by Victoria Garafola
The sweltering summer has finally passed and with it, the stifling humidity of another typical Japanese summer. While in Japan, I’ve noticed that passing of seasons seems to come as an announcement of the passing of time; a proclamation of the continuation of life. Autumn in Japan means setting up the kotatsu (heated table), experimenting with seasonal recipes, and going to various fall foliage themed festivals and scenic hikes.
The passing of the seasons has been celebrated throughout Japan for centuries. The intensity of the changes have inspired many aspects of Japanese culture including tea ceremony, literature, and design. Every season, daily details of life change to reflect the new season. For example, Japanese food is often centered around seasonal vegetables and dishes. Festivals, events, and traditional clothing colors and styles differ. Small details in daily life seem to celebrate the passage of time.
Every autumn, when the trees exhibit their colors in a final flare, people from all over the country scramble to scenic areas in the mountains and even in cities to view the change. Fall foliage first starts in northernmost Hokkaido around mid-September and continues to change through the country until the beginning of December.
The word in Japanese for fall foliage is “Kouyou” (紅葉) literally meaning red leaves. Most people travel to temples, mountains, and shrines to view the vibrant colors. Japan has many maple and Ginko trees that boast radiant reds and rustic oranges.
Fast Japan has a wonderful article explaining when the to expect the fall leaves to change colors throughout Japan this year (2017).
Hokkaido- Daisetsuzan National Park
Daisetsuzan is the largest national park in Japan. It is also the first area to show signs of autumn every year. The name means “Great Snowy Mountains” in Japanese. This park has some of the most wild forests and features snowcapped mountains year round.
Become engulfed in vast nature while experiencing some of Japan’s most vivid colors. Located within the park, the Kurodake Ropeway is a beautiful way to experience and aerial view of the foliage. There are also several hot spring resorts located inside the park. Asahidake Onsen, Daisetsu Kogen Onsen and Sounkyo Onsen offer outdoor baths that offer a relaxing glimpse of the changing colors.
Visitors should careful when hiking in Daisetsuyama as the park is home to a large population of brown bears.
Kyoto - Arashiyama
Kyoto is world renowned for its hundreds of temples and shrines scattered though out the prefecture. Kyoto is one of the most popular places to sightsee in Japan. During autumn and spring, even Japanese tourists flock to Kyoto to the old city to take in the sights of the season. While most of the temples become too crowded to whole heartedly recommend, Arashiyama offers gorgeous views and convenient accessibility to the average traveler.
Within Kyoto prefecture, Arashiyama is the perfect place to see fall colors. Famous for its bamboo forest and monkey mountain, Arashiyama offers an authentic connection with nature without leaving Kyoto City.
Mt. Fuji - Lake Kawaguchi
This November, the area around Mt. Fuji will once again be splashed with hues of red and yellow as autumn passes over the iconic Japanese landscape. Lake Kawaguchi is the largest and most easily accessible lake around Mt. Fuji. There is an annual fall foliage festival, which will be held from November 1st to the 23rd in 2016. Festival-goers can enjoy a “Maple Corridor” stroll as well as Japanese street foods and exceptional views.
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route is an incredible sight to see all year round but fall is exceptionally breathtaking. Peak foliage can be seen from mid-October until early to mid-November. Kurobe Gorge is accessible by train and offers incredible autumnal landscapes. Start your trip at Unazuki-onsen hot spring. This hot spring is the largest resort in Toyama Prefecture and a popular tourist destination.
Taking a ride on the Kurobe Gorge train is truly an unforgettable experience. The railways follows the deep v-shaped ravines and passes magnificent scenery. The train cars are open-air which allows for a complete view of the colors and sights surrounding the cars. While in the area, visitors can take the Unazuki Alpen Line train to the Tateyama Ropeway. This cable car was opened in 1970 and boasts incredible views of the leaves from different elevations.
Miyazaki (Takachiho Gorge)
Those looking to travel a bit later in the season will want to take advantage of Kyushu’s late autumn. Best viewed in November, foliage can be enjoyed until early December on this island.
While Kyushu has many beautiful areas to explore, Takachiho Gorge is a must-see. Located in the northwestern part of Miyazaki prefecture, it is surrounded by the Kyushu mountains. The maple leaves blaze around beautiful waterfalls and a scenic gorge. Travelers can rent a row boat for ¥2000 and take in all the sights from the water. While you’re in Miyazaki, experience the Yokagura (夜神楽) dances. This traditional dance is performed every night during the Kagura festival which is held annually from November to February. According to legend, Takachiho is where the Japanese god of heaven descended to govern the earthly world. During the festival, performers become deities as they celebrate this sacred festival.
Celebrate the changing of the seasons while learning about Japanese culturally complex history at these incredible locations.