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Japan in Autumn: Everything You Need to Know

Japan in Autumn: Everything You Need to Know

The majority of you who’ve arrived to this page are looking for the Japan autumn leaves forecast 2021—and I’ll get to that in a second. However, since I’ve aimed to create a resource that is valuable every year, and not just this one, I’ll also be sharing some tips and tricks on how to enjoy autumn colors in Japan, irrespective of when you plan to visit, or where in the country you want to go.

I’ve taken several of my own trips to Japan in autumn, so I’ll be interspersing personal anecdotes (and bits of what I hope are wisdom) between the rest of the information I’m sharing, much of which is objective (if not scientific) in nature. Even if you’re not currently planning your own fall color trip to Japan, what I have to say will be inspiring—perhaps even instructional—for your future travel.

As I did in years past, I plan to update this page with my own experiences from Japan’s most colorful season. I’ll also be posting forecasts for 2021 when the time comes (as well as addressing the elephant in the room for all future Japan travel: Covid-19), but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Need help planning your Japan autumn 2021 itinerary? Commission a custom Japan itinerary!

Japan Autumn Foliage Forecast 2021

It’s still anyone’s guess as to whether Japan’s borders will be open in time for Japan autumn 2021 trips—more on that in a second. However, whether you make a trip to see autumn in Japan 2021, 2022 or any other year, the koyo follows a relatively similar pattern each year.

When is fall in Japan 2021? Here are the approximate times you can expect to enjoy autumn colors in Japan:

  Destination Yellow leaves Red leaves
  Daisetsuzan mid-September late September
  Hachimantai late September early October
  Mt. Hakkoda early October mid-October
  Kurobe Gorge mid-October late October
  Kakunodate early October mid-October
  Nikko mid-October late October
  Tokyo late November early December
  Takayama late October early November
  Fuji Five Lakes early November mid-November
  Kanazawa mid-November late November
  Kyoto mid-November late November
  Shikoku late November early December
  San’in mid-November late November
  Hiroshima mid-November late November
  Kyushu late November early December

As far as how I formulate my autumn color forecasts, in 2021 and otherwise? If the months of September and October are warmer than average, I expect autumn colors to appear later than usual. The inverse is also true: In colder years, autumn colors come to Japan sooner. Other factors can also delay the colors or bring them forward, mostly notably rainfall (or lack thereof)

In order to monitor this for yourself, keep an eye on temperatures in the cities or prefectures where you want to enjoy fall foliage, and compare them to the averages you find posted online. You can also check “Recent” pictures of your target destinations on Instagram, although you should make sure they were recently taken, and not just recently posted.

Will Coronavirus Ruin My Japan Autumn 2021 Travel?

The bad news? As of June 2021, coronavirus is still ravaging most of the world—and Japan—with no end in sight. The worse news? Japan has been slow (to put it politely) about re-opening its fully closed borders. I remained optimistic that this would change in late 2020, but now it seems unlikely that tourists will be able to enter Japan again for at least the first half of 2021. You may still be able to spend fall 2021 in Japan, although that becomes less likely by the day.

Want to maximize your chances of enjoying autumn in Japan, coronavirus be damned? Commission a Japan itinerary, and let me iron out the details for you.

Best Places to See Autumn Leaves in Japan

Kyoto

As is the case during the spring with the sakura, Kyoto is one of the most satisfying places in Japan to see autumn colors. My favorite places in Kyoto to see autumn colors include Arashiyama (Tenryu-ji temple, Okochi Sanso Villa and Iwatayama Monkey Park) as well as Higashiyama temples like Nanzen-ji and Kiyomizu-dera. There are also many awesome Kyoto autumn color spots on the periphery of the city, from Tofuku-ji along the Nara Line en route to Fushimi district, to Kurama-dera north of the center.

The Japanese Alps

Irrespective of whether you plan to visit during autumn Japan 2021 or another year, the Japanese Alps are a great place to see autumn colors (even if this region is very large, and sees colors change at very different periods throughout). If you’re coming during month of October, for example, you might want to visit the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route between Toyama and Nagano, Kamikochi Valley near Matsumoto or Nikko north of Tokyo. In November, on the other hand, autumn colors along the historical Nakasendo Way will be nearing their peak.

Hokkaido and Tohoku

Japan’s northernmost reaches see their leaves change earlier—which is to say, in line with when many places in North America and Europe experience autumn. If you’re planning an October autumn trip to Japan, therefore, it makes sense either to visit Hokkaido or Tohoku, which comprises the northern half-dozen prefectures of Honshu island. Some of my personal favorite spots in these regions for autumn colors include Lake Towada and Oirase Stream, both in Aomori prefecture, as well as Yamadera temple in Yamagata.

