Discover the natural beauty of Japan during autumn by visiting some of the best fall foliage viewing spots in the country!
Many visitors flock to Japan every year to view the ever-popular cherry blossoms that bloom across the country. Autumn, however, brings a similarly awe-inspiring beauty to the landscape with bewitching shades of red, orange and yellow spreading across the country. The various trees, such as the famous Japanese maple, tend to be located near shrines and other areas of interest too, making the views that much more impressive to see (and photograph!). As a bonus, the weather is generally mild and sunny during this time, making it an all-round excellent time to visit the country. So what are the best places to pay a visit to make the most of your autumn trip to Japan? Below we’ve made a list of 5 top spots and how to get there by Japan Rail Pass.
5. Mt. Nasu-Dake
If you prefer a less frequently visited spot to enjoy the autumn scenery, look no further than Mt. Nasu-Dake in Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo. Though it is known as a fantastic hiking and fall foliage viewing spot to Japanese tourists, it is much less known among foreign visitors. 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. There are also several onsen hotsprings on the slopes of the mountain, making it a good place to relax and enjoy the views.
How to get there: Take the direct train from Tokyo Station to Nasu-Shiobara Station, the station on the edge of the national park Mt. Nasu-Dake is located in. Several local buses (not covered by JR Pass) depart from here to Nasu Onsen or further to the cable car station (only from April-November).
As a former capital of Japan, Nara has several awe-inspiring temples and shrines on offer, and the entire area has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here too, the various trees burst into colour and highlight the sights. Nara park, known for its wandering mostly tame deer, is a good place to visit, as is the Nara prefecture government building roof with 360 degree views on the sprawling surroundings.
How to get there: Take the direct JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station to Nara Station. Also easily accessible from Osaka.
The former capital, Kyoto, is in itself a great place to see some of the famous temples and shrines surrounded by the most stunning autumn colours. It is however one of Kyoto’s outlying areas, famous for its bamboo forest, that takes the top-spot: Arashiyama. It has much more to offer than that, though, as there are several impressive temples, a monkey park, and the Togetsukyo (‘moon crossing’) bridge, an iconic bridge spanning the river and providing a great outlook over the valleys and mountains surrounding Arashiyama. Naturally, these valleys and mountains welcome you with vivid shades of reds and yellows in the fall!
Be sure not to miss out on the Okochi Sanso Villa, the former residence of a Japanese actor with a love for Japanese-style gardens. The gardens are high up and offer brilliant views. Another way to take in the sights is a boat trip along the Hozugawa river on a traditional boat.
How to get there: Take the JR Sagano (Sanin) Line from Kyoto Station straight to Saga Arashiyama station.
Nikko is not only a sacred site home to many historical temples that are registered UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but is also an area of outstanding natural beauty. This is of course especially true in autumn! Aside from the various temples, we recommended hiking to the Kegon Falls and the nearby Lake Chuzenji for a stunning offer of fall foliage.
How to get there: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Utsunomiya station, then the local JR Nikko line. The full trip will take you a little less than two hours.
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. It is also a perfect place for hiking and cycling, and the nearby Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway (also known as ‘Kachi Kachi Ropeway’) takes you up a viewpoint from which the outlook on the mountain is even more impressive (as long as the weather permits it). Kawaguchiko also has its own ‘Momiji Matsuri’ (maple festival), including evening light-ups, usually held in November.
How to get there: Take a direct train from the Tokyo Shinjuku (JR) Station to Otsuki Station, the entry station to all the Fuji Five Lake areas. Alternatively you can start from Tokyo Station and transfer in Takao or Tachikawa to travel to Otsuki. From Otsuki local transport is not covered by JR Pass as it is privately owned, thus the Hakone Free Pass makes an excellent addition to your JR pass.
Tip: Don’t miss out on the so-called ‘light-ups’ or ‘illuminations’! Various temples and other places of interest all over the country will allow access to their grounds in the evening on specific dates, and light up the trees to create a fantastic atmosphere at night.
Written and Photo copyright by: Nikki Berkhout