It might be difficult to travel overseas right now but this doesn’t mean you can’t go on an adventure! How about heading to one of the most beautiful fall-foliage spots in Japan so you can soothe your soul with the beautiful scenery? In this article, we’ll introduce the best spots in Japan for viewing autumn leaves. We have also included the best 2020 dates to see them, although they can vary by region so be sure to take note of that as well!
When’s the Best Time to Visit? The 2020 Fall Foliage Forecast
Autumn in Japan is when the trees turn beautiful shades of yellow and red, and people travel to the most beautiful sites around the country to view the autumn leaves. Because 2020 was an average year in terms of sunlight, rainfall, and temperature, all of Japan is expecting vivid foliage this fall. The foliage schedule (when the leaves are the most colorful, right before falling) is likely to be mostly the same as in previous years, making for easy planning. An additional bonus this year is that due to the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no international tourists, so you can enjoy these destinations in peace. Relish the opportunity to visit Japan’s most popular foliage spots without the crowds!
Foliage Viewing Times Around the Country
Hokkaido and Tohoku Regions (Hokkaido, Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, and Fukushima Prefectures)
The Hokkaido and Tohoku regions, situated at the north end of the Japanese archipelago, have the earliest viewing season. When visiting here in the fall, make sure to bring warm clothing! The mountainous areas where the foliage spots are concentrated are chillier than at ground level. Additionally, Hokkaido’s cities start seeing snowfall in late October, so always check the weather before heading outside. The viewing season here kicks off in mid-October.
Recommended Spot in Hokkaido: Sounkyo
The Sounkyo gorge, located on the north side of Daisetsuzan National Park, is a tourist spot famous for its fall foliage and the onsen hot spring town at the base of the mountain. Drive to Ginsendai, located at an altitude of 1,500m, or take the Kurodake Ropeway, and gaze upon the beautiful mountainside dyed with the bright colors of autumn leaves. Make sure to also check out Ryusei Falls and Ginga Falls with their precipitous cliffs.
|Address||Sōunkyō, Kamikawa-cho-aza, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido|
|Access||110-minute bus ride to Sounkyo (Dohoku Bus) from Asahikawa Station, or s 35-minute bus ride to Sounkyo (Dohoku Bus) from Kamikawa Station followed by an 8-minute walk to Sounkyo Station on the Kurodake Ropeway|
Recommended Spot in Hokkaido: Jozankei Onsen
Jozankei Onsen, located a 1-hour drive from Hokkaido’s largest city of Sapporo, is easy to access. The onsen town is surrounded by mountains on all sides, making it entirely enveloped by autumn colors. Make sure to check out the Futami Suspension Bridge, which offers the most gorgeous views of the surrounding area, and the nighttime illuminations of the autumn leaves. Nearby you will also find the Hoheikyo Dam and the Sapporo International Ski Resort, also known for their foliage scenes. Visit this area to get your fill of both autumn leaves and onsen hot springs.
|Name||Jozankei Onsen Futami Suspension Bridge|
|Address||4, Jozankei Onsen Nishi, Minami-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido|
|Access||100-minute direct bus ride on the “Yuttari Liner” express bus from Shin-Chitose Airport to Jozankei Onsen, then a 5-minute walk to Futami Suspension Bridge|
Recommended Spot in Hokkaido: Onuma Quasi-National Park
The Onuma Quasi-National Park is located a 50-minute train ride from the popular Hokkaido city of Hakodate. Within its 9,000 hectares you will find three lakes: the Onuma, Konuma, and Junsai. Enjoy the sublime sights of over a hundred islands that dot the Onuma lake and the numerous colorful trees reflected in the waters of the Konuma.
