November is a month to remember in Japan with gorgeous late autumn weather, fewer crowds, and a huge amount to see and do.
Remember, remember, Japan in November. Okay, so I’m paraphrasing this rhyme somewhat, but the point remains - don’t forget about November when planning your dream holiday to Japan because it’s a wonderful month to visit this unforgettable country. This year, November has also seen Japan’s hottest autumn day in 100 years. This warm weather, combined with typically dry days and stunning autumnal colours, makes November an ideal time to explore and enjoy everything Japan has to offer. Travelling across this beautiful country using your JR Pass on Japan’s rail network, you’ll be able to experience breathtaking views, hills and mountains awash with golden leaves, temples and shrines, wooden villages and dazzling contemporary structures, all bathed in beautiful autumn light. Autumn and winter are also particularly exciting times of year to visit because of the variety of festivals, attractions, illuminations, and more, taking place. Like we said at the top, November in Japan is a month to remember!
Visiting Japan in November
This year, as we mentioned above, Japan has had one of the warmest autumns on record. This means that November is even more pleasant than it usually is in Japan and it’s pretty great almost every year. November is warm, generally dry, and blessed with gorgeous autumn light and fall colours. Later in the month, as Autumn slowly moves towards Winter, the days get a little cooler and shorter and the nights get darker and cosy. Don’t worry though, even though it’s a touch cooler, the weather in November is generally excellent for exploring. Why? The days are dry, the sky is crisp and clear, and the Autumn colours are magnificent. Japan is famed for its glorious Autumn foliage, which is gradually coming to rival the country’s famous Cherry Blossom for beauty and popularity, and November is arguably the best month to enjoy the Autumn leaves. The dry weather also makes it a perfect time to explore the great outdoors, especially if you love walking and hiking in the fresh Autumn air. Kyoto, as we’ll explore below, comes alive in November too, and is one of the most recommended places to visit this month. Finally, it’s also the start of the Winter Illumination season (even though it’s not quite winter yet). These spectacular light shows are the perfect way to relax on a dark, cosy night. Ready for our November recommendations? Let’s take a look.
Top 10 Things To Do in Japan in November
1. Tokyo Great Santa Run
Yes, you read that right! Santa has arrived early to Japan this November. In fact, there’s not one Santa but thousands and they’re dashing around Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park like they’re late for Christmas Day! Tokyo’s Great Santa Run is a unique charity event in which people buy a ticket for a fun run that also comes with a Santa outfit. They then complete the run dressed as Santa alongside thousands of other participants - it’s fun, it’s different, it’s Japan! And it’s all for charity and good causes. The Great Santa Run takes place every year in November in Yoyogi Park and is a spectacle not to be missed! You could even take part yourself during your visit to Tokyo. While Christmas is still over a month away, you can read more about festivities in Japan in our guide to the month of December and read our post on the topic of How Japan Celebrates Christmas.
2. Visit Katsuo-ji Temple in Osaka
One of the oldest Buddhist temples in Osaka, dating back to 727 AD, and famous for its Daruma dolls, the serene and beautiful Katsuo-ji is well worth a visit all year round. This November is a particularly good time as the temple and compound is being lit up with stunning illuminations right through to December. The temple is extending its opening hours to 8.30pm each day for after dark visitors. For more on Osaka, read our recent blog post, 48 Hours in Osaka for a guide to visiting this exciting city including travel tips with the Japan Rail Pass.
3. Princess Mononoke’s Village Opens at Ghibli Park
This November sees the official and long-awaited opening of the new area at Ghibli Park - the unique, interactive, and immerse theme park that’s not a theme park inspired by the films of renowned animators Studio Ghibli. While the park itself opened late last year, two planned areas - Princess Mononoke’s Village and the Valley of Witches - were always scheduled to open later. This November, Princess Mononoke’s Village opened to the public and instantly became a new must-see attraction in Japan. In Mononoke Village, highlights include a statue of the Demon Spirit, a watchtower from Emishi Village, and a model of the giant boar god Lord Okkoto, which doubles as a slide for kids. There’s also a grass-roofed Tatara-ba hut serving Gohei mochi rice cakes. Read our recent blog post, Ghibli Park to open new attractions by Spring 2024, for the full story and an in-depth guide to this magical and immersive park.
