[4 October Update] Autumn Foliage Forecast 2023: 7 leafy spots you should visit in Japan this fall
Updated as of 04 October 2023
Originally published on 22 September 2023
Fans of autumn better wake up soon. As September slowly comes to an end, it's time to chart out your next kōyō (紅葉) trip to Japan!
Kōyō translates to “crimson leaves” in English, and it is the term used in Japan to describe the peak period when bright red, orange, and yellow leaves crown the trees in autumn. Typically, the colours of the foliage in Japan start to turn around late September, as the temperature begins to drop, before reaching a full spectrum of vivid sunset hues from late October onwards.
The first forecast of 2023 dropped on 4 September, and more forecasts are set to drop in the weeks to come. (Image credit: Afiq / JR Times)
Thanks to the first autumn foliage forecast of 2023 by the Japan Meteorological Corporation, we now have a rough idea of when the best time to see red and yellow leaves respectively nationwide will occur. In addition to the forecast, they’ve also dropped a handy navigation website featuring the best spots in the country to view autumn leaves, including hundreds of mountains, forests, parks and temples across all 47 prefectures. That’s an intimidating amount of information to sift through all at once, so here we have a sample list of seven places in Japan, as well as their prediction dates, that we think you should visit to enjoy an extraordinary autumn trip!
1. Lake Towada & Oirase Stream, Aomori Prefecture
For those looking for a casual hike, it doesn’t get much gentler than Oirase Stream. (Image credit: photoAC)
Best time to view Yellow Leaves: 7 November
Best time to view Red Leaves: 16 November
Aomori (青森県 Aomori-ken), the northernmost prefecture of Tohoku, is abundant in beautiful nature, and no place is more picturesque than Oirase Stream (奥入瀬渓流 Oirase keiryū), a scenic mountain stream flowing out of Lake Towada (十和田湖).
Easily accessible by bus or car from Aomori Station, you can choose from a variety of starting points along the 14 km-long stream depending on your time and physical ability. Regardless of where you start from, however, any trek down the length of the stream is certain to reward you with spectacular views of waterfalls, rapids, and of course picture-perfect curtains of colourful leaves.
If you make it all the way to Lake Towada at the end, a round-lake cruise on the local ferry is also highly recommended, as the leaves on the trees surrounding the lake on a good day can be ablaze in fiery yellows and oranges with azure blue skies, an iconic sight sure to take a place as a core memory of travelling around Japan. If you’d like to learn more, you can refer to our article here back when we did our own autumn trip to Oirase Stream and Lake Towada in 2022!
Oirase Stream (奥入瀬渓流)
Address: Okuse, Towada, Aomori 018-5501
Nearest station: JR Hachinohe Station (八戸駅)
Access: Oirase Keiryu (Kumoi no taki bus stop) is a 1-hour-45-minute bus ride from JR Hachinohe Station, or a 2-hour-15-minute bus ride from JR Aomori Station (青森駅).
Tel: +81 176-75-2728
2. Meiji Jingu Gaien, Tokyo Metropolis
Not to be confused with Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo’s other more popular Meiji Jingu landmark about half an hour away. (Image credit: photoAC)
Best time to view Yellow Leaves: 26 November
Best time to view Red Leaves: 1 December
Of the hundreds of parks and avenues that dot the Tokyo cityscape, the avenue of Meiji Jingu Gaien (明治神宮外苑) stands out as the best one to view yellow ginkgo leaves. While yellow may sometimes get a bad rep as an unattractive colour, the vibrant hue of Route 414 leading towards the Meiji Memorial Museum (聖徳記念絵画館) is clearly anything but.
In addition to the brilliant scenery, the Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Festival (神宮外苑いちょう祭り) has been celebrated every year since 1997, and is a great place to grab a tasty treat and watch a street performance while basking in the flutter of the gingko leaves.
Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Avenue (いちょう並木)
Address: 2 Chome Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0061
Nearest station: JR Shinanomachi Station (信濃町駅)
Access: 3-minute walk from JR Shinanomachi Station via the north side, or from Gaienmae Station (外苑前駅) on the Ginza Line from the south side.
