Autumn is the perfect time to visit Japan and to help you plan your trip, we’ve put together a list of the very best things to see and do.
We all want the best of both worlds in life, don’t we? Especially when it comes to our holidays. We don’t just want the perfect place - Japan in our case - we also want the perfect weather, the most beautiful scenery, and the best things to do. Well, you’re in luck! Many people believe that everything comes together in Autumn in Japan to create the quintessential visit to this extraordinary country. Is it the pleasant autumnal weather, neither too hot nor too cold? Is it the beautiful autumnal colours? Or the wealth of interesting things to see and do? Perhaps it’s all of the above and everything combined. All we know is this - Autumn in Japan is extra special and we’re about to give you our best recommendations for Autumn 2023.
Top 10 Things To Do In Japan in Autumn 2023
1. Don’t miss the autumn late night light show at Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kyoto’s famous ‘pure water temple’ will host its annual autumn illumination from November 18 to November 30 in 2023 with extended opening hours until 9.30pm so visitors can appreciate this incredible building and its spectacular views, as well as the beautiful autumnal illuminations, under the cover of darkness. Kiyomizu-Dera is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a large wooden stage famous for its amazing views over Kyoto. As well as this stage, the temple consists of more than 30 buildings and structures on the slopes of Mt. Otowa. This ancient Buddhist temple dates back more than 1,200 years and takes its name ‘pure water temple’ from the water flowing through the temple complex from Otowa Waterfall. Kyoto is one of the places to be in Japan each autumn thanks to the wealth of harvest celebrations and traditional festivals taking place. You can read more about Kiyomizu-Dera in our guide to Kyoto’s Pure Water Temple.
2. Attend Japan’s Highest Altitude Fireworks Festival
This autumn, you’ll have a chance to experience Japan’s highest altitude fireworks festival in Hakuba. Usagidaira Night Festa at Hakuba Happo One will have food trucks, entertainment, and fireworks on September 30, 2023. Fireworks will include rockets set to launch at 1,400 metres above sea level and a spectacular climax featuring 200 shells of fireworks. You can find out more about Hakuba - one of Japan’s premier alpine resorts - in our guide, Everything About Hakuba.
3. Visit the private garden at Kyoto’s Kurodani Temple
For a limited time only this autumn, Kurodani Temple is opening up its stunning private garden so visitors can experience the beautiful autumn colours for themselves. Kurodani Temple was built back in 1175 and is one of eight head temples representing the Jodo sect of Buddhism. The temple's back garden boasts some of the best foliage on the grounds, but it's usually closed to the public. However, Kurodani Temple will open the area up for a limited time between Wednesday November 15 and Sunday December 3.
4. Experience ‘Tsukimi: The Harvest Moon Festival’
Autumn sees Japan celebrate the harvest moon with a special festival across Japan. Traditionally celebrated in the month of September in Japan, tsukimi dates back to the Nara period (710-794 AD), but it didn’t become a formal celebration until the Heian period (794-1185). Legend has it tsukimi was inspired by the custom of jugoya moon viewing in Tang Dynasty China (618-907), and was taken up by Japan’s aristocrats who would play music and compose poetry at parties in the moonlight. They would also take boats out at night to view the moon reflected in the water. The ‘moon viewing’ tradition gathered momentum throughout the centuries, and by the Edo period (1603-1868) it was popular amongst all classes, including farmers. By this time, the festival had become more closely associated with other autumn traditions, in particular thanking the gods for a bountiful harvest and praying for a successful year to come. Originally, tsukimi was celebrated on the 13th day of the month, but in 1683 the calendar changed and the timing of the full moon moved to the 15th. Since then, the exact date of the festival varies depending on the lunar calendar, but it almost always takes place in September which is considered to be the best time to view the moon. For a list of Japan’s most famous Tsukimi festivals to attend while you’re in Japan, read our in-depth guide to Tsukimi: The Autumn Moon Festival.
5. View mind-bending digital art at Kanazawa Castle
Renowned digital art studio and collective, teamLab, is taking over Kanazawa Castle this autumn with a stunning new exhibition. Staged as part of teamLab's Digitized City art project, the exhibition explores the potential of digital technology to transform cities and their most historic structures without altering them physically. The exhibition will be open to the public from September 30 until November 26 2023. Tickets are available for ¥1,600 per adult on weekdays (Monday to Thursday) and ¥1,800 on weekends (Friday to Sunday). Kanazawa and its beautiful castle are well worth a visit. Read our guide to Kanazawa, A Gleaming City with Golden Traditions, for much more on this highly recommended destination.
6. Indulge Autumn’s Appetite
There is a phrase in Japan at this time of year called ‘Autumn’s Appetite’ and it is certainly a special time of year for food lovers with a host of unique seasonal dishes on offer and a number of special food events and festivals across the country. Autumn is the season which brings dishes and flavours such as hearty and warming Ramen, persimmons (Kaki), pine mushroom broth, pumpkin soup, chestnuts, Kyoho grapes, sweet potato, comforting Pacific mackerel and Sanma fish, and many others, to the forefront of menus. Look out for Tokyo Ramen Show, Hokkaido Food Festival and Tokyo Wagyu Show to name just three of many festivals you’ll have a chance to attend if you love your food. There is even such a thing as ‘Maple Tempura’, which sees fresh leaves salted or sugared and then fried in tempura batter as a snack. Don’t miss Japan’s Halloween themed pumpkin latte either!