4. Asakusa Tori no Ichi
Taking place nationwide across Japan in November, Tori no Ichi is a traditional festival dating back to the Edo period which is held to wish for good fortune and prosperity in business. One of the most famous of these festivals takes place in Asakusa. The festivities take place at Chokokuji Temple and Otori Shrine and one of the most unique and amazing things about the festival is that it takes place for 24 consecutive hours from midnight to midnight in November. Look out for the beautiful and traditional flower displays and countless, colourful stalls from local vendors.
5. Visit Kyoto
The cultural heart of traditional Japan, Kyoto attracts millions of visitors all year round and November is said to be one of the best times to visit. Why? Perhaps it’s the late Autumn light, the golden foliage, the crisp, clear air, or something else particular to November, but Kyoto just seems especially beautiful at this time of year. Kyoto is often described as the Japan of your imagination thanks to its traditional wooden buildings, pagodas, temples, and shrines, and it has a huge amount to offer all year round. Here are some of our top recommendations:
Starting at Nanzenji Temple, this world-famous path follows a small canal line with hundreds of trees and passes a number of temples and shrines including Eikan do Zenrin-ji, Otoya Shrine and Honen-in, before ending around Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion. The path is picturesque from beginning to end.
The historic Pontocho Alley, one of Kyoto’s go-to spots for food, drink and a dose of traditional Japanese aesthetic, is a magical place to explore on a November evening after dark. Similarly, the Gion side of the Kamogawa river is Japan’s most exclusive geisha district and is positively full of history and charm. Neither should be missed during a November visit to Kyoto.
Known as ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’, this narrow 5-block street market is home to over 100 small shops and stands selling all kinds of (street-) food and kitchen related items.
The Golden Pavilion has been the postcard to send from Kyoto for more than a century. It is one of the most famous Zen temples in the world, renowned for its two stories covered in gold leaf. Officially named Rokuon-ji, the temple today is one of the most visited attractions in Kyoto and designated a world heritage site. It also made our personal list of the best Buddhist temples to visit in Kyoto.
Kiyomizu-Dera, Kyoto’s ‘pure water temple’, is a beautiful Buddhist temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site with a wooden stage famous for its amazing views. Even in Kyoto, a city that is world famous for its temples and shrines, Kiyomizu-Dera is known for being one of the most beautiful and historic sites. November is also when the temple’s light up event begins - perfect for visitors travelling to Kyoto at this time of year.
Click on the link in the title of each heading above to visit a detailed guide to that particular Kyoto recommendation.
6. Autumn foliage
Japan’s autumn leaves rival the country’s famous cherry blossoms for their beauty, and this season is growing in popularity with international visitors. Autumn leaf viewing has become so popular that, like cherry blossom season, it has special phrases associated with it, such as ‘koyo’ which means ‘red leaves’, and Momiji-gari, which is ‘red leaf hunting’. Here are five of the best Autumn Foliage viewing spots to consider visiting in November:
Kawaguchiko is one of the areas located in the ‘Fuji Five Lakes’ district, and is arguably the best place to see the famous Mt. Fuji surrounded by autumn colours. Not only that, but November sees the Fuji Kawaguchiko Autumn Leaves Festival taking place. Kawaguchiko also has its own ‘Momiji Matsuri’ (maple festival), including evening light-ups, usually held in November.
Nikko is not only a sacred site home to many historical temples that are registered UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but features some of Japan’s most beautiful autumn foliage.
Famous for its bamboo forests, the valleys and mountains surrounding Arashiyama also offer stunning autumn colours.
Nara park, famous for its wandering, mostly tame deer, also boasts incredible autumn foliage each November.
- Mt. Nasu-Dake
Mt. Nasu-Dake in Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo, is known as a fantastic hiking and fall foliage viewing spot to Japanese tourists, but it is much less known among international visitors, making it a great off-the-beaten-path recommendation. The area features a suspension bridge and cable car that goes part-way up the mountain, making it a further 45 minutes hike to the top.
7. Winter Illuminations
While Japan’s winter doesn’t officially start until December, the country’s winter illumination season tends to start much earlier. There are some illuminations in fact that last six months of the year. By November, several of the most popular winter illuminations have begun, making it a great time to see the lights as the Autumn nights grow darker and cosier. Here are five of the best winter illuminations to consider:
- Shirakawago Village Autumn Illumination
Every November sees the beginning of the Shirakawago Autumn Leaves Illumination - a special event that takes place every year in this magical village. Shirakawago is a traditional Japanese village that has become world-famous thanks to the unique and beautiful style of its wooden homes with their distinctive V-shaped roofs. It’s an extraordinary place to experience at any time of year, but it’s particularly lovely in Autumn and the illuminations give you double the reasons to visit in November.
