A Beginner's Guide to Aki (秋): The Best Period, Spots, and Tips to Enjoy Japan's Autumn

A Beginner's Guide to Aki (秋): The Best Period, Spots, and Tips to Enjoy Japan's Autumn

“I long to be in Japan in the autumn.”

These words from my favourite travel writer, Pico Iyer, echoes my feelings about Japan’s autumn. He explains that “it’s the reddening of the maple leaves under a blaze of ceramic-blue skies that is the place’s secret heart” in his dedicated book “Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells”, encapsulating the beauty of Japan’s autumn.

Anytime is a good time to visit Japan but the autumn months are exceptional as Japan glows with spectacular fall colours. The comfortable autumn weather also makes it perfect for outdoor sightseeing and hiking activities. If you are planning to visit Japan in autumn, here’s a comprehensive beginner’s guide to experiencing the best of Japan in autumn. 

 

When is the best time to enjoy autumn in Japan?

Temple in Japan peeking through autumn leaves
Photo by Unsplash

Autumn marks the transition of summer to winter and the expansive season spans from late September to early December. The highlight of Japan’s autumn is the mesmerising autumn leaves (紅葉 kōyō) that covers the country gradually in stunning hues of red and yellow. Autumn leaves are the symbols of the Japanese autumn like how cherry blossoms represent spring in Japan. 

 

Autumn Foliage Forecast Map 2023 by Japan Rail Times
Infographic by JR Times

While sakura (桜) blossoms start from the south of Japan in Okinawa to the north, autumn leaves start changing colours from the north in Hokkaido as the temperature becomes cooler and gradually spreads to the central and southern parts of Japan. The best time to visit Japan in autumn is during the autumn foliage peak viewing season that usually takes place from mid-October to the end of November. 

 

Where are the best places to enjoy autumn in Japan?

Red bridge in autumn in Japan
Photo by JNTO

Autumn is one of the best seasons to visit Japan as the heat and crowds from summer have subsided and the balmy weather means you can enjoy the outdoors without the hassle of heavy winter clothes and navigating snowy conditions. As a result of the favourable factors, local Japanese flock to the outdoors in autumn and engage in the national sports of autumn leaves-hunting (紅葉狩りmomijigari). 

The autumn leaves viewing season can be enjoyed in two phases. The first phase is the early stage of the season where the trees in high elevation join the rhythm of autumn and their leaves turn into vibrant orange, yellow, and red. The mountainous regions in Japan, especially the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains (日本百名山 Nihon Hyaku-meizan) and the national parks of Japan are popular spots where people hike and enjoy the autumn leaves. 

The second phase of the autumn season brings the earthly tones down to lower altitude areas like in the cities and towns. Autumn leaves can be easily found in parks, gardens, temples, and more. 

 

Red maple leaf in autumn
Photo by Unsplash

The best places to view fall colours are filled with maple trees (紅葉 momiji), which are native to Japan and they are crowned with bright red leaves at the peak of the season. Another iconic type of tree is ginkgo trees (銀杏) that shines with golden yellow leaves. 


Can’t wait to plan your autumn trip to Japan? See our recommendations below for the top regions to enjoy Japan’s fantastic autumn scenery.

 

Hokkaido: Japan’s First Region to Welcome Autumn

Autumn foliage in Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido
Daisetsuzan National Park | Photo by photoAC

Hokkaido is the first region in Japan to welcome autumn. Japan’s earliest autumn leaves start in Daisetsuzan National Park (大雪山国立公園) typically in September. Other national parks like Akan-Mashu National Park (阿寒摩周国立公園) and Shikotsu-Toya National Park (支笏洞爺国立公園) offer picturesque hiking routes where you can immerse in pristine natural environments while being surrounded by fall foliage. 

