Where and when to see fall colors in Japan

Autumn colors in Japan for 2019

Japan is famous for its four distinct and breathtaking seasons. Though the cherry blossom in the spring is probably the most iconic, for many the fall is just as beautiful.

As temperatures dip after the scorching summer, the colors of the leaves change into vibrant shades of orange, red, yellow, and brown. It’s a magnificent sight which has inspired artists and poets for centuries.

In Japan, the natural phenomenon is called koyo or momiji (meaning red leaf). The activity of searching for the most striking shades of leaf is known as Momigari (red leaf hunting) It has been popular in Japan for centuries and is now a major draw for tourists.

When is the best time to experience fall in Japan? What are the best viewing locations? This handy guide is designed to help you plan the perfect momijigari vacation.

Autumn and maple leaves in Japanese culture

The tradition of momijigari has been popular since the Heian period (794-1195) and it has had a profound influence on Japanese culture. For Buddhists, it’s a moment which is important both spiritually and symbolically as it reminds us that life is ephemeral.

The maple leaf symbolizes fall in Japanese culture and its use is widespread. Momigari features heavily In eighth-century Manyoshu poetry as well as the classical Heian Period novel ‘The Tale of the Genji’. It’s typical to find screens, dishes, kimonos, and other fabrics bearing the symbol of the maple leaf.

Maple-shaped cakes are typical during the fall and the leaves themselves are often eaten as tempura: a delicious, deep-fried, sweet snack. There are various variations of maple leaf tempura throughout the country and they are often accompanied by a cup of Japanese tea.

Japanese autumn maple leaf

Japanese maple leaf metaphors

Scatter autumn leaves’ – means to go red-faced with embarrassment.
Hands like tiny maple leaves’ – is used to describe the small hands of babies.
Like maple leaves and a deer’ – means that two things make a great pair.

Koyo viewing in Japan

Witnessing koyo is a moment of the year which the Japanese spend time anticipating and looking forward to. It’s not just tourists who agonize over the best times and places to see the fantastic colors.

There is no shortage of stunning places to enjoy the phenomenon through the best days to see it vary from place to place and from year to year. The momigari can be enjoyed in many ways including hikes, picnics, drives, bike rides and camping trips.

Many regions peak in November but some areas can start changing as early as September or as late as December. The type of maple tree determines whether the leaves are red (koyo), yellow (oyo), or brown (katsuyo).

Autumn foliage season in Japan

The turning of the leaves in Japan varies due to temperature, elevation, and latitude. What does this mean for you? Mountainous regions and the islands to the north will experience autumn colors earlier than other regions. You should also take note of autumn color reports such as this one, as well as weather forecasts, as these will keep you up to date on fall color changes due to temperature. When temperatures turn cold early, the Japanese fall colors appear sooner – up to several weeks early – and vice versa.

In general, the autumn foliage season begins in mid-September on the island of Hokkaido, the northernmost island. In other parts of Japan, like Tokyo and Kyoto the best viewing times typically range from mid-October through early December. Peak viewing in each area typically lasts between two weeks to more than one month.

Where to see the autumn leaves

The best places to see autumn colors will largely depend on when you travel. Check the forecast below for information on when different regions reach peak viewing season.

The fact is, any place in Japan is a good area for koyo viewing. If you are feeling adventurous, consider hiking the meandering trails of one of Japan’s mountains. Even if you are visiting a bustling city such as Tokyo, city parks offer thousands of trees. Another option is simply looking out the window while traveling by train.

Likely, you already plan to travel from place to place using your Japan Rail Pass. Between stations, you will see the local countryside in all its autumn glory. For a truly unique koyo experience at a relaxed pace, consider a ride on the Sagano Scenic Railway.

Sagano Scenic Railway


2019 foliage forecast by region

Japan fall foliage forecast


Prefecture    Location Estimated best viewing
Hokkaido Region
Hokkaido Muroran Early November
Hokkaido Hakodate Late October
Hokkaido Sapporo Late October
Hokkaido Daisetsuzan National Park Late October
Tohoku Region
Aomori Aomori Mid-November
Iwate Morioka Mid-November
Miyagi Sendai Late November
Akita Akita Mid-November
Yamagata Yamagata Late November
Fukushima Fukushima Mid-November
Kanto – Koushin Region
Ibaraki Mito Late November
Tochigi Utsunomiya Late November
Tochigi Nikko Late November
Tochigi Mount Nasu-dake Early November
Gunma Maebashi Late November
Gunma Oze National Park Mid-November
Saitama Kumagaya Early December
Chiba Choshi Late December
Tokyo Tokyo Late November
Kanagawa Yokohama Mid-December
Kanagawa Hakone Mid-November
Kanagawa Kamakura Mid-November
Yamanashi Kofu Late November
Nagano Nagano Early November
Hokuriku Region
Niigata Niigata Mid-November
Toyama Toyama Late November
Ishikawa Kanazawa Late November
Fukui Fukui Late November
Tokai Region
Gifu Gifu Late November
Gifu Japan Alps Mid-November
Shizuoka Shizuoka Late November
Shizuoka Mount Fuji Mid-November
Aichi Nagoya Late November
Mie Tsu Mid-November
Kansai Region
Shiga Hikone Late November
Kyoto Kyoto Late November
Osaka Osaka Late November
Hyogo Kobe Late November
Nara Nara Mid-November
Wakayama Wakayama Early December
Chugoku Region
Tottori Tottori Late November
Shimane Matsue Late November
Okayama Okayama Late November
Hiroshima Hiroshima Mid-November
Yamaguchi Shimonoseki Early December
Shikoku Region
Tokushima Tokushima Late November
Kagawa Takamatsu Late November
Ehime Matsuyama Late November
Kochi Kochi Late November
Kyushu Region
Fukuoka Fukuoka Early December
Saga Saga Early December
Nagasaki Nagasaki Mid-December
Kumamoto Kumamoto Early December
Oita Oita Early December
Miyazaki Miyazaki Early December
Kagoshima Kagoshima Mid-December

Experiencing fall in Japan is nothing short of unforgettable. Don’t forget to acquire your JR Pass in order to travel between viewing locations in a simple, efficient, and affordable manner.


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