Autumn Season in Japan
Japan is famous for its four distinct and breathtaking seasons, and many visitors to the country often consider the Japanese autumn to be the most beautiful.
As temperatures dip after the scorching summer, the colors of the leaves change into vibrant shades of orange, red, yellow, and brown. This fall foliage is a magnificent sight that has inspired artists and poets for centuries. In Japan, the natural phenomenon is called koyo or momiji, which both mean red leaves. The activity of searching for the most striking shades of leaf is known as Momijigari (red leaf hunting) It has been popular in Japan for centuries and is now a major draw for tourists.
Autumn also brings orange osmanthus, blood-red spider lilies, and chrysanthemums in their delicate pastel glory. And after the heat and humidity of summer, a dip in the onsen at a traditional ryokan suddenly becomes a warming respite from the bracing chill of autumn air.
Koyo and Momiji
Autumn in Japan is known as Aki and the fall foliage is classified by two different terms: Koyo and Momiji.
Koyo describes foliage with red and yellow colors, while Momiji specifically applies to the intensely red maple leaves that are particularly spectacular during the season. The maple leaf symbolizes fall in Japanese culture and its use is widespread.
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 varieties of maple leaf tempura served throughout the country during the season, often accompanied by a cup of Japanese tea.
The tradition of Momijigari (viewing of fall leaves) has had a profound influence on Japanese culture since the Heian period (794-1195), with hunting for maples particularly popular across the country. For Buddhists, it’s a moment that is important both spiritually and symbolically as it reminds us that life is ephemeral. Momijigari also features heavily in eighth-century Manyoshu poetry as well as the classical Heian Period novel ‘The Tale of the Genji’.
Fall Foliage Forecast
The turning of the leaves in Japan varies due to temperature, elevation, and latitude, and the best time to experience the phenomenon differs every year.
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. Therefore, while many regions peak in November, some areas can start changing as early as September or as late as December. When temperatures turn cold early, the Japanese fall colors appear sooner – up to several weeks early – and vice versa.
The Best Places for Koyo Viewing
Any part of Japan has a fantastic view for Koyo viewing in the autumn, and the best places such as park and mountain-hiking trails to see autumn colors will largely depend on when you travel.
Go for a Walk or Hike
It goes without saying that immersing yourself in nature is one of the best ways to enjoy the autumn colours up close, and you’ll also see a far greater variety of plants than you might in a more manicured city garden. Even if you can’t head out to a mountain, explore on foot and you’ll also get a great workout to boot.
Take the Hiking Trails
The country’s many mountainous hiking trails offer a great alternative option for those wishing to take in the Japanese countryside. The area surrounding Mount Fuji, including lake Kawaguchiko, and national parks such as Daisetsuzan in Hokkaido and Oze north of Tokyo are ideal for Momijigari.
Drive Through the Mountains
Japan has an excellent public rail and bus system, but many remote places are inaccessible without a car. Think national parks and mountaintop temples or traditional ryokans. If you’re keen on the path less traveled, take your international driving license with you and rent a car.
Take the Slow Train
With a limited amount of time in Japan, it can be tempting to zip through places and hop from destination to destination. But taking a slow train through the countryside to watch the changing colours and bucolic scenery is a beautiful experience in and of itself. Between stations, you’ll have the opportunity to observe the local countryside in all its autumn glory. Japan also has several luxury trains that snake through particularly scenic routes over the course of a few days. One example is the JR East Shiki-Shima train.