 

Tohoku Region: Intimate Encounters with Nature


Naruko Gorge | Photo by Miyagi Prefectural Government

Made up of six prefectures, the Tohoku Region (東北地方) is an underrated region to enjoy the best of what autumn has to offer with vast landscapes and intimate encounters with nature with less crowds. Check out the breathtaking colours of autumn in Tohoku’s popular kōyō spots: 

 

Chubu Region: Home to Japan’s Gorge-ous Mountains and Valleys

Takase gorge in autumn in Japan
Takase Gorge | Photo by Field Gallery Design

Home to the Japanese Alps and some of the highest mountains in Japan, the Chubu Region (中部地方 Chūbu Chihō) is the gateway to autumn activities. The top autumn leaves-hunting spots include: 

Autumn is also a time for celebrations and festivals. The old town of Takayama in Gifu Prefecture hosts the famous Takayama Festival (高山祭 Takayama Matsuri) in early October where the autumn colours frame the traditional parade of exquisite festival floats. 

 

Kansai Region: Postcard-Perfect Autumn Spots

Yellow autumn in Kyoto
Autumn in Kyoto | Photo by Unsplash

The Kansai Region (近畿地方 Kinki-chihō) is the hub of autumn sightseeing activities because of the famed Kyoto Prefecture. From Tofukuji Temple (東福寺) to Arashiyama (嵐山), Kyoto is the postcard-perfect autumn destination. Many of the prime viewing spots are UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Kiyomizu Temple (清水寺) and Nijo Castle (二条城) and they are open for night illumination events so you can enjoy the magic of the autumn leaves under the moonlight. 

 

Nara deer in Autumn in Japan
Photo by Unsplash

Take a train to neighbouring Nara Prefecture to continue the autumn journey through historical landmarks like Todaji Temple (東大寺) alongside with autumn trees and adorable deers. Venture further out to Wakayama Prefecture for a sacred retreat in the midst of autumn colours at Koyasan (高野山).

 

How to Enjoy Autumn in Japan

Autumn is a popular season to explore Japan, so the weeks building up to when most of the autumn leaves turn full colours can be rather busy. Here are some more tips for you to experience the best of Japan in the autumn months and enjoy the autumn like a seasoned local. 

 

3 Tips For Planning Your Awesome Autumn Trip

Autumn leaves by the Lake in Japan
Photo by JNTO
  1. The early bird catches the worm–start your day and head to the autumn leaves viewing spots early. You can enjoy the tranquil atmosphere with less crowds and take gorgeous photos in the gentle morning light.
  2. Check the autumn leaves forecast daily for live updates about the colours of the leaves and choose which viewing spots to visit. Keep your itinerary flexible so you can make changes to your day plans according to the weather and the changing colours of the autumn leaves.
  3. Make your hotel bookings early, especially for cities known for their autumn viewing sights like Kyoto. If possible, secure advanced tickets to popular attractions and scenic boat and train rides to skip the lines. 

 

What to Wear

As the temperatures will vary depending on where you travel to, the best is to dress in layers. Light jackets and coats will keep you warm in the northern and mountainous areas and you can go light when you are in the cities like Tokyo. Put on comfortable and sturdy shoes for your outdoor hikes and long walks.

 

What to Eat

Apples in an apple farm in Aomori
Aomori apples | Photo by Aomori Prefecture

Autumn is the season of bountiful harvest as you can enjoy shokuyoku no aki (食欲の秋), which means an “autumn appetite”. Fruits and produce are harvested before the arrival of winter and you can indulge in a variety of delicious autumn food. Fruits like apple, pears, and persimmons are in abundance and sweet potatoes and chestnuts can be enjoyed in many ways from roasted to being used in desserts. 

 

Momiji tempura
Photo by photoAC

If you are lucky to come across momiji tempura (紅葉 天ぷら) that is only available in autumn, buy a bag of it and savour this addictive, crunchy snack made from maple leaves coated in batter and deep fried. This snack originated from Osaka’s Minoh City and it is now sold in many other places in Japan too.

 

Discover Japan's Seasonal Offerings with JAPAN RAIL CLUB

Autumn snacks in a snack subscription box from Japan

Can’t wait to experience autumn in Japan? Consider this a teaser post for JAPAN RAIL CLUB’s upcoming autumn-themed box, dear reader! Every month, JAPAN RAIL CLUB specially curates a box of Japanese snacks from all over the region and deliver it right at your doorstep. Experience the best of Japan’s harvest season in the comforts of your home with our upcoming “Autumn Breeze” Omiyage Snack Box from 1-30 November. 

