Momiji 2022: Best Spots to Admire Autumn Leaves in Japan

Last Updated on 02.09.2022 by Coto Japanese Language School

While Japan is revered for its cherry blossoms in the spring, autumn foliage is an equally beautiful sight — but, sadly, not as well known. Momijigari (紅葉狩り), which literally means “red leaf hunting” or “maple leaf hunting”, is a custom of admiring the changing colors of leaves to vibrant red, brown, yellow and orange during fall in Japan. It has been practiced for centuries by the Japanese people, drawing inspiration for artists and poets.

Like hanami (cherry blossom viewing), admiring the gradient autumn leaves is done when the temperature cools down. Fall is one of the best times to experience Japan, as the chill weather and clear skies make it especially nice for you to take a stroll and enjoy the outdoor view. 

When is the best time to enjoy momiji in Japan, and what are the best viewing locations? We’ll give you a thorough guide to help you plan the perfect momijigari experience.

Autumn in Japanese: Aki, Momiji and Kouyou

Autumn in Japan is aki (秋). Most people who are familiar with Japanese culture have probably heard the more common fall-related term: momiji (紅葉). However, fall foliage is classified into two: the latter, and another one called kouyou. 

Surprisingly, kouyou and momiji has the same kanji, 紅葉. The characters literally translate to “red leaves.” Both are strongly tied to the activity of experiencing fall in Japan.  Historically, the characters are read as momiji (もみじ) which means “red leaves” and “maple tree”.  

Notice that the changing autumn leaves aren’t just shades of brown and red? Kouyou describes foliage with red and yellow colors, while momiji particularly describes the intense red color of maple leaves. 

The custom of going to visit scenic areas where leaves have turned red is called 紅葉狩, or もみじがり. This tradition was born during the Heian Era in the Kyoto region’s aristocracy. In this era, the word 狩 (かり), or kari, means hunting and was used to speak not only about the hunting of deer, but also the picking of fruit. 

Of course, the Japanese nobility did not participate in such activities, but they were great admirers of nature’s beauty. Finally, the aristocracy borrowed the word 狩 (かり) and started to use 紅葉狩 (もみじがり) to mean “red leaves viewing”, especially around Kyoto’s temples. Trees were planted specifically for this refined autumn hobby of the era’s elite. 

Now, momijigari is a unique tradition that allows Japanese people to admire the season before winter comes.

When to Enjoy Fall Leaves in Japan

Generally, autumn in Japan starts in September, although this varies from prefecture to prefecture because of regional climate, latitude and elevation. For example, while most regions peak in November, colder areas can start changing their leave colors earlier, while others go as late as December. This should give you ample time to enjoy this seasonal spectacle. You’ll be able to catch the leaves anytime from the end of September through to December.

The autumn foliage season starts in mid-September in  Hokkaido, Japan’s most northern region. From the north, the change of fall colors moves southward by mid-October. The progression of fall leaves is called koyo zensen (紅葉前線). 

Places like Kyoto and Tokyo have peak viewing that lasts between two weeks to one month, typically ranging from mid-October to early December.  That said, the end of November is probably the peak time to experience Momiji and koyo in Japan.

Autumn Foliage Forecast Japan

CityEstimated color peak
Hokkaidomid-September to early November
Tohokuearly October to mid-November
Nikkomid-September to late October
Hakoneearly November to late November
Tokyomid-November to early December
Fuji late October to mid-November
Kanazawamid-November to early December
Kansai (Kyoto, Nara, Osaka)mid-November to early December

All the popular spots (Nikko, Oirase and Kyoto) release their forecasts. As for the best timing to see momiji, it is usually around one month after the leaves turn red in Hokkaido for the Tohoku region (around October), as well as early November to December in the Kyushu and Kanto regions.

In 2022, the best time for autumn leaves in Tokyo is from the end of November to early December.

Where to See Autumn Leaves in Japan

Japan is already a beautiful place on its own, so any region is a great area for koyo and momiji viewing in the autumn. Even if you are in a modern city like Tokyo and Osaka, city parks and streets are lined with hundreds (if not thousands) of trees for koyo and momijigari. Besides that, Japan offers mountainous hiking trails, which is a great alternative for outdoor lovers wishing to experience the Japanese countryside. 