|Name||Onuma Quasi-National Park|
|Address||1023-1, Onumacho, Nanaecho-aza, Kameda-gun, Hokkaido|
|Access||30-minute train ride on the Hokuto limited-express or a 50-minute train ride on local trains from Hakodate Station to Onuma Koen Station|
Recommended Spot in Aomori: Oirase Gorge
Enjoy a full palette of colors at the Oirase Gorge, which blends together the white sprays of water from mountain streams and rapids, the deep red and orange of its virgin forest’s leaves, and the deep green of its moss-covered rocks. The walking paths along the rapids stretch for some 14km, long enough for the upstream (by Lake Towada) and downstream areas to see the trees change color at different times. Travel along the path and notice the subtle differences between trees in different stages of changing their colors—an experience you can find in few other places.
|Address||60, Oaza Okuse, Towada-shi, Aomori|
|Access||2 hours by bus from Aomori and Shin-Aomori stations|
Recommended Spot in Miyagi: Naruko Gorge
The Naruko Gorge features a sheer drop of some 100m that is completely filled with multicolored trees. If you’d like to check out the spot’s most famous scenery, that of the Ofukazawa Bridge straddling the gorge, then you should head to the Naruko Gorge Rest House nearby. From there, take a stroll along the Naruko Gorge and Ofukazawa walking trails. Naruko Onsen-kyo is another nearby recommended spot.
|Opening Hours||Naruko Gorge Rest House: 8:30 am – 5:00 pm through November 15 (contact the location directly for opening hours after November 16)|
Naruko Gorge Walking Trail: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Ofukazawa Walking Trail: Open all day.
Closed every winter between late November and late April
|Address||Naruko Onsen, Osaki-shi, Miyagi|
|Access¥||40-minute ride on the Rikuu East Line rapid train from Furukawa Station to Naruko-Onsen Station|
Recommended Spot in Fukushima: Urabandai
Urabandai is where you can find the Goshikinuma, or “five colored marshes,” which were given a star by the Michelin Green Guide in 2016. Particularly splendid is the sight of autumn leaves reflected in the Aonuma (Blue Marsh), which brims with an almost otherworldly shade of bright blue. Take a stroll along the Goshikinuma Walking Trail, about 4km in length, and observe the unique colors of eight different marshes (more than just the five main ones) and the leaves reflected in them.
|Name||Urabandai (Goshiki-numa Ponds Bus Stop)|
|Address||Oaza Hibara, Kitashiobara-mura, Yama-gun, Fukushima|
|Access||35-minute ride on the Ban’etsu West Line from Koriyama Station to Inawashiro Station, then a 30-minute ride on the Bandai Toto Bus to Goshiki-numa Ponds|
Kanto and Koshin Regions (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Yamanashi, and Nagano Prefectures)
The Kanto-Koshin region is where you can find Tokyo, the capital of Japan. This makes the region extremely accessible and it’s why the Kanto-Koshin foliage spots make for great day-trips. While the region boasts a relatively warm climate, if you head out to the more mountainous corners of Nagano and Yamanashi, you’ll notice that mornings and evenings there can get quite chilly. So if you’re taking a trip there from the city center, make sure to bring one layer of clothing beyond what you’d normally wear. Additionally, Tokyo itself features several gardens with splendid foliage for those who’d prefer not to venture too far away from home. Peak foliage in this area appears between mid-October and late November.
Recommended Spot in Tokyo: Mt. Takao
Mt. Takao, standing 599m tall, earned three stars in the 2007 Michelin Green Guide. It’s easily accessible via cable car or chair lift, with the the cable car route being a particularly great foliage viewing spot. In the autumn, the ride is like traveling through a bright red tunnel of leaves. You should also make sure to stop by the Takaosan Yakuoin temple, since what could be a more Japanese sight than a temple shrouded in fiery leaves? There’s a “day-trip onsen” by the Keio Takaosanguchi Station, so stop by it after your hike for a soothing soak before heading back home.
|Address||Takao-machi, Hachioji-shi, Tokyo|
|Access||5-minute walk from Takaosanguchi Station to Kiyotaki Station |
(on the ropeway)
Recommended Spot in Tochigi: Nikko and Kinugawa
Stay at Kinugawa Onsen and tour the entire Nikko and Kinugawa area, including destinations such as the Nikko Toshogu shrine (a World Heritage Site), Lake Chuzenji, and the Kegon falls, all of which offer beautiful foliage sceneries. As peak foliage tends to come later in onsen towns, you should visit Kinugawa Onsen and its surroundings in early November. Make sure not to miss the Kinu Tateiwa Otsuribashi (Suspension Bridge) near the onsen, from which you can take in the breathtaking sight of colorful trees covering a yawning ravine.
