One of the biggest tourist draws in Japan during the autumn is watching the autumn leaves turn. The forests and parks of Japan shift from vibrant greens to stunning reds, yellows, and oranges. This fleeting change of the seasons echoes the beauty of sakura in spring, heralding the coming of winter and the harvest. If you are planning to see the autumn colours here is a short guide to help plan your trip.
The word in Japanese for autumn colours is “koyo” or “momiji” (紅葉), the kanji of this word is the same as maple tree. These trees are native to Japan so can be found all across this varied country. Maple trees change from bright greens through yellow and orange to show a vermilion red. The ginkgo trees are also popular for watching autumn colours and turn from green to a very vibrant yellow before falling. To see maple trees you can either visit forests or gardens and temples. The ginkgo trees are more commonly seen purposefully planted near shrines and in gardens than in nature. These are not the only trees to offer the shades of autumn. Many varieties of cherry turn red, this can make for stunning views as many cherries are planted strategically. Many other bushes and grasses also offer these beautiful scenes.
Autumn colours can be enjoyed in all the prefectures of Japan as the season changes as it moves south. Kyoto has some particularly excellent spots for viewing the autumn colours. The iconic Kiyomizudera looks stunning surrounded by the red leaves. South of Kyoto you can see the Arashiyama forests change colours as the cold air descends from the mountains. In Tokyo, there is a road called ginkgo avenue (Icho Namiki) which is lined by the upright forms of the ginkgo trees. Here you can see many trees wearing splendid yellow leaves. Hokkaido receives a lot of tourism during the autumn colours and there are many national parks where you can enjoy reds and yellows as far as the eye can see. Try either Daisetsuzan or Shiretoko National park if you go to Hokkaido.
As with every natural phenomenon the exact dates that the leaves change vary each year depending on the preceding weather patterns. Due to the fact that Japan covers a long range of latitudes the autumn colours will be occurring somewhere on the Japanese islands for almost three months! The change starts in September in Hokkaido, the coldest and most northern of the Japanese islands. Around the same time the mountains of northern Honshu also start to change. From this point the band of autumn gradually moves south. Colours usually change in Tokyo and Kyoto around the same time in late November to December. Kyoto, Osaka, Izu and Tokyo are some of the last areas where the trees change. Luckily you don’t have to be so precise to catch the autumn colours compared to the sakura season. The leaves continue to change colour until they fall, which can be a couple of weeks.