Tel: +81 334-01-0312
3. Obara Fureai Park, Aichi Prefecture
Who says that November is a little too late for sakura season? (Image credit: photoAC)
Best time to view Yellow Leaves: 18 November
Best time to view Red Leaves: 3 December
Okay, all this talk of red, orange, and yellow may be interesting to you, but what if you really wanted to see the cherry blossoms bloom but missed your spring window earlier in the year? Well then, Obara Fureai Park (小原ふれあい公園 Obara fureaikōen), located about an hour’s drive from Nagoya City (名古屋市 Nagoya-shi), may be the place for you!
Enjoy the best of both worlds in Obara Fureai Park in November, where you’ll be able to see beautiful sakura and dazzling autumn foliage side-by-side, and the only place in the whole world where you’ll be able to do so! In defiance of the sakura season norm, the shikizakura (四季桜 four seasons cherry blossoms) trees of the Obara District bloom not only once, but twice a year, with their second blossom starting from the end of October through early December.
The Obara Shikizakura Festival (小原四季桜まつり) will also be taking place from 11–30 this year to celebrate this auspicious occasion, so it’ll never be a better time to make your way over to central Japan for your next trip.
Obara Fureai Park (小原ふれあい公園)
Address: 456 Obaracho, Toyota-shi, Aichi 470-0531
Nearest station: Toyotashi Station (豊田市駅)
Access: From Toyotashi Station, take the Toyota Oiden bus on the Obara-Toyota Line bound for Kaminigi (1 hour).
Opening hours (Obara Shikizakura Festival): 9am–4pm
Tel: +81 565-65-3808
4. Mount Koya, Wakayama Prefecture
Communion with nature means holy sites usually have incredibly scenic surroundings. (Image credit: photoAC)
Best time to view Yellow Leaves: 26 November
Best time to view Red Leaves: 13 December
Temper your autumn enthusiasm with a touch of spirituality at Mount Koya (高野山 Kōyasan), one of Japan’s most significant religious sites. Located in a remote wooded area within Wakayama Prefecture (和歌山県 Wakayama-ken), south to Kyoto and Osaka, Mount Koya can be reached within 2 hours by train from central Osaka, and is famed as the centre of the Shingon school of Buddhism.
For those seeking to reconnect with their spirituality or who wish to simply experience the traditional lifestyle of the Buddhist monks, Mount Koya is also one of the best places to experience an overnight stay at a temple lodging. Known as shukubo (宿坊), there are dozens of temples which offer special stay plans for tourists, and what better environment to find your inner peace than whilst being being surrounded by the spectacular hues of autumn? If nature can indeed bring mankind closer to the cosmos, then Koyasan may well be its embodiment.
Mount Koya (高野山)
Address: Koya, Ito-gun, Wakayama 648-0211
Nearest station: Gokurakubashi Station (極楽橋駅)
Access: From Gokurakubashi Station, take the cable car on the Nankai Koyasan Cable Line to Koyasan Station, from which you can either walk for about 30-40 minutes or take a 10-minute bus ride to the main temple district of Koyasan.
Tel (Koyasan Shukubo Association): +81 736-56-2616
5. Miyajima, Hiroshima Prefecture
Sometimes contrast is necessary to make the fiery hues shine all the more vibrantly. (Image credit: photoAC)
Best time to view Yellow Leaves: 20 November
Best time to view Red Leaves: 29 November
Beyond the famous giant floating red torii gate and the bevvies of deer politely greeting your arrival, Hiroshima Prefecture’s (広島県 Hiroshima-ken) iconic Miyajima Island (宮島) is also known as a magnificent kōyō spot in the month of November.
Momijidani Park (紅葉谷公園 Momijidani-Kōen) located at the base of Mount Misen on Miyajima is especially popular as one of Japan’s loveliest fall scenes. Momijidani literally means “maple valley”, and this becomes tremendously apparent in autumn, when the striking red of 200 Japanese maple trees glows brilliantly against the deep green of an evergreen forest.
