Springtime and cherry blossoms go hand in hand, but it may surprise you to learn that Japan has beautiful fall foliage, too. From mid-September on, the stunning colors of autumn spread across the country into a riot of red, orange and yellow. Here are some of the best places to see the display for yourself.
The Zen Buddhist Tofukuji Temple, founded in 1236, sees plenty of visitors no matter what time of year, but come mid-to-late November, when its maple trees are at their brightest, the temple is packed. The best views are from Tsutenkyo Bridge, which runs nearly 330 feet. Get here early to secure your spot.
Visitors also flock to UNESCO World Heritage Site Kiyomizudera, a Buddhist temple that is about a 20-minute walk from Gion. The main hall is built entirely of wood and without a single nail, and its balcony, standing 43 feet high, is the place to go for the best view of flame-colored maple trees. Late November to early December is the prime time to see foliage here.
You’d be remiss to leave Kyoto without visiting Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion). This is Kyoto’s most crowded temple, so you’ll need to go early in the day. Fortunately, the pine and maple trees framing this gilded Zen Buddhist temple can be seen without having to elbow your way through the throngs surrounding Mirror Pond.
From mid-November to early December, Icho Namiki (Ginkgo Avenue) is the place to stroll beneath flaxen gingko trees pruned into teardrop shapes. Nearly 150 trees planted in four rows shade hand-in-hand couples and tourists who come to gaze up at the sun-dappled leaves. The changing of the leaves is celebrated during Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Festival (mid-November through the first week of December), a gathering with live music and stalls selling food and local products from across Japan.
One of Tokyo’s oldest gardens, built in the early 17th century, Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens is a prime spot for seeing spring’s cherry blossoms and fall’s vibrant foliage. The leaves on the maple and ginkgo trees are brightest mid-November to early December; the maples’ leaves are a fiery orange and red, and the gingkos’ a lovely golden yellow. The garden is immaculately landscaped, with three ponds, moss-covered rocks and shaded walking paths that wind up to viewpoints.
Less than 30 minutes by subway from downtown Osaka, Minoh Park (also called Mino/Minoo Park) is a fantastic place to see the glories of fall in an expansive, leafy setting much less crowded than the smaller gardens of temples. The 1.8-mile hiking trail here leads from the train station to the 108-foot Minoh Waterfall. The walk, through groves of handsome maple trees, is fairly easy, and it takes around 45 minutes to reach the waterfall.
Halfway between the station and the waterfall is Buddhist temple Ryuan-ji (not to be confused with the Kyoto temple Ryoan-ji), which is said to be where lottery tickets first came to Japan. On the pleasant trek are a few small shops and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll find some of them selling momiji (maple leaf) tempura during autumn.