|Name||Kinu Tateiwa Otsuribashi|
|Address||1436, Kinugawa Onsen Ohara, Nikko-shi, Tochigi|
|Access||15-minute walk from Kinugawa Onsen Station|
Recommended Spot in Nagano: Kamikochi
Just five minutes from the Kamikochi Bus Terminal is Kappabashi (Kappa Bridge), Kamikochi’s most iconic sight and one of the best-known foliage spots in Japan. Take in the emerald green of the transparent Azusa River, the colorful trees, and the majestic Hotaka Mountains in the background. It’s a landscape that looks like a work of art no matter what angle you look at it from. Just exploring the Kappabashi area will leave you satisfied, but if you’re down for a hike, check out the nearby Myojin, Tashiro, and Taisho ponds. Their mirror-like surfaces beautifully reflect the vibrant leaves around them.
|Address||Azumi Kamikochi, Matsumoto-shi, Nagano|
|Access||90-minute bus ride from Matsumoto Station (Matsumoto Bus Terminal) on a local bus to Kamikochi Bus Terminal. Other options available, including a direct bus from Shinjuku (4 hours and 50 minutes)|
Tokai and Hokuriku Regions (Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, and Shizuoka Prefectures)
Included here are the Tokai Region (which faces the Pacific Ocean), the Hokuriku Region (which faces the Sea of Japan), and the inland Gifu Prefecture. This area is located right in the center of Japan. In addition to Shirakawa-go and the Daitoin Temple introduced below, you can also enjoy autumn leaves in other tourist destinations such as on the popular Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route and at Shuzenji in Shizuoka (which offers onsen hot spring baths in addition to leaf-viewing.) Average temperatures here are similar to those in the Kanto area. Peak foliage is between late October and late November.
Recommended Spot in Gifu: Shirakawa-go
Shirakawa-go, a World Heritage Site, is a village with a group of thatched-roof houses that date back to the 18th century. These houses are built in what is called the “gassho-zukuri” style, where wooden beams are arranged in a triangular formation and the roof is thatched, i.e. covered with harvested and dried grasses. In the backdrop of the village is a mountain range, which in autumn is covered with colorful leaves from foot to summit.
|Address||Ogimachi, Shirakawa-mura, Ono-gun, Gifu|
|Access||2.5-hour express bus ride from Nagoya Station (Meitetsu Bus Center) to Shirakawa-go Bus Terminal; 80-minute express bus ride from Kanazawa Station or Toyama Station to Shirakawa-go Bus Terminal; 2-hour and 15-minute car ride from Nagoya Station|
Recommended Spot in Shizuoka: Daitoin Temple
Daitoin Temple features many colorful broadleaf trees, including maples, and during the peak foliage season they litter the ground so completely that the footpaths resemble carpets of bright red leaves. The Main Hall is located quite high up, so once you arrive there, you’ll be able to admire a panorama of the same trees that you saw down below during your walk. The Okuni Shrine, located a 20-minute walk away, also boasts beautiful fall foliage so you should stop by both places!
|Opening days||Open all year|
|Address||249, Tachibana, Mori-machi, Shuchi-gun, Shizuoka|
|Access||23-minute ride on the Tenryu Hamanako Railroad from Kakegawa Station to Enshu-mori Station, then a 10-minute drive|
Kinki Region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Shiga, and Wakayama Prefectures)
The Kinki region is home to numerous temples, shrines, and castles of historical importance, and this historical gravitas heavily contributes to the area’s foliage-viewing experience! Because this region is an established tourist spot, it is well-served by public transport and there are numerous foliage locations that are just a short train ride away from your accommodations! Note that while several foliage illuminations are held every year in Kyoto, many of them have been canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re planning to visit one, make sure to first check the event’s official website! Peak foliage is between late October and late November.