Fuji Five Lakes

Like the Japanese Alps, the autumn forecast Japan 2021 can be vague for areas around Mt. Fuji, since they differ so much in terms of elevation and other climactic conditions. For instance, while it’s possible to see autumn colors in coastal Shizuoka prefecture and even along the shores of Lake Kawaguchi will into the end of November, you’ll want to visit earlier in the month (or maybe even October) if hiking trails closer to Japan’s most famous mountain are where you to see autumn colors. Mid-November, meanwhile, is usually the best time to get the “money shot” behind Chureito Pagoda in Fujiyoshida.

Tokyo

Now, I’d like to tell you where you can go in Tokyo to enjoy autumn for yourself, whether for Tokyo autumn 2021 or another year. Obviously, the most famous autumn color spot in Tokyo is Meiji Jingu Gaien, aka Ginkgo Avenue, but that’s not the only game in town. In particular, I love Koishikawa Koraku-en and Rikugi-en gardens within the city limits; Yokohama‘s Sankei-en garden is also very worth a visit, if you have time during your fall 2021 Japan trip.

My Favorite Pictures of Japan in Autumn

Fall colors in Osaka, Japan
 
Fall colors at Osaka Castle in Japan
Fall colors in Takayama, Japan
 
Fall colors in Magome, Japan
 
Autumn colors in Kyoto, Japan
Fall colors at Hikone Castle
 
Fall colors in Nara City, Japan
 
Fall colors over tea in Arashiyama, Japan
Fall colors in Tsumago, Japan
 
Fall colors in Takayama City, Japan
 

When Does Japan’s Autumn Foliage Usually Peak?

Whether we’re talking about autumn foliage Japan 2021 or in general, autumn leaves in Japan follow a rather predictable pattern. Specifically, you can expect to see peak koyo color according to the following calendar:

  • Late September: Hokkaido and far northern Tohoku
  • Early-to-Mid October: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route; Tohoku’s Yamagata and Akita prefectures
  • Late October to Early November: The rest of Tohoku; the Japanese Alps; Fuji Five Lakes; Mt. Koya
  • Mid-to-Late November: Kanazawa; Kansai; most of Shikoku; most of Kyushu; San’in
  • Early December: Tokyo and southern Kyushu and Shikoku

You should note that these dates represent the peak of colors for all trees, whether for autumn in Japan 2021 or a different year. Japanese authorities also release a so-called “yellow leaves” forecast, which predicts when Japan’s famous ginkgo trees will change colors.

Is it Too Early to Plan a Japan Autumn Itinerary for 2022?

Autumn in Japan 2021 will start in a few months, when the hillsides of Daisetsuzan National Park blaze red and orange in late September or early October. Accommodation for major Japan autumn leaves destinations is still wide open for 2021, although I’d still advise waiting a while to see what the Covid-19 situation will be. As I explained in one of my most recent posts, I’d bet against Japan’s border being open to tourists before September or October of this year.

That’s the bad news. The good news? Once Japan’s travel ban lifts and we can all enter the country again, you can hire me to plan the ultimate Japan itinerary!

 

Persimmons drying in Japan
 

Other FAQ About Autumn in Japan 2021

What months are autumn in Japan 2021?

Japan’s autumn colors begin in Hokkaido in late September, color the hillsides of Tohoku and the Japanese Alps from mid-October through mid-November, and reach their peak in Kyoto, Hiroshima and eventually Tokyo as November gives way to December. Note, as I’ve stated repeatedly above, it is possible that your Japan autumn 2021 trip won’t take place, on account of Covid-19 and related travel bans.

Where should I go in Japan in autumn?

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, you can find autumn beauty throughout Japan, from rural hillsides and gorges in Hokkaido and the Tohoku regions, to ancient historical districts from Kyoto’s Higashiyama ward to the town of Takayama in the Japanese Alps.

Is it cold in autumn in Japan?

Japan can be downright hot at the official beginning of autumn in late September, with temperatures in major cities well above 25ºC or 80ºF. However, by the times leaves change wherever you choose to see them, things will have cooled down substantially. You can expect crisp days with temperatures around 10ºC, and chilly nights approaching (or sometimes dipping below) freezing.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’ll be able to enjoy autumn in Japan 2021 remains to be seen. Even if you can’t see autumn colors in Japan in 2021, I’ve provided you with a lot of information (and some personal stories, to be sure) that’s useful no matter when you plan to travel. One thing to note about Japan fall colors, if you’re feeling stressed, is that they’re much less fickle than the cherry blossoms—they last longer, too. Still, if you’re feeling uneasy about planning your trip or simply don’t have time to do it, there’s another option. When you hire me to create a custom Japan autumn colors itinerary for 2021 or 2022, I sweat all the details for you!

 

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