Seeing the Stunning Autumn Leaves Momiji Japan 2023: Japanese autumn and Fall colors in japan
by Coco Tran On October 28, 2023
Autumn in Japan is magical. The fall foliage transforms the country into a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors. Reds, yellows, oranges, and browns paint the landscape, creating an unforgettable sight. If you are visiting Japan in autumn 2023, this comprehensive guide will help you make the most of momiji season.
I’m visiting Japan in November and want to see the incredible fall scenery. In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know, from the science behind the changing leaves to exact forecast peak times across Japan’s regions. You’ll find when and where to see autumn leaves, what to wear, tips for avoiding crowds, and the best festivals and illuminated night displays.
With this complete resource, you will be ready to explore the dazzling beauty of autumn in Japan!
Seeing the Stunning Autumn Leaves Momiji Japan 2023: Japanese autumn and Fall colors in japan
A Quick Overview of What We’ll Cover:
- What is momiji and why it’s special in Japan
- Autumn leaves science
- 2023 Autumn foliage forecasts by region
- Best places to see fall colors in Tokyo
- Top destinations for autumn leaves across Japan
- Tips for avoiding crowds during peak season
- What to wear and pack for autumn weather
- Must-see autumn festivals and events
- Night illuminations at fall foliage spots
In This Article: Table of Contents
What is Momiji in Japan and Why it’s So Special? Fall season in Japan Explained
Momiji literally translates to “red leaves” in Japanese. It refers to the yearly phenomenon of fall in Japan and the leaves changing colors in autumn, especially the brilliant red maple trees.
The Japanese have admired autumn’s beauty for centuries. During momiji season, people head to parks, temples, and mountains across Japan to appreciate the fall scenery. It’s called “hunting” momiji (momijigari) and considered one of the best times to visit Japan to witness the beautiful autumn colours in japan.
In addition to the fantastic autumn colors, the comfortable cool weather and sunny days make it ideal for being outdoors. Plus, Japan’s ancient shrines and temples set against a backdrop of fall foliage create picture-perfect scenes.
You’ll find the Japanese celebrate Momiji season with special events, festivals, and illuminations. It’s a magical time in Japan and an autumn trip is highly recommended.
When is Momiji Season in Japan?
Japan’s autumn foliage season typically runs from September through November, with different areas of the country peaking at different times. Here’s an overview:
- Early September – Momiji season begins in Hokkaido and northernmost areas of Japan. The leaves start changing colors here first.
- Mid/Late October – This is when the autumn foliage begins to peak in major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
- Early November – Central Japan and Tokyo see peak colors in early November. The autumn display spreads further south.
- Mid/Late November – Momiji season peaks in southern areas like Kyushu and Okinawa. Some leaves still remain in the north.
- Early December – Fall foliage season winds down across Japan. Some last red maple leaves may persist into early December.
The specific timing varies year-to-year based on weather patterns. But in most years, November is considered the prime “momiji month” across the majority of Japan.
The Science Behind Japan’s Incredible Autumn Leaves
So why do the momiji japan fall foliage change color in the first place? Let’s look at what’s happening on a scientific level:
- In spring and summer, leaves appear green because of the chlorophyll pigment. It helps leaves produce nutrients via photosynthesis.
- As autumn arrives, days get shorter. This causes the trees to produce less chlorophyll. The green fades as the yellow and orange colors (carotenoids) show through.
- Red and purple autumn colors are caused by anthocyanins. These pigments act as a sunscreen for the leaf, protecting it during the transition period.
- The colors emerge based on the tree type and weather conditions. Some turn yellow or brown, while Japanese maples and other species turn vivid red.
- Shorter days and cool nights spur the color change. Once temperatures drop below 8°C, the autumn foliage kicks into high gear.
- When the leaves fully change color, their stems weaken until they detach and flutter to the ground.
So in summary, it’s the decrease in chlorophyll and emergence of other pigments that creates the kaleidoscope of autumn colors. Temperature drops intensify this process year after year.
Japan Autumn Leaves Forecast 2023
Now that you know what causes the autumn magic, let’s get into the 2023 foliage predictions!
In Japan, the momiji season begins in Hokkaido and northern prefectures in early October. It sweeps south through the month and into November. Peak foliage typically lasts 1-2 weeks in a given spot.
The Japan Meteorological Corporation provides autumn foliage forecasts to help travelers plan their leaf peeping. Below are their first projections for 2023:
- Hokkaido (Sapporo): Yellow leaves peak around October 28. Reds peak around November 11.
- Tohoku (Sendai, Aomori): Yellows peak around November 7. Reds peak around November 16.
- Kanto (Tokyo, Yokohama): Yellows peak around November 26. Reds peak around December 1.
