There is no “best” time to visit Japan. There are numerous reasons to travel in any of the four seasons, but there’s no denying that the spring cherry blossom is the most popular by far. Autumn, meanwhile, is the second-most popular – thanks to a large extent to its stunning autumn leaves.
Japan is extremely proud of its seasons (seriously, you’d think nowhere else in the world had them), and for good reason. There are few places on earth where the differences between each passing season are so pronounced, and possibly no other place where they play such a vital role in a nation’s culture – from festivals to cuisine.
From mid-September until the beginning of November, Japan’s deciduous trees begin to change colour, painting mountains, parks and forests with a vibrant palette of reds, brown, oranges, golds and yellows. Just as in spring the parks and countryside are packed with revellers gathering for hanami (blossom-viewing) parties, during these months the Japanese flock to their favourite spots to appreciate the autumn leaves – called koyo or momiji (two readings of the same characters: 紅葉).
Like the cherry blossom front, the koyo front sweeps along the length of the country over the course of a few weeks – but in reverse, beginning in northern Hokkaido and travelling southwards, lighting up the mountainsides first before descending into valleys and city parks. Unlike the cherry blossom, fall colors aren’t found everywhere (they prefer cooler northern climes and high altitudes), and they tend to stick around for a little longer – making them rather more reliable than their pink counterparts.
Every Japanese person will have their own favourite fall leaf-peeping spot, but for those who haven’t had a lifetime to decide, we’ve put together a list of our top 10 favourite places to see the turning leaves:
1. Kyoto’s temples, Kyoto
2. Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture
3. Kuroyu Onsen, Akita Prefecture
5. Naruko Onsen, Miyagi Prefecture
6. Ikaho, Gunma Prefecture
7. Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture
8. Jozankei Onsen, Hokkaido Prefecture
9. Shiraito and Otodome Falls, Shizuoka Prefecture
11. Iya Valley, Tokushima Prefecture