Still, a few places are specifically worth visiting for autumn leaf spots in Japan for a reason. 

Kanto Region (Tokyo, Yokohama)

Although not as heavy in nature as its neighboring regions, Tokyo is still packed with green spaces that still makes it ideal for momijigari. The ginkgo tree, known as icho in Japanese, is the official tree of Tokyo. It lines many of the city’s streets and turns into a bright yellow during autumn. Some of the most popular include:

mount takao during the fall for momijigari

Mount Takao

Mount Takao is the closest natural recreation area to central Tokyo, making it the perfect hiking and outdoor spot. Autumn in Mount Takao is especially spectacular as the entire mountain is covered in red and yellow leaves. The best way to enjoy the scenery is by riding the cable car from Kiyoaki Station and Takaosan Station. You’ll ascent the 599-meter summit, which gives you a more relaxed experience to see the stunning autumn leaves. 

Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park is located close to Harajuku, famed for both ginkgo trees which turn a luminous gold-yellow in fall and the maple trees. You’ll see a beautiful contrast of yellow and starking red, which are spectacular autumn color combos. The best time to see momiji in Yoyogi Park is from the end of November to mid-December. 

Showa Kinen Park

The 300-meter trail lined with ginkgo trees is an iconic fall foliage spot in Tokyo. The trail is lined with one hundred trees that stand over 20 meters high. The best time to view them is during mid-November, and it’s relatively accessible. The closest station is Tachikawa Station, which is a 20-minute train ride from Shinjuku. You can also rent a bike to go around the park and admire the stunning golden trees.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park at autumn in Tokyo, Japan

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park

The Shinjuku Gyoen National Park is one of Tokyo’s largest parks, with three gardens combined into one, giant area. There are different types of trees that change to different shades of red, orange, yellow and brown around the park, creating a vibrant gradient effect. 

The maple trees in the Japanese Garden are particularly beautiful, although you can also see these maple trees on the park’s eastern side. The British Garden has more ginkgo leaves. The colors typically appear from mid-November to mid-December. 

meiji jingu gaien momiji fall viewing tokyo

Meiji Jingu Gaien

The 300-meter-long Ginkgo Avenue is one of Tokyo’s most popular momiji viewing spots. The road stretches from the Aoyama Nichome intersection to the outer gardens of Meiji Shrine. The wide road has 14 conical trees that turn bright yellow in late November, which makes it as if you’re walking in a golden tunnel. 

The ginkgo tree, known as icho in Japanese, is the official tree of Tokyo, and it lines many of the city’s streets. The most famous of these is the Ginkgo Avenue in Meiji-Jingu Gaien Park. These stately conical trees turn bright yellow in late November.

Mizumoto Park

Mizumoto Park is the biggest riverside park in Tokyo, also famous for its 1,800 dawn redwood trees. Most of them are more than 20 meters in height, creating beautiful autumn foliage  During fall, its highlight is the around 1,800 dawn redwood trees, also called Metasequoia, and their beautiful autumn foliage.

how to enjoy fall foliage in kyoto

Kyoto

Kyoto is renowned for its traditional temples and forests, and it’s considered the best city in Japan to experience autumn. All over Kyoto, the leaves change colors during the autumn, and visitors flock to popular tourist destinations throughout the city.

Ruriko-in Temple, Kyoto

A heavily protected cultural property, Ruriko-in Tempe in Kyoto normally can’t be visited — but, twice a year, it’s open to the public: once in spring, and once in the autumn.

It used to be a lesser-known spot out of areas famous for autumn leaves viewing in Kyoto until it gained popularity through social media. The picturesque shot is iconic: against the black lacquered floor, people will take a photo of the brilliant red Momiji (Japanese maple) surrounding the area. The floors also act as a mirror for the fall foliage, which accentuates the autumn atmosphere at the temple and creates a stunning visual effect.