- Chubu (Nagoya, Mt. Fuji, Gifu): Yellows peak around November 18. Reds peak around December 3.
- Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka): Yellows peak around November 27. Reds peak around December 12. see My Kyoto Autumn Guide here
- Chugoku (Hiroshima): Yellows peak around November 27. Reds peak around December 6.
- Shikoku (Kagawa): Yellows peak around November 27. Reds peak around December 6.
- Kyushu (Fukuoka): Yellows peak around November 27. Reds peak around December 10.
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Japan Autumn Weather for autumn leaves in japan Viewing
While momiji leaves and fall season brings cooler temperatures overall, Japan still sees pleasant and sunny fall weather perfect for leaf viewing. Here are some details on what to expect:
Temperature during Japan’s fall season
- September – Average around 22-27°C. Still quite warm in most areas.
- October – Temperatures drop to average 15-20°C. Light jackets needed.
- November – Chilly in the mountains and evenings around 5-12°C. Pack layers.
- Autumn is one of Japan’s wetter seasons, especially in early September with lingering summer rains. Late October through November have less rain.
- Always carry rain gear as occasional showers do occur. Fellow leaf watchers will emerge right after!
- Days start getting noticeably shorter by late September, and sunset is around 6pm by mid-October.
- This earlier nightfall is perfect to switch to night momiji viewing illuminations!
- Typhoons affecting Japan peak in August/September then dissipate through autumn.
- Monitor weather reports for any late typhoons. These can bring very strong winds and rain.
Understanding Japan’s autumn weather patterns helps you prepare properly. Focus on bringing versatile layering pieces to handle the range of temperatures.
Top Spots for Autumn Leaves in Tokyo
If you’re based in Tokyo for your autumn Japan trip, the good news is there are plenty of spots to enjoy fall scenery without leaving the city.
Here are the best places to see autumn leaves in Tokyo:
- Rikugien Garden – This scenic Tokyo garden has over 700 maple trees. The red leaves surrounding the pond and manicured paths create a stunning scene.
- Shinjuku Gyoen – Shinjuku Gyoen is one of Tokyo’s largest parks. Over 1,500 maple trees turn vivid red and orange in November.
- Meiji Jingu Gaien – The ginkgo tree-lined boulevard glows gold in autumn. It’s beautiful during the day and illuminated at night.
- Koishikawa Korakuen – Tokyo’s oldest garden has Japanese maples scattered between ponds and stone paths. It’s a great autumn color spot.
- Imperial Palace East Gardens – This free garden has a wonderful mix of maples, gingkos, and other trees. It’s near Tokyo Station.
- Mt. Takao – This mountain west of Tokyo has hiking trails through autumn forests. Take the cable car up for scenic views.
- Showa Memorial Park – Located in Tachikawa, this huge park has thousands of ginkgo and maple trees.
With so many options, you can find incredible autumn scenery right in Tokyo!
Top Destinations for Autumn Foliage Japan and Best places to see Autumn leaves Japan
While Tokyo has plenty to offer, Japan’s most spectacular autumn displays are found outside the city in areas known for brilliant fall foliage.
Here are the must-see destinations across Japan to catch peak momiji season:
- Nikko, Tochigi – Nikko’s shrines and temples set amongst autumn forests look like a painting. Lake Chuzenji’s reflections are also stunning.
- Hitachi Seaside Park- An easy day trip from Tokyo, Hitachi Park is a beautiful outdoor park with magical red bushes with Mt Fuji in the background. There are also gorgeous surrounding areas to see autumnb leaves.
- Hakone, Kanagawa – Hakone has crimson maple leaves contrasting with the blue Lake Ashi. Don’t miss the aerial tram for views.
- Kyoto – Kyoto’s ancient sites surrounded by autumn colors are unreal. Top spots are Arashiyama, Kiyomizu-dera, and Tofukuji Temple.
- Nara Park, Nara – Nara Park turns into a rainbow of fall colors. See leaves frame Todaiji Temple and its Great Buddha statue.
- Miyajima, Hiroshima – Momiji season is incredible on this island. Maple leaves accent Itsukushima Shrine and floating torii gate.
- Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido – Hokkaido’s largest national park has incredible autumn scenery. Drive through Daisetsuzan’s mountain roads.
- Kakunodate, Akita – Also called “Little Kyoto,” Kakunodate’s preserved samurai district lined with autumn foliage is exceptional.
- Lake Kawaguchi, Yamanashi – Part of Fuji Five Lakes, Lake Kawaguchi offers reflections of Mount Fuji amid fiery fall colors.
- Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa – Considered Japans most beautiful Japanese garden, Kenrokuen has brilliant maple trees and landscaping.
No matter where your autumn travels take you through Japan, just look for mountains, lakes, temples, and parks to find stunning momiji season scenery.
Bonus: Enjoy beautiful Japan autumn foliage views in Onsen Towns and Hot Spring Baths
Many of Japan’s top autumn foliage spots are located near famous onsen (hot spring) towns. Which is one of the main reasons why I planned my first trip to Japan in the Fall.
This makes momiji season the perfect time to combine beautiful nature views with relaxing soaks in therapeutic mineral waters.
Some recommended onsen areas to visit during autumn include:
- Hakone – A mountainous area near Tokyo, Hakone has both incredible autumn scenery and abundant onsen. Soothe sore legs after hiking amongst fall colors with a soak at Yumoto Onsen or one of Hakone’s many ryokan.
- Kinugawa – Located in Nikko, Kinugawa Onsen has over 200 lodging facilities with natural hot springs. Its red wooden bathhouses surrounded by autumn forests look like a scene from a movie.
- Gero Onsen – This onsen town in Gifu Prefecture welcomes autumn travelers to warm up in its healing waters. Gero Onsen has been popular for over 1,000 years!
- Kusatsu Onsen – Kusatsu’s highly acidic onsen in Gunma Prefecture are world-famous. The mountain setting explodes with autumn foliage, making it a top momiji spot.
- Arima Onsen – This historic onsen near Kobe offers beautiful fall scenery. Try unique bathing options like kinsen (hot spring water) baths, sand baths and carbonated springs.
Onsen Town Tips:
- Stay overnight at a ryokan for unlimited soak time
- Bring your own towel or rent one there
- Check inn’s bathing rules – some switch men/women hours
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated in the mineral water
- Enter baths slowly and don’t submerge your head
Tips for Avoiding Crowds During Peak Momiji Japan Season
The dazzling autumn colors draw crowds, especially to famous destinations like Kyoto. Here are tips for avoiding peak congestion:
- Visit during the week – Avoid weekends when popular autumn spots are busiest. Weekdays are less crowded.
- Go early morning – Arrive at sunrise to have quieter moments. Most visitors come mid-morning onward.
- Choose lesser-known spots – Skip ultra-famous sites for ones slightly more offbeat. They’ll still have autumn magic without the masses.
- Consider night illuminations – Many autumn foliage spots do special light-ups at night after the day crowds leave.
- Have a Plan B ready – If you arrive somewhere very congested, leave and go to your second-choice spot instead.
- Book trains in advance – Reserve seats on Japan’s high-speed trains to avoid traffic jams at stations.
With some strategic planning, you can enjoy Japan’s autumn spectacle without the headaches of overcrowding.
What to Wear and Pack for Autumn for Momiji Japan Weather
Autumn in Japan brings cool, comfortable weather perfect for being outdoors. Here are tips on what to wear and pack:
what to wear in Japan in Fall
- Bring light layers like sweaters, cardigans and jackets. Temperatures average 15-20°C but can get cooler in the mountains.
- Pack long pants and sleeves. The breeze can feel chilly especially early morning and night.
- A light rain jacket is handy in case of rain showers.
- Wear good walking shoes for all the time spent on your feet.
- Bring accessories like hats, gloves and scarves. They add warmth without weighing down your bag.
- Don’t forget sunglasses – the autumn sun can still be quite bright!
- Travel towel – great for hot spring baths many autumn spots offer
- Lip balm and lotion – the cooler air can cause chapped skin
- Extra batteries and SD cards – you’ll want all the memory for those foliage photos!
- Plastic bags/rain cover for your bag – in case you get caught in the rain
- Water bottle and snacks – walking around seeing autumn scenery works up an appetite!
With breathable layers, proper shoes, and useful extras, you’ll be ready for a comfortable and fun autumn trip.
Top Autumn Japan Festivals and Events for Momiji in japan
A great way to experience Japan’s autumn season is by attending one of the many momiji festivals held across the country. Here are the top ones:
- Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Festival, Tokyo – This festival celebrates Tokyo’s golden ginkgo-lined boulevard with food stalls and performances.
- Kyoto Momiji Matsuri (Maple Leaf Festival) – Enjoy Noh plays, tea ceremonies and illuminated maple trees at Kyoto’s temples.
- Nikko Toshogu Shrine Festival – This lively festival at Nikko Toshogu Shrine features a costumed horseback procession.
- Mt. Takao Maple Festival – Mt. Takao’s festival has parades, crafts and cultural programs among autumn scenery.
- Kurama Himatsuri, Kyoto – At this festival, huge flaming torches are carried through the streets of the mountain town Kurama.
