Fall Colors in Japan

The Ultimate Guide to Seeing Fall Colors in Japan

Apart from sakura season, fall in Japan is definitely my favorite time to visit the country. As if the colors weren’t fabulous enough, crisp temperatures and perfect lighting make for an extremely pleasant experience throughout, from the mountains of Hokkaido to the cities of Honshu, and from the temple trails of Shikoku to the wild forests of Kyushu.

On the other hand, spending the autumn months in Japan is not as straightforward as you might think, neither deciding where to enjoy the scenery nor choosing precisely the right time to come. Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about visiting Japan during fall!

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Best Places to See Fall Colors in Japan

The best places to visit in Japan in autumn overlap significantly with top sakura spots, and with awesome Japan destinations in general. Seeking yellow ginkgo in the Aoyama district of Tokyo and Kyoto autumn leaves at Kiyomizu-dera is precisely as popular an idea as visiting those cities tends to be in the spring and throughout the year. You’ll also probably encounter crowds in emerging top spots like ancient Kanazawa and Takayama, located in the foothills of the Japanese Alps.

On the other hand, certain cities and regions of Japan really come into their own during the autumn season, which makes this the best time to visit them. Nagoya, for example, is somewhat forgettable until the colors of autumn make it into a rainbow of orange, yellow and red. The historical houses of Shirakawa-go, on the other hand, are perhaps more beautiful in fall than even after a heavy snowfall.

If you want to enjoy the majesty of the Japanese autumn without the calamity of crowds, head someplace that never gets too crowded—Shikoku, for example. Kotohira-gu Temple near Takamastu is spectacular in fall (to say nothing of Ritsurin garden, in the city center), while bathing in the onsens of the Iya Valley is even more enjoyable in fall than it is during other parts of the year (which you’ll know, if you’ve ever been to this stunning spot, is saying a lot!).

The Best Time to See Japan Fall Leaves

Although Japan’s fall colors are, on the whole, less temperamental than cherry blossoms, autumn in Japan months can be difficult to determine. For one, fall colors tend to emerge later here than Japan’s latitude would suggest, particularly in top tourism spots of the Kanto and Kansai regions.

In Kyoto and Osaka, for instance, best time to visit Japan in autumn tends to occur in mid- or even late November, while Tokyo’s fall color peak often occurs in December. On the other hand, fall colors tend to crest in the far west of Honshu and most of Kyushu exclusively within November, even in low-lying cities, which is somewhat strange given than these places are further south than most of Honshu.

With this being said, Hokkaido autumn and Tohoku’s fall colors come out during more standard weeks and months, particularly in mountainous areas. Colors can change in northern Japan as early as late August, though in general September is the best month for fall foliage viewing north of about Hakodate; between Aomori and Sendai early-to-mid October tends to be the best bet.

Pictures of Fall Foliage in Japan

Fall colors in Magome, Japan
Fall colors in Takayama, Japan
Fall colors along the Nakasendo in Japan
Fall colors in Gifu, Japan
Fall colors in Tsumago, Japan
Fall colors in Japan Alps
Fall colors in Takayama City, Japan

Japan Fall Foliage FAQ

How early should I book my Japan fall season travel?

Even if you don’t take one of the many fall foliage tours Japan tour companies offer, there are major advantages to booking early. Prices on Japanese hotels will be higher in the autumn than they are normally, from simple properties like Ryokan Kyoraku in Kyoto to the opulent Tokyo Prince Hotel, providing a big incentive to book on the early side.

On the other hand, fall color forecasts aren’t generally accurate until near the end of summer, so booking too early could risk ruining your experience all together.

When is the best time to see Kyoto fall colors?

As I referenced earlier, autumn in Kyoto Japan tends to occur rather late, with a typical “peak” around November 15, but with the most vibrant colors often lasting well into December. In general, I’d say you should plan on being in Kyoto during the last two weeks of November if at all possible, though you can still enjoy some fall foliage earlier in the month if that’s your only option.

What is Japanese autumn weather like?

One reason I love to visit Japan in November and December, apart from colors, is the weather—for the most part. While it’s true that rainy (and, depending on where you are, snowy) days can outnumber sunny ones, temperatures in Japan in fall are decidedly pleasant, usually between 10-20ºC during the day, and still well above freezing at night.

During this time of year, moreover, Japanese hospitality seems even warmer than usual, and the country’s iconic tea and cuisines are satisfying to an even greater extent.

Can Japan fall leaves really change colors in December?

As I’ve referenced multiple times during this article, the Japan fall season date is later than you would expect, particularly in Kyoto and Tokyo. While leaves are unlikely to start changing in December, it is often during the last month of the year that you witness the most vibrant color, particularly when it comes to the red Japanese maple, or momiji.

Can you plan my Japan fall color trip for me?

Whether you’re in search of Takayama Japanese maple or vibrant ginkgo trees throughout Aichi and Yamanashi prefectures, don’t worry: Japan Starts Here can plan a Japan fall color trip for the record books. Obviously, the more flexible you can be regarding destination and timing, the better, but we can accommodate most any constraints, allowing you to enjoy Japan fall foliage to the fullest no matter when or where you go.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re searching for the best time to visit Kyoto in autumn or are seeking a more general guide to seeing Japan during the fall, this guide breaks down the complexity of a Japan fall trip. Once you’ve decided where to go to see Japan fall foliage and have used our Japan fall leaves forecast to time your trip properly, come back to read through FAQs and see Japan autumn photos to get even more inspired. Autumn in Japan is right around the corner!