Tofukoji Temple

The Tsutenkyo Bridge, located on the temple grounds, is the most popular autumn viewing location in Tokyo to view the orange and red autumn leaves. 

The Tofukuji Temple is one of the most popular koyo locations in Kyoto. Its trees blaze with an orange and red coloration. The Tsutenkyo Bridge offers an impressive view of the temple grounds.

Arashiyama 

The bamboo forest is located on the outskirts of Kyoto. Arashiyama offers a magnificent view of auburn, yellow and red leaves from the forested mountains, which consist of multicolored trees. You can also enjoy the momiji on the Sagano Scenic train. Head there between late November and December. 

Eikando Temple

While most momijigari spots in Japan are best to be visited during the day, the grounds of Eikando Temple are illuminated at night to enable nighttime viewing. 

Other Beautiful Places for Autumn in Japan

If you got the chance to travel all over Japan in the autumn, you’re not going to be short in finding beautiful, painting-like sceneries of the fall. Thankfully, there’s a lot of time to enjoy the seasonal spectacle.

fuji five lakes momijigari

Mount Fuji (Fuji Five Lakes), Yamanashi

Japan’s highest mountain is also a popular spot during the autumn season. The trees surrounding the Fuji Fike Lakes (Yamanakako, Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Shojiko and Motosuko)turn to amber and golden shades, The most popular of these lakes is Lake Kawaguchi. We recommend renting a boat to tour the lake as you’ll get the scenery of Mount Fuji and tree reflections. The “Momiji Corridor” captures both Mount Fuji and fall foliage at once, so you’ll see tourists lining up and gathering for the perfect shot.

nikko tochigi ryuzu waterfall in the autumn

Nikko, Tochigi

A popular day trip from Tokyo, Nikko’s picturesque nature and Unesco World Heritage temples make the autumn there especially magical. The peak season for autumn leaves in Nikko usually runs from early October to early November.

The Shinkyo Bridge, early recognizable from its ionic red color against the backdrop of mountainous forests, sits near the entrance to Nikko’s shrines and temples and is surrounded by colorful autumn foliage. 

The Ryuzu Falls is another spot in Nikko to experience autumn. The waterfall is flanked by trees that turn yellow and red in early October, which gives the waterfall a dragon-like appearance. The waterfall is viewed free of charge from a small observation deck in the back of a rest house.

jozankei hokkaido autumn momiji in japan

Jozankei, Hokkaido

Already a famous spot as the onsen (hot spring) town in Hokkaido, another way to admire Jozankei and autumn in Japan simultaneously is by riding the canoe on the river, surrounded by mountains and the vividly colored autumn leaves can be enjoyed on all sides.

From mid-October, the foliage at the foot of Mt. Hakkenzan gradually turns red and yellow, and the sight can be seen from the nearby national highway. At the Wild Mustang’s horse-riding facility, visitors can enjoy Western-style horse-riding at the foot of the mountain.

The eight-seater cable car, Koyo Gondola, also operates from late September to mid-October. It brings you to an observation deck at the summit station, which offers views of the autumn leaves, Ishikari Bay and Otaru Port.

minoo park and minoo waterfall in osaka

Minoo Park, Osaka

Arugably the best place for autumn colors in Osaka, Minoo Park is strategically located in the suburbs, a short train ride from the city. Minoo Park is most known for its colorful fall foliage, which you can view as you make your way on the hiking trail. The trail begins near Hankyu Minoo Station and leads to the Minoo Waterfall, its iconic attraction.

During the fall season, the shops alongside the path sell an interesting snack inspired my autumn called momiji tempura: maple leaves deep fried in batter.

nara park nara during the fall in japan

Nara Park, Nara

Already famous for its friendly sika deers, Nara Park is a spacious park and is said to be one of the oldest public parks in Japan. It is located in the center of Nara city, at the foot of Mount Wakakusa. Generally, the best time to see the leaves change during autumn in Nara is between October to late November. Head to Todaiji Temple, which. is surrounded by red Momiji maple trees, evergreen trees, ginkgo and deers.

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