And for all of you eager autumn visitors, here’s an exclusive promo code to get $20 off when you subscribe to a 3-month plan and above at JAPAN RAIL CLUB between 1-30 November: "ILOVEAUTUMN". Remember to input the code before carting out!

Let's welcome the season of autumn with delicious seasonal snacks from Japan!

Meet the author

Wendy Ng

Wendy (@whywendywrites) spent 2 life-changing years in Okinawa as part of the Japan and Exchange Teaching (JET) Programme. Now, back in Singapore, she dreams and writes about Japan. A compulsive-obsessive travel planner and foodie, she believes that when we know more (and eat more), we travel better.

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當提到日本的綠茶,大家都知道日本京都是茶文化的中心。 綠茶一開始是在西元9世紀,由幾個佛教僧侶從中國引進到日本的。在日本人的生活中,綠茶已經成為一種有著許多用途而且對人體健康的飲品。 作為日本文化的一部分,抹茶、煎茶和玉露等的綠茶品種也提供了多樣的口味選擇和體驗。例如傳統的日本茶道,不僅喝茶能帶來健康,茶道更成為了日本獨一無二的文化。

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

製茶故事:京都舞妓之茶本舖

當提到日本的綠茶,大家都知道日本京都是茶文化的中心。 綠茶一開始是在西元9世紀,由幾個佛教僧侶從中國引進到日本的。在日本人的生活中,綠茶已經成為一種有著許多用途而且對人體健康的飲品。 作為日本文化的一部分,抹茶、煎茶和玉露等的綠茶品種也提供了多樣的口味選擇和體驗。例如傳統的日本茶道,不僅喝茶能帶來健康,茶道更成為了日本獨一無二的文化。

Maker's Story: Gyokuro Tea from Kyoto by Maikonocha Honpo
Sue Lynn

Maker's Story: Gyokuro Tea from Kyoto by Maikon...

When it comes to green tea from Japan, Kyoto stands as the hub of tea culture. Originally introduced by returning Buddhist monks from their travels in China in the 9th...

Sue Lynn Food

Maker's Story: Gyokuro Tea from Kyoto by Maikon...

When it comes to green tea from Japan, Kyoto stands as the hub of tea...

Maker’s Story: Premium Matcha Products from Uji, Kyoto by Kyoeiseicha
Sue Lynn

Maker’s Story: Premium Matcha Products from Uji...

This May, JAPAN RAIL CLUB celebrates the joy that matcha brings to our lives with the special “So Much Matcha” Omiyage Snack Box. May marks the start of the traditional...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

Maker’s Story: Premium Matcha Products from Uji...

This May, JAPAN RAIL CLUB celebrates the joy that matcha brings to our lives with...

綠之日快樂!一起來探索日本新綠季節中五個不能錯過的景點
Sue Lynn

綠之日快樂!一起來探索日本新綠季節中五個不能錯過的景點

在日本眾多節慶與珍貴傳統之中,有一個特別關於自然崇敬的慶典——綠之日。這個國定假日訂於每年五月四日,見證了日本與自然的深厚連結,也提醒人們欣賞這個70%都是山區的島國上,那些美麗的綠色景觀。

Carissa Loh Culture

綠之日快樂!一起來探索日本新綠季節中五個不能錯過的景點

在日本眾多節慶與珍貴傳統之中,有一個特別關於自然崇敬的慶典——綠之日。這個國定假日訂於每年五月四日,見證了日本與自然的深厚連結,也提醒人們欣賞這個70%都是山區的島國上,那些美麗的綠色景觀。

Happy Greenery Day: 5 Must-Visit Places to Explore During Japan's Shinryoku Season
Sue Lynn

Happy Greenery Day: 5 Must-Visit Places to Expl...

Nestled amongst Japan’s vibrant festivities and cherished traditions lies a celebration rooted in reverence for nature―Midori-no-Hi (みどりの日 Greenery Day). Observed annually on 4 May, this national holiday is a testament...

Carissa Loh Culture

Happy Greenery Day: 5 Must-Visit Places to Expl...

Nestled amongst Japan’s vibrant festivities and cherished traditions lies a celebration rooted in reverence for...

