Always wanted to visit Japan but not sure when to go? Want to capture the beauty of Japan but find the cherry blossom season to be expensive? Autumn and especially November could be the best time to visit Japan.
Things to know before you travel
- Although it offers some of the best places to see the autumn leaves, Kyoto can be particularly busy and crowded towards the end of November when the leaves are at their peak
- Temples and shrines in the cities and towns often have beautiful gardens which are sometimes free to visit
- November can be cool in some areas so be prepared to wear some layers
- Check the Japan Fall Foliage Forecast
- 1 Why Visit Japan in Autumn?
- 1.1 Autumn leaves “koyo” viewing
- 1.2 Visit Japanese gardens
- 1.3 Watch a Grand Sumo Tournament
- 1.4 Experience a Japanese hot spring “onsen”
- 1.5 Enjoy early Winter/Christmas illuminations
- 1.6 Experience cuteness with Shichi-Go-San
- 1.7 Enjoy autumn food
- 1.8 Tori no Ichi
- 1.9 It won’t be as expensive as you think
- 1.10 Go for a walk or hike
- 1.11 See autumn cherry blossoms
- 1.12 Visiting a Sumo Grand Tournament
- 1.13 Enjoy cool-weather
- 1.14 Share this:
- 1.15 Like this:
- 1.16 Related
Why Visit Japan in Autumn?
When people think of the best time to visit Japan, the pink cherry blossoms in spring is what usually comes to mind. However, I believe the country is more beautiful in autumn. In fall, the colours of the leaves change from green to wonderful shades of yellow, orange and red. The beauty of the Japanese landscapes becomes more apparent, be it in a garden or natural park. More importantly, autumn is outside of the peak season making a cheaper and less crowded time of the year with pleasant weather.
While spring is beautiful to see, here are 13 reasons why you should visit Japan in autumn.
Autumn leaves “koyo” viewing
Lots of people are familiar with “hanami” cherry blossom viewing in spring also known as “sakura” (cherry blossom) but fewer are aware of the country’s love for admiring autumn leaves.
“Momijigari” which literally means “autumn leaf hunting” is a custom that has been practised for centuries. Although not as famous as the cherry blossom viewing, fall foliage viewing is becoming more and more popular with foreign tourists.
From parks to historic sites and gardens, there are many spots for autumn leaves hunting. Tokyo alone has many gardens where you can admire the autumn leaves in a relaxed and Zen atmosphere. To make the visit even more magical, some gardens open in the evening and have a light-up show during the season.
=> For more information, check out the autumn foliage forecast for 2019 here.
If you are only visiting Tokyo as part of your trip, consider taking a day trip to Kamakura, a coastal town, less than an hour from Tokyo or Nikko, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Both towns will be sure to become a great memory.
Related post: Nezu Museum garden: a Hidden Garden in Tokyo
Visit Japanese gardens
Along with historic sites and parks, Japanese gardens are other popular spots for autumn leaves hunting. Many of these gardens located within cities offer not only a relaxed and Zen atmosphere but also a beautiful setting to enjoy the colourful autumn colours. As a bonus, some of them open until late in the evening for light-up events during the season.
Related post: A Visit to Sankeien Garden in Yokohama
Watch a Grand Sumo Tournament
If you like martial arts and more particularly wrestling, autumn is a good time to attend a tournament which are held every two months. The last two of the six annual tournaments of professional Sumo happen in September (Tokyo) ad November (Fukuoka). Tickets can be purchased here.
Experience a Japanese hot spring “onsen”
It would be a waste to visit Japan without trying an onsen. Onsens are enjoyed all year round but are more appreciated between October and March; as you can soak in the hot water while the temperature drops down. Onsens can be found everywhere including in Tokyo, but it’s best to head to onsen towns instead. Hakone, Nikko and Fuji Five Lakes are hot springs towns which offer amazing views of the autumn leaves.
Related post: Staying in a Traditional Ryokan in Kinugawa Onsen
Enjoy early Winter/Christmas illuminations
Another big event starts from the end of November: winter illuminations. These types of events are held all over the country during the winter season. Tokyo obviously has a big number of spots each as stunning as the next. You can see some of Tokyo’s events in the following places (all free): Roppongi Hills Christmas, Yebisu Garden Place Winter Illumination, Marunouchi Illumination or Midtown Christmas.