Recommended Spot in Kyoto: Arashiyama
Arashiyama has been known as a beautiful fall-foliage location for over 1,000 years. If you’re looking for the perfect scene to capture on camera, make sure to head to the Katsura River and include the wooden Togetsu-kyo Bridge that spans it in your shot. Tenryu-ji, a World Heritage Site once visited by Queen Elizabeth II, is located a 10-minute walk from Togetsu-kyo, and its garden is another beautiful foliage spot that’s well worth a visit.
|Address||Saga-nakanoshima-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto|
|Access||17-minute train ride on the San-in Main Line (Sagano Line) from Kyoto Station to Saga-Arashiyama Station, then a 13-minute walk|
|Other||The Arashiyama Hanatouro event, held every December, has been canceled for 2020.|
Recommended Spot in Nara: Nara Park
Nara Park, famous for its flock of roaming deer, is also a great place for foliage-viewing. One excellent scenery you don’t want to miss is the combination of the bright red leaves and the Ukimido Pavilion floating atop the park’s Sagi-ike Pond. Also in the park is Todai-ji Temple, where the leaves falling from ginkgo trees produce a mesmerizing golden carpet. If you get the chance, make sure to snap a shot of the deer wandering through this landscape.
|Closing days||Open all year|
|Address||Kasugano-cho, Nara-shi, Nara|
|Access||5-minute walk from Kintetsu-Nara Station|
Recommended Spot in Wakayama: Koyasan
Koyasan (Mt. Koya) is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.” The mountain, which is located entirely within the grounds of the Kongobu-ji Temple, has been a sacred site in Japanese Buddhism for over 1,200 years. The vermillion Daimon (main gate) and smaller Chumon (medium gate), Danjo Garan (a complex of sacred buildings), and Kondo (main hall) are some of the many historical buildings you should explore when visiting the site. There are autumn leaves all throughout the premises, but the Jabara-michi area between Kongobu-ji Temple and Danjo Garan, where the overhanging trees create a tunnel of leaves, is especially beautiful.
|Name||Koyasan Shingon-shu Sohonzan Kongobu-ji|
|Opening hours||8:30 am – 5:00 pm, reception open until 4:30 pm (year-round)|
|Entrance fee||General: 500 yen, Elementary students: 200 yen, Below school age: Free|
|Address||132, Koyasan, Koyacho-oaza, Ito-gun, Wakayama|
|Access||1-hour and 40-minute train ride on the Nankai Koya Line Rapid Express from Namba Station to Gokurakubashi Station, then a 5-minute walk to the Koyasan Cable Car|
Chugoku and Shikoku Regions (Hiroshima, Tottori, Shimane, Okayama, Yamaguchi, Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kochi Prefectures)
Next is the Chugoku region at the western end of Honshu, as well as the island of Shikoku on the other side of the Seto Inland Sea. Each prefecture faces the sea, which means there are numerous places where you can enjoy the leaves against a marine backdrop, such as Miyajima and the Kankakei Gorge (introduced below). Numerous islands also dot the Seto Inland Sea, such as Shodo-shima, where Kankakei is found. As for the climate, the prefectures facing the Sea of Japan (Shimane and Tottori) tend to be slightly chillier than the rest of the region. The best time for foliage-viewing here is between late October and late November.
Recommended Spot in Tottori: Daisen
Standing 1,729m tall, Mt. Daisen is notable for its beech thickets and for its conical shape. The best time to experience the mountain’s fall foliage is in late October, when the entire mountainside appears bright red, and in early November, when the first snowfall turns this red landscape white. At the foot of the mountain are lifts and a ranch, so you can explore the meadows while gazing upon the fall foliage.