7. Hiking, climbing, and walking
Thanks to the pleasant weather - another great reason to visit Japan over the autumn months - it’s the perfect time for hiking, climbing, walking, and other outdoor activities. They are also an amazing way to see and experience the beautiful country of Japan up close and personal. Japan’s picturesque and rugged landscape of islands, mountains, forests, beaches, and waterfalls, is spectacular and diverse. This means a huge range of treks to suit every kind of walker. One of the great things about Japan is that you don’t necessarily have to be in the middle of nowhere to find excellent hiking trails either. Even with a day trip from major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, you can enjoy some terrific hikes and take a break from the urban jungles. Mount Takao, which is within reach of Tokyo, is an ideal hiking destination in October and is also a popular autumn foliage viewing spot. More on this pastime below. With multiple trails to choose from, you can spend as much or as little time as you like hiking at Mount Takao. Paths like the Omotesando Trail and the Biwa Waterfall Trail are either paved or well maintained, and are perfect for a gentle stroll. Then there are the tougher ones that take you right up the mountain to the observation deck at the summit. Of course, if you do want to head off the beaten path to more remote locations, Japan has plenty to offer too and October is the perfect month to do it. Other walking and hiking trails include the famous Nakasendo Trail, the historic Futabanosato Trail through Hiroshima, and hiking through the atmospheric rural towns of Kibune and Kurama in the northern mountains of Kyoto. For general hiking and walking tips for Japan read our Quick Guide to Hiking.
8. Sumo Grand Tournament
Autumn offers two opportunities to witness the Sumo Grand Tournament with the Tokyo Basho in September and the Fukuoka Basho in November this year. Sumo is quintessentially Japanese. Big, bold, steeped in tradition, and completely unique. There are six official national sumo tournaments in Japan, each lasting 15 days, and one of these - the Sumo Tokyo Basho - takes place in Tokyo each September at Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium. Attending a match is an unforgettable way to get up close and personal with Japan’s national sport. Tickets for the national sumo tournaments should be bought in advance from Japan Sumo Wrestling’s official website, or other accredited vendors, although a small number of balcony tickets are sold on the day. Tickets vary in price from ringside seats, which place you closest to the action, to traditional box seats with cushions, to balcony seating. For a detailed introduction to everything you need to know read our Guide to Sumo.
9. Celebrate Halloween!
Does Japan celebrate Halloween? The answer is yes! Although a relatively new celebration in Japan, Halloween has grown in popularity year on year since it was formally introduced, and it is now bigger than ever. In 1997, Tokyo Disneyland introduced Halloween to Japan, and became increasingly popular every year until it became an annual event. In 2002, Universal Studios Japan joined the festivities. The two major theme parks were instrumental in bringing Halloween to Japan. Though the concept is the same, there are some differences between the Japanese and American versions. First, the Japanese don’t focus on trick-or-treating like Americans do. This is because of the difference in culture — Japan frowns upon anything that would bother other people. Instead, Halloween is a time for adults to dress up and party - unsurprising considering the country’s love of cosplay. Japan now sees huge Halloween parties across the country. The biggest include the Shibuya Scramble Halloween Street Party, Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Fest, the Hello Halloween Pumpkin Parade in Omotesando, and of course the Halloween festivals at Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios. Read our guide to Halloween in Japan for more or our guides to Tokyo Disney Resort for an overview of everything the theme park has to offer.
10. View the Koyo (Autumn Leaves)
Last on our list, but definitely not least - the Koyo (Autumn leaves). Arguably this is the number one reason to visit Japan during the autumn. It’s a spectacularly beautiful time of year. In Japan, Koyo refers to the process of leaves changing colour and falling - the concept of autumn if you will - while Momiji means more literally ‘red maple leaves’ although both words are used to describe all colours of leaves, from red and yellow to orange and golden brown, which can be seen during autumn in Japan. The word has also become somewhat interchangeable with momiji-gari or ‘red leaf hunting’, which is the term used for the custom of viewing the autumn leaves or Koyo. Momiji is the word generally used to describe the Japanese maple whose five-pointed leaves have been synonymous with the season and its traditions. Often, the most famous Koyo viewing locations are spread across the country in parks, temples and mountainous areas and a Japan Rail Pass is a perfect way to visit them all. On 4th September 2023, The Japan Meteorological Corporation issued its official Koyo forecast for this year, specifically focused on Momiji - red maple leaves - and golden Gingko leaves. Momiji will appear first in Sapporo on November 8, then Tokyo on November 30, Osaka on December 3, and Kyoto on December 11. Meanwhile, the Gingko leaves will appear in Sapporo on November 6, in Tokyo on November 25, in Osaka on November 24, and finally in Kyoto on November 27. For more, read our guide to the Five Best Autumn Foliage Viewing Spots.
As you can tell from the article above, Autumn 2023 looks like a fantastic time to visit Japan. Here are a few bonus recommendations:
- Want to know more about the autumn season in Japan? Read our guide to Japan in Autumn for information about the average temperature and more general information.
- Visiting Japan in autumn 2023? Remember that prices for the Japan Rail Pass are changing in October. You can read our full guide to the price changes for more information.
- Want to read more about the kind of weather to expect when you visit Japan? Read our guide to Deciding When To Visit Japan: Weather and Seasons.
- Whatever season you choose to visit Japan, our Meet and Greet Service is designed to make your life easier. It’s ideal if you would appreciate a helping hand on your arrival in Japan. One of our Japanese travel specialists will meet you in person at the airport, activate your JR Pass, help you reserve train tickets, and book anything else you may want to do upon arriving in Japan. It’s like having a personal assistant to look after you on arrival.
- Meanwhile, investing in a PocketWifi device means you can stay connected to family and friends online, check directions, language tips, and more, without worrying about running out of data. Our PocketWifi offers unlimited data, supports up to five devices, and they are easy to pick up on arrival and drop off at the end of your trip.