- Ashikaga Flower Fantasy
November is a perfect time to experience the illuminations at Ashikaga Flower Park, situated outside the city of Ashikaga, north of Tokyo in the Kanto region. Roughly four million LED lights across the park are used to create a magical display which runs from late October to February.
- Kobe Luminaire
More than three million people a year visit the incredible illuminations that take place annually in the city of Kobe.
- Sagamiko Illumillion, Kanagawa
No single event in the entire Kanto region is as large as the Sagamiko Illumillion festival (that’s illumination and million in one word). It’s said that six million LED lights are used to create the Pleasure Forest at Lake Sagami Resort. With so much effort to set up the illumination, little wonder that the Sagamiko Illumillion is left up for almost six months every year.
- Kingdom of Light
Based on a recreation of a Dutch village, this theme park north of Nagasaki also happens to host a pretty dazzling illumination called the Kingdom of Light, which features an incredible 13 million lights.
Read our guide to Winter Illuminations in Japan You Can’t Miss for even more tips.
November sees one of Japan’s major Sumo tournaments take place, making it an ideal time to experience this quintessentially Japanese sport. There are six official national sumo tournaments in Japan and each lasts 15 days. They are known as honbasho. One of these takes place in November in Fukuoka. If you’re visiting Japan in November, the opportunity to see two titans collide in the ring is not to be missed. The pre-match rituals alone are an incredible traditional spectacle for fans, particularly international visitors, as well as the unique atmosphere in the arena. There really is no other sport quite like it. Matches are held in stadiums and take place all day from 8am to 6pm. The main matches, featuring the highest ranked sumo, take place in the afternoon. You can watch some of the lower ranked wrestlers in the morning, but the stadium doesn’t tend to fill up until later in the day. Just make sure you’re seated for the main events, as you won’t want to miss those – the atmosphere in the arena will also be at its peak then. Stadiums sell snacks and drinks and it’s also possible to pre-order special bento boxes to enjoy at the event. Find out everything you need to know, including how to pre-book tickets and the different types of seating available, in our detailed Guide to Sumo.
9. Autumn and Winter Food
Love food? If the answer is yes, you’ll love Japan, and the Autumn and Winter months bring particular favourite dishes to the forefront. If you’re visiting Japan in November make sure you try wagashi, a delicious pastry shaped like a maple leaf. Also look out for hearty and warming ramen, persimmons (Kaki), pine mushroom broth, pumpkin soup, chestnuts, Kyoho grapes, sweet potato, comforting Pacific mackerel and Sanma fish too. Speaking of ramen, if you follow up on our number one recommendation and visit Kyoto, you could also try visiting the famous (and famously anonymous) No Name Ramen Restaurant in the city - if you can find it of course. For more on food in Japan read our Beginners Guide to Japanese Food and Regional Dishes.
10. Hachioji Ginkgo Festival
Returning for its 43rd year in 2023, the annual Hachioji Ginkgo Festival is held in the vicinity of Mt. Takeo, in the Tokyo area, and is a celebration of the wonderful Ginkgo tree. There are more than 700 planted between Hachioji Expect a yosakoi dance and wadaiko drum performances, stalls, car parade, rally, and lots more. This festival is particularly known for its family friendly attractions and activities and takes place over a weekend in November each year.
- Not sure if November is right for you? Read our month by month description of Japan’s weather and seasons, When Is The Best Time To Visit Japan?
- November is a great month for getting out and about in Japan due to the generally pleasant weather. Outdoor enthusiasts will also find that November is a perfect month to have adventures in Japan’s National Parks too.
- If this guide has whetted your appetite for an autumn visit to Japan, you can find out more about Japan at this time of year by reading our dedicated guide to Japan in Autumn.
- Whenever you choose to visit, it’s super useful to stay connected to the internet and not just to upload selfies to social media. Whether you need language tips or directions, investing in a PocketWifi device for constant internet access and high speed unlimited data is highly recommended.
- If you’re planning a November visit to Japan and it’s your first time in the country, why not make life easier by using our Meet & Greet service on arrival? It’s like having an expert on Japan as your personal assistant. We’ll take care of you from the moment you arrive.