Fresh From Hokkaido: A Guide to Sapporo Central Wholesale Market
Sue Lynn

Fresh From Hokkaido: A Guide to Sapporo Central...

Hokkaido is Japan’s food paradise as the northernmost part of the country is the top producer of agricultural products and seafood: the vast lands covering Japan’s second largest island and...

Wendy Ng

Fresh From Hokkaido: A Guide to Sapporo Central...

Hokkaido is Japan’s food paradise as the northernmost part of the country is the top...

Nihon Sankei (日本三景): The Three Scenic Views of Japan
Sue Lynn

Nihon Sankei (日本三景): The Three Scenic Views of ...

Japan is an island nation that has always been known for its stunningly beautiful landscapes but even amongst these, there are three locations that rise above the others and are...

Dawn Sim Nature

Nihon Sankei (日本三景): The Three Scenic Views of ...

Japan is an island nation that has always been known for its stunningly beautiful landscapes...

Japan celebrates Golden Week between April 29 to May 5
Sue Lynn

Golden Week: Exploring Japan's Week-Long Festiv...

What is Golden Week? Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク or 黄金週間 Ogon Shukan), recognised as one of Japan's most prominent and bustling holiday periods, usually spans from late April to early May...

Dawn Sim Culture

Golden Week: Exploring Japan's Week-Long Festiv...

What is Golden Week? Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク or 黄金週間 Ogon Shukan), recognised as one of...

春暖花開:櫻花之外的六種當季花卉
Sue Lynn

春暖花開:櫻花之外的六種當季花卉

賞花的樂趣之一,就是它們轉瞬即逝的特性:花期每季只有幾天,但那短暫幾天卻難忘極了。來看看六種春天當季花卉,以及賞花最佳時機!

Carissa Loh Nature

春暖花開:櫻花之外的六種當季花卉

賞花的樂趣之一,就是它們轉瞬即逝的特性:花期每季只有幾天,但那短暫幾天卻難忘極了。來看看六種春天當季花卉,以及賞花最佳時機!

Spring Beginnings: 6 Seasonal Flowers Other Than Sakura
Sue Lynn

Spring Beginnings: 6 Seasonal Flowers Other Tha...

Flowers herald the beginning of spring, and in Japan, no flower is more synonymous with spring than the beloved cherry blossom (桜 sakura). However, other than these pretty, pink blossoms,...

Carissa Loh Nature

Spring Beginnings: 6 Seasonal Flowers Other Tha...

Flowers herald the beginning of spring, and in Japan, no flower is more synonymous with...

Spring Beginnings: 7 Things to Do in Japan in April and May
Sue Lynn

Spring Beginnings: 7 Things to Do in Japan in A...

Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are flowers symbolic of spring, often alluded to the promise of a new beginning in many Japanese literature. | Photo by Dawn Sim   A symbol...

Dawn Sim Spring

Spring Beginnings: 7 Things to Do in Japan in A...

Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are flowers symbolic of spring, often alluded to the promise of...

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Try Spring Foods in Japan
Sue Lynn

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Try Spring Foods in J...

Spring in Japan is a time for celebration as the season marks new beginnings. Other than the mesmerising cherry blossoms painting the landscape, spring is the best season to experience...

Wendy Ng Food

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Try Spring Foods in J...

Spring in Japan is a time for celebration as the season marks new beginnings. Other...

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Visit Spring Festivals in Japan
Sue Lynn

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Visit Spring Festival...

Photo by cyesuta (CC BY-SA 2.0)   Spring is a season of new beginnings, bringing with it beautiful flowers, comfortable temperatures, and a time of celebration. While most travellers head...

Carissa Loh Festival

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Visit Spring Festival...

Photo by cyesuta (CC BY-SA 2.0)   Spring is a season of new beginnings, bringing...

Castle Day (6 April): 10 Must-Visit Castles in Japan
Sue Lynn

Castle Day (6 April): 10 Must-Visit Castles in ...

Matsue Castle in spring. | Photo by 島根県観光連盟 Japan, a nation celebrated for its rich history and enduring cultural heritage, is particularly famous for its magnificent Japanese castles (お城 oshiro)....