Experience cuteness with Shichi-Go-San
Shichi-Go-San which literally means “Seven-Five-Three” is a traditional ceremony held in shrines to celebrate the growth and well-being of young boys and girls. Around November 15 (or the nearest weekend), Japanese parents take their children aged 3, 5 and 7 to their shrines to express their gratitude. It’s a cute festival where the young kids get to wear traditional clothes for the first time. Girls wear kid-sized kimonos and boys hakama or sometimes western-styles clothes. It’s a beautiful moment with the whole family celebrating the milestones. If you are in Tokyo during that time, head to Meiji Shrine to experience this festival without being too invasive.
Enjoy autumn food
Japanese food follows the seasons. You can enjoy seasonal fruits, vegetables and dishes. Here are some of the food you can sample in autumn:
- Oden – a soy-flavoured dashi soup with choices of ingredients such as daikon (radish), boiled eggs, fish cakes, konnyaku, meat-stuffed tofu skin etc…
- Nabe – although more of a winter dish, this hotpot dish is very welcomed in autumn as well as shabu-shabu, sukiyaki and chankonabe (favoured by Sumo wrestlers)
- Sanma – the pacific saury is a popular autumn dish called “sanma no shioyaki” (sanma grilled with salt).
- Kaki – the Japanese persimmons which sometimes look like tomatoes are sweet and juicy. They can be eaten raw, dried or as a jam.
- Chestnuts or kurin in Japanese are deliciously roasted (yaki-kuri) or cooked together with rice (kurigohan).
- Roasted sweet potatoes (yakiimo) are the most popular autumn food. They are sold everywhere from convenience stores to specialised sweet potato shops and food stalls at festivals.
There are also several food festivals held around the country such as the Tokyo Wagyu Show or Tokyo Ramen Show.
Tori no Ichi
Tori No Ichi is a traditional festival held in shrines and temples since the Edo era. It is held in November on the days of the rooster (a Chinese zodiac sign) to wish for wealth and good luck in business. It’s interesting to see as you watch crowds forming in front of stalls selling “kumade” a colourful decorated rake. The most interesting is the chanting the hand-clapping every time a rake is sold. As a tourist, you don’t have to take part in buying the rakes but they make a cool souvenir. Food being a big part of Japanese festivals, there will be plenty of opportunities to sample some delicious food.
It won’t be as expensive as you think
Although autumn is getting a more and busier season, flight fares and accommodations are still reasonable. Lots of cheap flights and better accommodation options are available for travellers. But in order to book the cheapest fare, be sure to book your flight and hotel at the earliest opportunity.
Go for a walk or hike
The temperature in Japan varies between cool and chilly in the northern prefectures. The cool weather makes autumn is an ideal time to hike. If you like some adventure on your trip, then you should consider climbing some of Japan’s mountains and admire the beautiful autumn colours along the way. To see some of the most spectacular sceneries, head to Kyoto, Hakone, Mt Takao or Hokkaido. Plus by going hiking or walking on a trail, you will be able to see some great “koyo”.
See autumn cherry blossoms
Most people are aware of the spring sakura blossom but not everyone knows about the cherry blossoms in autumn. There are two types of cherry blossoms that can be enjoyed in Autumn: Shikizakura and Fuyuzakura. Shikizakura means all-season cherry blossoms, therefore, blooms both in autumn in spring. Fuyuzakura is winter cherry blossoms. Although I visited at the beginning before they fully bloom, I’m sure is an amazing sight: seeing the cherry and coloured leaves at the same time.
Visiting a Sumo Grand Tournament
If you like martial arts and more particularly wrestling, then autumn is a good time for you to travel to Japan. Two of the six Grand Sumo Tournaments are held then. The Tokyo event is held in September while November event is held in Fukuoka. These are part of the most important tournaments in the year so if you are in the area and lucky, you might be able to grab a ticket to see this famous wrestling game. Tickets can be purchased here.
The weather in autumn is ideal to visit all the places on your itinerary. Summer can be very humid and crowded. However, the weather in autumn is more comfortable making it ideal for sightseeing. It may rain in September but October and November are quite all right. The temperatures were pleasant between 22°C and 25°C when I visited in November last year. Having said that, the temperature can drop quickly in mountainous regions like Nikko.
Have you been to Japan in autumn? What did you enjoy doing the most?
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