You can enjoy a picturesque view of Miyajima’s famous landmarks such as the floating torii gate as you walk along the river, and if you’re lucky you could also get yourself into an encounter with a shika deer along the way!
Momijidani Park (紅葉谷公園)
Address: 1162-18, Miyajima-cho, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima 739-0505
Nearest station: Momijidani Station (紅葉谷駅)
Access: 4-minute walk from the station via the Miyajima Ropeway route
Tel: +81 829-30-9141
6. Tengu Plateau, Kochi Prefecture
The isle of Shikoku is home to many sights not often seen in the rest of Japan. (Image credit: photoAC)
Best time to view Yellow Leaves: 16 November
Best time to view Red Leaves: 10 December
If the standard Japanese combination of maple trees and temples is not really your thing, perhaps the plateaus of Kochi Prefecture (高知県 Kōchi-ken) are more your lane.
The Tengu Plateau or Tengu Highlands (天狗高原 Tengu Kōgen) of the Shikoku Karst Prefectural Natural Park (四国カルスト県立自然公園 Shikoku Karusuto kenritsu shizen-kōen), a 25 km-long area on the ridge line between Kochi and Ehime Prefectures (愛媛県, Ehime-ken), is considered the rooftop of Kochi. With the rolling meadows, grazing cows and rocky outcrops, this particular part of the country is a lot more reminiscent of Central Europe.
If the flaming leaves in the day are not enough to sate your appetite, book an accommodation in the area and get your binoculars ready. On a clear night, you can see a sky full of stars if you look up from anywhere in the plateaus. With an area like Kochi being as far detached from the cities as can be, you’ll surely be impressed by the endless starry sky as far as the eye can see.
Tengu Highlands (天狗高原)
Address: Yoshino Otsu, Tsuno-machi, Takaoka-gun, Kochi 785-0504
Nearest station: Susaki Station (須崎駅)
Access: Approximately 1-hour-20-minute drive from Susaki Higashi IC on the Kochi Expressway
Tel: +81 889-55-2021
7. Kirishima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Ōnami Lake, the largest volcano summit crater lake in Japan. (Image credit: Kagoshima Prefecture Visitors Bureau)
Best time to view Yellow Leaves: 28 November
Best time to view Red Leaves: 14 December
Another spot for those with an adventurous spirit would be Kirishima (霧島) in southern Kyushu (九州), an active volcanic mountain range that lies on the border between the prefectures of Miyazaki (宮崎県 Miyazaki-ken) and Kagoshima (鹿児島県 Kagoshima-ken). The mountains of Kirishima are the setting of Japan’s original creation myth, where the gods descended to the earth to establish the imperial lineage.
Beyond its reputation as the land of the gods, these mountain ranges also offer some of the most fascinating volcanic landscapes and hiking in Japan. After a long hike, you can take a rest in Kirishima Onsen (霧島温泉), one of Japan's best-known hot spring resorts located high in the mountains. It's a wonderful way to rejuvenate your mind and body while breathing in the invigorating mountain air.
Kirishima Kinkowan National Park (霧島錦江湾国立公園)
Address: Kirishima, Kagoshima 890-0068
Nearest station: Kokubo Station (国分駅)
Access: 2-3 buses per day run between Maruo Onsen via Ebino Kogen to the Takachiho-gawara Visitor Center. The one-way ride between Maruo Onsen and the visitor center via Ebino Kogen takes one hour and costs ¥860.
Tel: +81 9921-31-811
All dates mentioned in this article are based on the initial forecast only, and more accurate information is set to come in the weeks leading up to November. Japan has no shortage of wonderful autumn sights however, and no matter where you are in the country on your next autumn trip you are bound to have a variety of places to visit near you.
For another shopping list of locations located close to Tokyo, why not check out our other autumn series on the Shinetsu Region (信越 Shin’etsu), featuring spots around the prefectures of Nagano and Niigata?
Header image credit: Afiq / JR Times