- Lake Kawaguchi Momiji Festival – Boat rides, autumn markets and light-ups make this a top Lake Kawaguchi event.
- Hakone Momiji Festival – Hakone’s festival includes dances, drums, samurai costumes and boat cruises on Lake Ashi.
The festivals let you immerse yourself in autumn traditions and Japanese culture as you enjoy the incredible fall scenery.
Magical Night Illuminations Momiji Japan Season for Autumn Leaf
Many top autumn foliage spots extend the beauty into the night with magical illuminations. Some must-see ones include:
- Rikugien Garden, Tokyo – Tokyo’s stunning maple garden lights up with candles and lamps in the evenings.
- Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa – Kenrokuen’s trees glitter with hundreds of tiny lights reflecting on the ponds.
- Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto – Long tunnels of autumn foliage are dramatically lit up at night at Tofukuji.
- Nabana no Sato, Nagano – This theme park near Nagoya unveils a spectacular autumn illumination display.
- Kodaiji Temple, Kyoto – The temple and zen rock garden are accented with colored lights during the autumn night openings.
The illuminations transform familiar autumn spots into glowing wonderlands perfect for night viewing.
Lesser-Known Spots for Japan Autumn 2024 foliage viewing
While famous destinations draw big crowds in autumn, lesser-known spots often have just as much beauty and charm. Some great hidden gem locations include:
- Yaeyama Islands – This remote sub-tropical chain southwest of Okinawa hasjacaranda trees with purple blooms.
- Oku-Nikko – Continue past Nikko’s main attractions into the deeper mountains to find quieter trails and scenery.
- Mino, Gifu – Walk under Japanese maple tunnels in this small Edo period town off the typical tourist path.
- Towada, Aomori – See fall reflections in Lake Towada, then continue to Oirase Gorge’s autumn countryside.
- Shodoshima, Kagawa – Olive and citrus groves on this Seto Inland Sea island glow orange and yellow in autumn.
- Miyako, Kyoto – Escape the crowds at Kyoto’s main temples to find Maple trees surrounding this quiet Heian shrine.
Enjoy Japan’s Autumn Food Offerings
In addition to incredible scenery, momiji season offers some special autumn treats and ingredients to savor. Here are top foods to enjoy:
- Chestnuts – Roasted chestnuts from street vendors are a classic autumn snack. You can also try chestnut sweets like mont blanc cake.
- Matsutake mushrooms – This fragrant, expensive mushroom grows under Japanese red pines and is in season autumn through early winter.
- Sweet potatoes – Baked sweet potatoes (yaki-imo) are commonly sold as street food from carts during autumn.
- Salmon – Salmon swimming upstream becomes very flavorful in fall. Grilled salmon is a popular dining choice.
- Persimmons – The harvest of this sweet, seed-filled fruit peaks in autumn. Persimmons are great fresh or dried.
- Fall desserts – Bakeries unveil limited desserts like pumpkin pies, apple tarts, and momiji manju maple leaf cakes.
Part of autumn’s magic in Japan lies in the changing ingredients and warming, hearty dishes that define the season.
Momiji Japan history
- For centuries, the Japanese have celebrated the autumn harvest season and appreciated the beauty of fall’s changing leaves.
- During the Heian Period (794-1185), Japanese aristocrats would hold momiji viewing parties, writing poems admiring the autumn colors. The custom was called “hunting” (gari) the autumn tints (momiji).
- In the Edo Period (1603-1868), momijigari became popular among commoners as well after the Tokugawa Shogunate encouraged travel to see the autumn leaves.
- As railways expanded in the Meiji Period (1868-1912), visiting maple leaf spots became easier for people across Japan. Momiji tourism boomed.
- Today momijigari is one of Japan’s most beloved seasonal customs. People travel domestically and from abroad specifically to witness the brilliant fall foliage.
Momiji season has enchanted people for over 1,000 years in Japan. The country’s artistic, nature-loving spirit continues to draw leaf peepers every autumn.
Time Your Japan Trip for Incredible Momiji Japan Autumn Leave season
I hope this complete guide gets you excited to witness Japan’s captivating autumn beauty. The blazing fall colors make autumn a truly magical time to visit.
Use the foliage forecasts to plan your timing just right. Pack properly and get ready to photograph those vibrant leaves! From Tokyo’s parks to Kyoto’s temples to Hokkaido’s mountains, momiji season scenery awaits you across Japan.
Let the crisp air, festive events, night illuminations and incredible natural canvas reawaken your sense of wonder. I can’t wait to go leaf peeping in Japan this November!
So get ready to fill your eyes, camera and spirit with the beauty of autumn. I know your trip will be unforgettable.
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