Carissa Loh Culture

Castle Day (6 April): 10 Must-Visit Castles in ...

Matsue Castle in spring. | Photo by 島根県観光連盟 Japan, a nation celebrated for its rich...

Sakura Karinto and Marui Suzuki
Sue Lynn

Maker’s Story: Seasonal Karinto Snacks from Tok...

April marks the official arrival of spring in Japan, and one of the cherished traditions of celebrating this season is to enjoy “ohanami” (お花見)! Ohanami means “flower-viewing”, and this is...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

Maker’s Story: Seasonal Karinto Snacks from Tok...

April marks the official arrival of spring in Japan, and one of the cherished traditions...

A Guide to Sakura in Tohoku: Best Cherry Blossom Viewing Spots in Northeast Japan
Sue Lynn

A Guide to Sakura in Tohoku: Best Cherry Blosso...

Hirosaki Castle Park | Photo by Aomori Prefecture Cherry blossoms or sakura (桜) herald the start of springtime in Japan. Spring is the prettiest and most enjoyable season with radiant...

Wendy Ng Spring

A Guide to Sakura in Tohoku: Best Cherry Blosso...

Hirosaki Castle Park | Photo by Aomori Prefecture Cherry blossoms or sakura (桜) herald the...

A Guide to Japanese Shochu: A Tasting Tour of Shochu Distilleries in Miyazaki
Sue Lynn

A Guide to Japanese Shochu: A Tasting Tour of S...

Shochu (焼酎) is one of the most consumed alcoholic beverages in Japan and the Japanese drink more shochu than sake. Considered to be Japan's national spirit, Shochu is gaining great...

Wendy Ng

A Guide to Japanese Shochu: A Tasting Tour of S...

Shochu (焼酎) is one of the most consumed alcoholic beverages in Japan and the Japanese...

Tohoku: A Tale of Tradition through its Cultural Icons
Sue Lynn

Tohoku: A Tale of Tradition through its Cultura...

Statues of the Namahage located in Oga Peninsula. | Photo by PhotoAC Steeped in tradition, Tohoku (東北), the northeastern part of Japan comprising of six prefectures – Aomori (青森), Akita...

Dawn Sim Culture

Tohoku: A Tale of Tradition through its Cultura...

Statues of the Namahage located in Oga Peninsula. | Photo by PhotoAC Steeped in tradition,...

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Try Food from Northeast Japan
Sue Lynn

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Try Food from North...

Japan is a food paradise and beyond the major cities and well-trodden travel routes, you can unearth more culinary treasures spread throughout the country if you venture into the less...

Wendy Ng Food

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Try Food from North...

Japan is a food paradise and beyond the major cities and well-trodden travel routes, you...

Sakura 2024: 5 Must-Visit Cherry Blossom Spots in Tokyo for Ohanami
Sue Lynn

Sakura 2024: 5 Must-Visit Cherry Blossom Spots ...

If you have visited Tokyo between late March and early April, then chances are you have witnessed the enchanting sight of cherry blossoms (桜 sakura) in full bloom. A cherry...

Carissa Loh Culture

Sakura 2024: 5 Must-Visit Cherry Blossom Spots ...

If you have visited Tokyo between late March and early April, then chances are you...

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Buy Souvenirs from Tohoku
Sue Lynn

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Buy Souvenirs from ...

Located on the north-eastern part of mainland Japan, Tohoku (東北) is made up of six prefectures, and is a treasure trove of beautiful nature and fascinating history. It’s a wonderful...

Carissa Loh Food

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Buy Souvenirs from ...

Located on the north-eastern part of mainland Japan, Tohoku (東北) is made up of six...

Omiyage Day (8 March): Exploring Japan's Souvenir & Gift-Giving Culture
Sue Lynn

Omiyage Day (8 March): Exploring Japan's Souven...

Have you heard of omiyage (お土産)? If you’ve been to Japan, then you have probably seen the colourful and beautifully packaged boxes of local confectionery filling the gift shops along...

Carissa Loh Culture

Omiyage Day (8 March): Exploring Japan's Souven...

Have you heard of omiyage (お土産)? If you’ve been to Japan, then you have probably...