While still beautiful, they don’t provide much in the way of autumn foliage. This is true, for example, of the forest pilgrim path that leads to Takino-o shrine. It’s still worth taking this beautiful five-kilometer path, though, which is kind of a miniature version of the famous Kumano Kodo walk.
But for bright autumn colors, your best bet within the city is the Shoyoen Garden inside the grounds of Rinnoji Temple. There are lots of maple leaves here, and they usually turn red sometime in the first half of November. The nearby Tosho-gu Shrine also has a few brightly colored trees within its grounds, and it’s a must-see destination any time of year.
Recommended by Nick from The Danish Nomads.
If you are traveling anywhere in Japan, you’ll most likely have to come through Narita International Airport. Why not take this opportunity to explore Tokyo? There are many different bucket list experiences to be had there, such as having sushi for breakfast at the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market or watching a Robot dance show. Being one of the most populous cities in the world, you might be surprised that this vast metropolis is also one of the great places in Japan to watch fall foliage. It is undoubtedly the most convenient.
In Tokyo, the colors generally start appearing sometime in October, peak around mid-November, and are gone again by mid-December. Making sure you are visiting at the right time is the most important thing. That’s 90% of the work done right there. Once you arrive, you’ll be happy to learn that there are a ton of beautiful places to look at colorful leaves. The city is ripe with parks and nature, so you’ll have no shortage of possibilities.
The Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is the most famous park and is a good starting point. If you only have time to visit one place in Tokyo, this is it. The park is centrally located, close by Shinjuku Station, so it really couldn’t be easier to visit. It’s split into different sections, but the prettiest autumn colors will be found in the Japanese Garden. There is a small entrance fee, but it’s easily worth it. Judge for yourself from the photo included. Two other places we would like to highlight as well are Yoyogi Park and the Imperial Palace Gardens. Both of these will feature stunning fall foliage, and have free admission!
Recommended by Lena from Nagoya Foodie.
You might not have heard about it yet, but Nagoya is a fantastic city to visit in Japan during autumn. It’s a big city (the 3rd largest in Japan) but much less crowded than the more popular Tokyo and Osaka. For this reason, you should visit Nagoya in autumn.
There are a multitude of parks and gardens turning beautiful shades of red and yellow, minus the crowds often associated with such places in other popular cities.
Some spots in Nagoya you shouldn’t miss are Tokugawaen, a landscape garden with a central pond, and even a small waterfall, Shirotori Garden, another beautifully landscaped garden with ponds and tea houses, and Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
All of these places have light-up events at night, which are amazing, but a visit during the day is also not a bad idea.
The best time to visit Nagoya for autumn colors is at the end of November to the beginning of December. But you should consult the official autumn color forecast published each year for the best time to visit.
Mitake Shosenkyo Gorge
Recommended by Monique from Trip Anthropologist.
Yamanashi Prefecture is a favorite destination for Japanese people and tourists at cherry blossom season and during the Mt. Fuji climbing season. But this agricultural heartland boasts spectacular foliage around the Fuji 5 lakes and its lesser-known mountains and gorges throughout autumn.
Mitake Shosenkyo Gorge is the most well know Gorge and for a good reason. It is easy to get to, there are spectacular walks during autumn for all levels of mobility, and there is a stunning waterfall at the end of it all! The Gorge is at the northern end of Kofu City and an express 30-minute bus ride from Kofu. The bus stops at Nagatoro Bridge, and from there, you join 4 km of beautiful winding trails past unusual rock formations and trees with vibrant red, orange, and yellow foliage. At the end of the trail is the steep Sengataki waterfall, which plunges 30 meters into a deep green pool. This final one kilometer (from the Greenline bus stop) is the most spectacular, especially in the middle of November. Above the waterfall is a food complex and the beginning of the Shosenkyo Ropeway.
Recommended by Tania from Ryokou Girl.
If you’re looking for a change of scenery during your stay in Tokyo, Mount Takao offers a taste of Japan’s vibrant maple leaves within arm’s reach of the world’s most populous city. Just a 50-minute train ride to the foot of the mountain from Shinjuku station, visitors are rewarded with breathtaking views of Tokyo to the east, and on a clear day, Mount Fuji to the south-west.
Given its proximity to Tokyo, Mt. Takao’s eight hiking routes are best attempted on a weekday if possible, as the summit becomes particularly crowded on weekends. Mt. Takao is one of the most popular spots in the Tokyo area for the Japanese custom of viewing autumn colors, so be sure to pack a bento lunchbox and set off early to beat the crowds.
The most popular hiking route to the summit is trail number one. Along the way explore the monkey park and the Yakuoin Buddhist temple, which attracts visitors who come to pray for good fortune. By night, trail number one is also lit by lanterns, perfect for hikers visiting later in the day. For non-hikers, there is also a chair lift you can ride for 490 yen one-way or 950 yen for a return ticket.
Recommended by Katy from Untold Morsels.
Home to one of Japan’s most famous gardens, Kanazawa is a beautiful place to visit in Japan during autumn. The city is found to the northeast of Kyoto and boasts one of the best-preserved Edo era districts in the country, a historic castle and thriving arts culture. Most visitors head straight for Kenroku-en, Kanazawa’s 200-year-old garden where you can enjoy secluded spaces, small streams, and ponds full of koi carp. The gardens are beautiful year-round but explode in a riot of color in autumn when the leaves turn shades of yellow, orange and fiery red.
You can easily spend hours touring Kenroku-en, but you should also make time to visit the Omicho market, famous for seafood, fruit, and vegetables. There are plenty of restaurants here where you can pick up a tasty lunch before taking a short walk to the Asano River and the Higashi Chaya district, where trees in autumn hues frame charming historic buildings. Then it’s on to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Surrounded by elegant parkland, this museum is a great place to explore modern pieces by Japanese and international artists.
Recommended by Amy from Oceans to Alpines.
Just an hour and a half west of Tokyo by bus or car, you will find the famous Lake Kawaguchi. Lake Kawaguchi is the second largest lake in the famous Fuji Lakes area – a popular destination for those wanting to see the iconic Mount Fuji.
While trips to Lake Kawaguchi are breathtaking year-round, the journey is bountiful in color during autumn. You may be familiar with Lake Kawaguchi for the famous lake pictures of Mount Fuji. Still, Lake Kawaguchi is also just a short trip to the other iconic spot: Arakurayama Sengen Shrine – where you will find the famous Chureito Pagoda with views of Mount Fuji. Additionally, while climbing the stairs to the top, you encounter a Torii framing Mount Fuji and surrounded by orange and red leaves.
Other than visiting the shrine, there are other great spots to catch beautiful fall foliage, such as at the Oishi Park or the top of the Kawaguchi Ropeway. The local bus system can easily navigate the lakeside town, so simply hop on visit Kawaguchi Ropeway, stop off along the way to get some great Kawaguchi lakefront pictures, and end at Oishi Park. The trip around the lake will give you a variety of autumn colors and a variety of vantage points of the famous Mount Fuji.
Suggested Day Tours
Japan Autumn Itinerary Conclusion
While these are just a handful of the most amazing places to see autumn colors in Japan, we hope this Japan autumn guide has inspired you to visit this beautiful country soon.
Have you visited Japan in autumn? What’s your favorite place to see autumn leaves in Japan? And, what tips do you have for fellow travelers planning a Japan autumn itinerary? Drop your comments below.
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