Japan is one of my favorite destinations, and upon my many returns I’m always amazed at just how many new awe-inspiring places and experiences I find each time. I’m blessed to have had the chance to live in the Land of the Rising Sun, and to have a connection that for me rivals no other. One of the things I loved the most whilst living in Japan was that in every month and every season there was something in nature to be celebrated, loved and admired. Indeed, unlike many destinations around the world, Japan is perfect to visit year-round, be it for the one-of-a-kind yuki matsuri (snow festival) in Sapporo in winter, the ever so popular sakura (cherry blossoms) in Spring, the multitude of hanabi (fireworks) festivals across the country in summer, and my personal favorite – momiji (autumn foliage) in fall. The change of seasons in a country that prominently experiences all four is a special event that deserves as special a celebration, and while sakura is certainly the most popular with foreign visitors, the beauty of momiji to me is unparalleled. Fall, for its cooler temperatures, often attracts fewer visitors, too, meaning that there are spectacular sights to be shared with fewer others than you might expect.
Much like sakura season, momiji season is closely followed by meteorologists in Japan who attempt to yearly predict exactly when the best time for momijigari (admiring the autumn foliage) is. For the 2017 autumn foliage forecast, please see here. Below are the five places in Japan to visit and admire this most fiery of season changes.
Momijigari in Kyoto’s Arashiyama
Kyoto is Japan’s quintessential destination – old meets new, modern meets classic – and so, of course, Kyoto is part of every “places to visit in Japan” list. One of the most popular places to visit during momiji season is Kiyomizu-Dera temple in the northeast of town, where a spectacle of light takes place nightly, lighting up the temple grounds and trees for visitors to feast their eyes on. It gets easily packed, though it’s still worth it. For an even more picturesque experience, I would recommend Arashiyama – Kyoto’s storm mountain. Arashiyama has a lot to offer this time of year: the mountain, covered in color-changing trees, provides a spectacular backdrop to the Hozugawa River which runs through this part of town. In the evenings, during the height of momijigari, the entire mountainside is lit up to showcase the fiery colors of autumn. While not color-changing, Arashiyama’s world-famous bamboo grove is also lit up in a spectacle of its own – it’s a wonderfully eerie experience walking through it at night. The best experience, however, is a ride along the Sangano Scenic Railway. The train’s only purpose is sightseeing, and a roundtrip train ride takes you on a nearly hour-long journey along the Hozugawa Ravine where the colors of autumn are most prominent.
Momijigari at Lake Kawaguchi
As one of the five lakes at the foot of Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi is a great place to enjoy fantastic vistas of Japan’s most sacred mountain from afar. Indeed, in autumn Lake Kawaguchi is one of the best places to see Mount Fuji complemented by the colors of fall. On the northern banks of the lake, and right next to Itchiku Kubota Museum, you will find the area’s famed momiji kairo, or the “walkway of autumn leaves”. Two rows of maple trees form a corridor that bursts into the yellow, orange and red of the season. Similarly to Arashiyama, momijigari at Lake Kawaguchi is celebrated with a festival and light show in the evenings. The walkway of autumn leaves is also lit up, making it a lovely location for romantic strolls, while local sellers provide hot matcha to keep visitors warm. On a clear afternoon, before the sun sets, you can admire Mount Fuji in the distance, through the autumn foliage – a romantic and special experience, indeed.
Momijigari in Kamakura
Hands-down one of my favorite day trips from Tokyo, Kamakura is a fantastic historical town that makes for a perfect escape from the busyness of the big city. Many of the country’s Shogun-era relics can be found here, along with a few lovely temples and shrines. What’s more, Kamakura is surrounded on three sides by mountains with the south side faces the sea, so the landscape here is truly spectacular. During fall, all nature walks amongst this more sparsely populated area, between the temples, and along the old kiridoshi passes once used for the transportation of supplies, as well as defense, can be enjoyed under the bright colors of the autumn foliage. The views are particularly great at Hase-Dera temple. As with most scenic spots in Japan during this time of year, Hase-Dera also enjoys an evening show of light and color. During the day, the Tenen hiking trail, similar to the momiji kairo of Lake Kawaguchi, is ideal for a colorfully picturesque walk in nature.
Momijigari and kusamomiji in Oze National Park
Located some 60 miles north of Tokyo, Oze is a national park known for its fantastic hiking trails making it perfect for the more nature-oriented adventurers out there. Special features within the national park include the Ozegahara Marshland and the Oze Numa Pond, and the most popular hikes in the area include trails along and around the marshland and pond. What makes Oze National Park a special place to visit in Japan during fall is that it offers autumn foliage with a twist, namely the kusamomiji or momiji grass. It’s during this time of year that the vast green expanse of the marshland turns a reddish yellow, often referred to as “Oze’s sea of red”. If you happen to be visiting on a clear, sunny day, you will be stunned by the golden glow of the grass as illuminated by the sun.
Momijigari at Hitachi Seaside Park
Hitachi Seaside Park is a mesmerizing place to visit year-round. Located on Japan’s Pacific coast, the park features a unique natural environment of sand dunes, forests, grasslands and springs. One of the park’s most spectacular sights are the perfectly groomed, evenly planted kochia kochia, which turn from bright green in summer to crimson red in autumn. The sight is a great alternative to all the maple leaves and similar foliage you would normally see across Japan this time of year. Alongside the thousands of brightly covered kochia kochia you will also find cosmos flowers which bloom in early October for an even more dazzling viewing experience.
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