For lovers of gorgeous autumn weather, winter illuminations, and hearty food, it doesn’t get much better than November in Japan.
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If you’re a fan of windswept autumn days and cosy nights as the skies get darker, then visiting Japan in November could be ideal for you. It might just be the very best month for the incredible reds, golds, and yellows of Japan’s autumn foliage. Similarly, if you love the stunningly diverse Japanese landscape, then November is also perfect for getting out and about in the great outdoors before it gets a little too cold in the winter. Speaking of the winter, the weather is definitely getting cooler in November, and Japan has already started to prepare with its spectacular winter illuminations which begin this month. As you can tell, there’s lots to enjoy across Japan in November and it’s an excellent time to visit, so why don’t you grab a seat (and your JR Pass for unlimited train travel) and we’ll tell you more.
Reasons to visit Japan in November
Top Five Things To Do in Japan in November
November is packed with events and activities, making it a great time to visit Japan. Let’s take a look at our Top Five Recommendations for November in Japan:
1.) 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 Kamo 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.
2.) 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.
For detailed information about each of these locations, including directions on how to get there with the Japan Rail Pass, read our guide to the Top Five Autumn Foliage Viewing Spots by JR Pass.
3.) Winter Illuminations
While Japan’s Winter doesn’t officially start until December, its 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.
5.) 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.
- November is ideal for exploring the great outdoors on foot. Read our Quick Guide to Climbing and our Introduction to Hiking in Japan for more on these activities.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.