|Address||Daisen, Daisen-cho, Saihaku-gun, Tottori|
|Access||2-hour ride on the Super Yakumo limited express train from Okayama Station to Yonago Station, then a 50-minute ride on a local bus to Daisen-ji|
Recommended Spot in Hiroshima: Miyajima
When visiting Miyajima in the fall, you must stop by Momijidani Park to enjoy its 700 colorful trees. Located a 5-minute walk from the eternally popular Itsukushima Shrine, Momijidani is a garden at the foot of Mt. Misen, along the Momijidani River. Go see the Momiji Bridge, which is painted a bright vermilion but still somewhat pales in comparison to the vivid red of the maple trees surrounding it.
|Name||Miyajima Momijidani Park|
|Address||Momijidani, Miyajima-cho, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima|
|Access||5-minute walk from Miyajimaguchi Station or a 1 minute walk from Hiroden Miyajima-guchi Station (on the Hiroden Miyajima Line), then a 10-minute ride on the JR West Miyajima Ferry from the Miyajimaguchi Pier to the Miyajima Ferry Terminal, then walk 20 minutes|
Recommended Spot in Kagawa: Kankakei Gorge
The ropeway is the best way to get a full view of everything that the Kankakei Gorge has to offer. Look down, and you’ll get a panoramic view of the rugged rocks, the colorful trees dyed red, yellow, and green, and the Inland Sea. The mountain trail, which can be completed in just 1 hour, is also recommended. Just after getting off of the ropeway, stop by the local restaurant and sample the “Olive Soft,” made by mixing locally-grown olives into soft-serve ice cream.
|Address||Kankakedori, Shodoshima-cho, Shozu-gun, Kagawa|
|Access||13-minute ride on the Shodoshima Olive Bus Kankake Line (seasonal) from Kusakabe Port to Koun Station|
Kyushu Region (Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima Prefectures)
The Kyushu Region, at the southwestern end of the Japanese archipelago, experiences the foliage season a bit later than the rest of the country, with peak foliage falling between early November and late November. Kyushu’s southern part (Miyazaki and Kagoshima) is slightly warmer than the northern part (Fukuoka) but if you’re heading into more mountainous areas in search of foliage, you should definitely be prepared for cold weather. This section will introduce two spots, but there are plenty of other excellent places around Kyushu for autumn leaves, such as Mt. Aso in Kumamoto and Yakushima Island in Kagoshima.
Recommended Spot in Oita: Shin-Yabakei Gorge
Shin-Yabakei Gorge, positioned along the Yamautsuri River, is best-known for “Hitomi Hakkei” or “eight views at one glance,” a reference to the eight curious and impressive rock formations found at the gorge. Because of the superb sight of autumn leaves decorating the varied cliff faces, it has been called one of Japan’s Three Great Fall Foliage spots, alongside Arashiyama and Nikko. While you’re there, sample some handmade soba, a local delicacy.
|Address||Shinyaba, Yabakeimachi-oaza, Nakatsu-shi, Oita|
|Access||1-hour and 45-minute ride on the Yufu limited express train from Hakata Station to Bungomori Station, then a 30-minute bus ride to Shin-Yabakei (no service on Sundays), then walk for 5 minutes|
Recommended Spot in Miyazaki: Takachiho Gorge
At Takachiho Gorge, you can marvel at the sheer cliffs on both sides of the Gokase River and the waterfall cascading into it. From the Mihashi Bridge or the Takimidai Lookout, you can also enjoy the beautiful sight of the Manaino Falls surrounded by red leaves. You can take in the gorge’s scenery from above by strolling along the walking trail, but there is also the more thrilling option of viewing it all from below by renting a boat!
|Address||60-1, Oaza Mukoyama, Takachiho-cho, Nishiusuki-gun, Miyazaki|
|Access||3-hour and 30-minute ride on an express bus from Hakata Station, or a 1-hour ride on a limited-express train from Miyazaki Station to Nobeoka Station with a 90-minute ride on a local bus|
You can always find plenty of pictures of autumn foliage on the internet, but seeing it in person is a whole different experience! Immersing yourself in nature’s invigorating sceneries is an excellent way to soothe your spirit, and this year, because of the government’s Go To Travel campaign, exploring Japan’s autumn foliage landscapes is more affordable than ever before!
Title image credit: kazukiatuko / PIXTA
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.