Fall in Japan has always enchanted many. Come Autumn, and the nation proudly dons the flaming colours of its fall foliage, as the season turns the maple and ginkgo leaves into vibrant hues of yellow, red and rust. Also referred to as koyo, these colours lend a dramatic backdrop to the cities and countryside, and for a brief time, bathe Japan in poetic, golden brilliance.
The fall colours light the skies first in the north, in Hokkaido around mid-September, and then spread their warmth towards the south through Honshu and Kyushu towards early December. Japanese gardens and parks are the traditional way to admire koyo, and within Tokyo itself, the Rikugien and Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens are popular autumnal spots. If you’re visiting the Meiji Shrine, you’ll come across Icho Namiki, a ginkgo-lined avenue in the grounds where elegantly trimmed trees glow a bright yellow. Walk on further to Yoyogi Koen, which displays yellows and reds. The Hama Rikyu Garden sets the perfect stage for koyo viewing with a picturesque lake reflecting the dazzling colours, and a Japanese tea house serving traditional Matcha green tea and desserts.
Kyoto, with its scenic splendours and classic architecture is, perhaps, the most popular location for admiring fall foliage. Don’t miss the bright crimson maples in the Tofuku-ji, Honen-en, Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji temples.
There are other unconventional ways of enjoying the season’s unique palette. If you find yourself in Hida Takayama in the Gifu Prefecture between October and November, take a leisurely stroll through its ancient streets, or walk along the Higashiyama Walking Course that leads to the Higashiyama Temple Area and discover sweeping vistas of colourful autumn foliage.
The great outdoors, cloaked in blazing yellows and rusts, is even more enchanting when viewed from a balmy, open-air onsen. Visit Nyuto-onsenkyo, an area boasting 7 hot springs, to be treated to a panoramic view of the colours that paint the surrounding mountains! Kamakura, located in the Kanagawa Prefecture, invites hikers with its picturesque trails that run through serene, wooded areas offering beautiful views of autumn colours. Catch the fiery red hues of the maple leaves at Kakuon-ji Temple or tea and snacks at the top of the mountain at Ten-en Rest House amidst brilliant fall landscapes. For a change of pace, cruise down the Hozugawa River in Hozu Valley and take in the attractive red and gold scenery.
Perhaps nothing can compare to the sheer magic of fall in Japan at the Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki Prefecture, where you can capture nature’s allure in every direction you turn.
But autumn isn’t just about spectacular colours; it’s also about hearty food and healthy indulgences! Autumn announces the rice harvest and abundant fruits like persimmon, chestnuts, apples, grapes and pears. The sanma or mackerel pike is quintessential autumnal fare in Japanese cuisine, and the leaves of the maple tree form a special treat during this season, eaten as momiji tempura. It’s also the season for the highly prized Matsutake mushrooms.
Autumn is also a good time for festivals. The Tsukimi, or the Japanese moon-viewing festival occurs around September or early October, a time when the moon is especially bright, and honoured through the preparation of rice dumplings, tsukimi dango, and other seasonal foods. The autumnal harvest festival is similarly celebrated in rural Japan, with floats bearing symbolic gods being carried through the streets.
Fall in Japan lasts for a very short spell, but it makes up for this by its sheer magnitude of beauty. Count also, the flavoursome offerings in its cuisine and the festivals, and you’ll realise why fall is such a special season in this enchanting nation.