Japan: Autumn Leaves are the New Cherry Blossom

japan autumn

Japan is renowned for the spring spectacle of the cherry blossom, but smaller crowds and equally spectacular scenery make ‘leaf-peeping’ season in the latter part of the year an ideal time to visit. To showcase the enchanting fall season across the country, InsideJapan Tours has curated a list of top locations and cultural events included in budget-friendly  Self-Guided Adventures, guided  Small Group Tours, or tailored Exclusive Private Journeys.

InsideJapan Tours’ top koyo spots include:

    • Kamikochi
      Kamikochi National Park offers iconic scenery in the Japan Alps. Densely forested, with a pristine river flowing through its heart, it is referred to as one of the most scenic places in Japan, especially in October when the flaming autumn tints enhance its natural beauty.
      Best leaf-viewing time: Mid-October
      Location: Nagano Prefecture, 180 miles from Tokyo

The pathways and temple grounds throughout Nikko provide spectacular views of the changing foliage

      • Nikko
        Steeped in history and home to the Toshu-gu shrine (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the mountains of Nikko boast glorious koyo opportunities near the Chuzenji Lake.
        Best leaf-viewing time: Mid to late October
        Location: Tochigi Prefecture, 90 miles from Tokyo
      • Miyajima
        Across the bay from Hiroshima is the sacred island of Miyajima. The island’s Itsukushima Shrine is fronted by a bold red gate standing tall and elegant in the bay; it appears to float on the water at high tide and is one of Japan’s most magnificent sights. The vista incorporates Mt Misen, ablaze with an array of fiery colors in autumn.
        Best leaf-viewing time: Mid to late November.
        Location: Hiroshima Prefecture, 430 miles from Tokyo
      • Kyoto
        The district of Arashiyama is one of the most culturally saturated parts of Kyoto, and in autumn, the most colorful, too, as the mountain-covering maple turn red, gold and yellow. A unique way to experience the spectacle, travelers can opt to take the historical Hozugawa riverboat ride through the mountains, over gentle rapids, past huge boulders, serene pools, and awe-inspiring waterfalls.
        Best leaf-viewing time: Mid-late November
        Location: Kyoto Prefecture, 320 miles from Tokyo
      • Mt. Takao
        Despite being just 45 minutes from the center of Tokyo, the area around Mt. Takao seems a million miles away from the pulsating capital. Visitors will see the mountainside blanketed in red and orange foliage, with temples and shrines dotted throughout the surrounding national parks.
        Best viewing time: Late November
        Location: Officially part of metropolitan Tokyo, 26 miles west of the center
      • Tokyo
        Steps away from the skyscrapers, find the 58-hectare Shinjuku Park with over 1,000 maple trees, and the beautifully-landscaped Hamarikyu Gardens. For the fullest appreciation of koyo in Tokyo, the extremely photogenic Rikugien Gardens, which date back to 1702, are the ideal place.
        Best viewing time: mid-November to early December

 The Jidai Matsuri in the ancient capital of Kyoto celebrates Japan’s colorful feudal past

Against the backdrop of the fiery leaf ombré moving through Japan’s picturesque natural landscapes — while temperatures are still above 70° F — major cultural festivals (matsuri) provide additional incentive to travel to the destination in autumn. From a samurai procession in a rural community to a fire festivalin a mountain town, participants will experience a side of Japan not easily seen during the peak cherry blossom season.

InsideJapan Tours’ top matsuri include:

      • Sennin Musha Gyoretsu – Nikko 

In Nikko, 90 miles from Tokyo, the Sennin Musha Gyoretsu (“Procession of a Thousand Warriors”) is a reenactment in period costume of the 1617 procession accompanying the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of Japan, who is enshrined at the city. Spectators will experience displays of marksmen shooting targets on horseback and a parade of 1,000 samurai warriors. The Sennin Musha Gyoretsu festival takes place October 16-17, at the peak of the koyo season in Nikko.

      • Jidai Matsuri, Hi Matsuri, and Shichi-go-san – Kyoto

Kyoto’s Jidai Matsuri (October 22) is a celebration of Japan’s feudal history – processions of performers dressed in samurai costume and people carrying small shrines (mikoshi) on their shoulders as they parade through the streets in this “Festival of the Ages.” In the evening, the Hi Matsuri fire festivaltakes place in the mountain village of Kurama, north of the city. Participants carry torches, 5-6 meters long, weighing 100kg, and light bonfires throughout the night. Also in Kyoto, the beautiful Gion Geisha dance from November 1-10, each telling a story to the accompaniment of the shamisen (Japanese guitar). On November 15, children across the country dress up in kimono to celebrate the Shichi-go-san festival that marks a coming of age at three, five and seven years

      • Kawagoe Matsuri – Tokyo

This Tokyo festival takes place every year on the third weekend in October (October 20-21 this year) and is one of the Japanese float festivals designated as a National Important Intangible Cultural Property. Towering, elaborate floats are pulled around town by participants, and each time they encounter another float in an intersection an entertaining “battle” of music and puppetry ensues, to the delight of spectators.

Established as the destination experts with unrivaled intelligence, travel planning and in-country support, InsideJapan Tours offers diverse ways for travelers to experience the country. From Small Group Tours to Self-Guided Adventures and custom Exclusive Private Journeys, InsideJapan Tours itineraries provide the ideal manner for discovering and experiencing each destination. To showcase the beauty of the curated foliage viewing destinations and the cultural celebrations in autumn, InsideJapan Tours highlights two signature itineraries for full immersion:

      • Autumn Splendor Self-guided Adventure
        InsideJapan Tours’ 13-night ‘Autumn Splendor Self-guided Adventure heads from Tokyo to Kyoto, via Nikko and the Japanese Alps and the Kamikochi national park. Recommended from October through November to catch the best of the leaves, the itinerary includes traditional and modern accommodations as well as all transport between all destinations in Japan, daily breakfast, select evening meals, private guiding in Tokyo and Kyoto, a tea ceremony experience in Kyoto, a cycle tour in Takayama and more. Price starts from US$3,510 per person (based on two sharing and excluding international flights).
      • Classic Japan Guided Small Group Tour
        The 13-night Classic Japan Small Group Tour heads into the Kamikochi National Park, Tokyo, Kyoto and beyond. Starting at US$5,067 per person, the itinerary includes all accommodations, transport between destinations within Japan, daily breakfast, seven evening meals, afternoon tea with a Geisha in Kyoto, Tokyo and Hakone transportation passes, luggage forwarding, the full-time services of a tour leader, and much more.

For more information on InsideJapan Tours and to book fall foliage and cultural experiences in Japan, visit

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