The autumn foliage, along with the comfortable weather, make it a fantastic time to travel and enjoy the Japanese tradition of Momijigari, popular autumn foods, and the various festivals and traditions that come with the season.
Table of Contents
- Autumn Season in Japan
- Autumn Must-Eats
- Autumn Events & Famous Festivals
- Best Autumn Travel Spots
Autumn or fall season in Japan is quite nice! People often think first of the colorful autumn leaves - called 「紅葉 kouyou」 - which rival the cherry blossoms in spring in terms of trying to find the most beautiful spots to enjoy the fleeting seasonal sights.
But first, let's discuss autumn weather, what to expect and what to wear.
The weather in autumn is refreshing and pleasant, with both temperatures and humidity not too high compared to summer, but not too cold yet either. However, in September, there are days when the daytime temperature exceeds 30°C, so you need to be prepared for the heat and humidity. Many people are still carrying around portable fans in September. In October, the temperature drops and the days are mild and comfortable. In November, the temperature drops even further, and even in Tokyo, the number of days when the temperature falls below 20°C increases. It gets colder faster further north so plan accordingly when going to Tohoku and Hokkaido.
The biggest thing to worry about is typhoons, which often come at the beginning of autumn in Japan, causing damage with heavy rain and and strong winds. If a typhoon is approaching, avoid going out as rivers may flood and transportation may be suspended. Power outages and flooding can occur even when safely indoors. Make sure to check typhoon information and warnings via the weather forecasts on TV and online.
You may experience unforeseen changes in temperature throughout the day during autumn so it's best to dress for that!
During September, wearing thinner layers is fine for warm afternoons. But don’t forget to bring cardigans and long-sleeves for mornings and evenings that tend to be a little chilly. You can wear t-shirts, breezy tops, thin pants or shorts, thinner dresses and skirts with sneakers or flats. You might want to keep an umbrella with you just in case. Hats would also be good to deal with both the sun and rain.
For October, you might opt for longer sleeves and pants and leggings. Light sweatshirts and jackets are now preferable for cooler mornings and evenings, sometimes even all day.
November and December are months for gradually adding layers on your clothing. Depending on your location, it's time for coats, thicker sweaters and jackets, flanel shirts, jeans, boots, hats and gloves. Make sure to check out Japanese fall/winter fashion, as it often features lots of chic yet comfortable layering. Also make sure to check the weather by location, as the temperature will begin to drastically vary across the country, affecting what you should pack and wear.
Autumn in Japan is the season for various fruits such as persimmons, pears, and grapes. It is also the harvest season for sweet potatoes and chestnuts, and you can often eat baked sweet potatoes and roasted chestnuts. Sanma (saury) and bonito, which are fatty and delicious fish, are also representative ingredients of autumn.
In Japan, there is a famous saying:「食欲の秋 Shokuyoku no Aki」- Autumn Appetite. There are various theories about the origin of this phrase, but the leading theory is that "Autumn is full of ingredients that are ready to eat, and so one's appetite increases." When you come to Japan, please try to taste the rich variety of autumn flavors.
Events and leisure activities such as "moon viewing", "autumn leaves viewing", and Shichigosan along with various festivals are held in autumn in Japan.
Tsukimi is an event to appreciate the moon in the clear autumn night sky, and was originally held on 15th day of th 8th month of the lunar calendar. In modern times, it falls on a day between mid-September and early October, although it varies from year to year. In 2022, it was on September 10.
On the day of moon viewing, it is customary to eat small dumplings or rice cakes that look like the moon. In addition, Japanese pampas grass is used to ward off evil spirits and wish for a good harvest.
Momiji-gari, which is held from late October to early December, is where you can enjoy viewing the changing leaves of deciduous trees. It has a long history, and was already practiced among people in the Edo Period.
In Japan, there are mountains, valleys, and parks all over the country that are famous for autumn leaves viewing. Also, at places such as shrines and temples that are famous for autumn foliage, you will be able to see beautiful scenery created by Japanese buildings and leaves dyed in red and yellow.
Another thing to look forward to is the brilliant yellow leaves of ginkgo. This tree can often be found around temples and parks in the city. You’ll be captivated by how awesome it appears in photos and much more before your own eyes.
Autumn flowers are also sought after, as the colors are vivid and beautiful. Check out our post about them below!
Shichigosan is held on November 15th and is an event to celebrate the growth of children. There was a time in Japan when sanitary conditions were poor, medical care was underdeveloped, and child mortality was high. For this reason, Shichi-go-san came to be held at the turning points of 3, 5, and 7 years old to celebrate the healthy growth of children and to give thanks to the gods. Even today, when girls are 3 or 7 years old and boys are 5 years old, they wear a kimono and go to a shrine.
Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri (Osaka)
Originally started as a form of ritual to wish for “a bountiful harvest”, Danjiri Matsuri is celebrated all of Japan. However, the Kishiwada Osaka enactment is arguably the most remarkable. Intricately carved wooden floats designed in the image of temples and shrines are displayed on the streets. The crowd is engrossed as participants compete in the race of pulling the floats. Streets are filled with mouth-watering grilled squid, takoyaki and okonomiyaki to feed the huge crowd that shows up to celebrate.
Nagasaki Kunchi Festival (Nagasaki)
Nagasaki Prefecture, where "Nagasaki Kunchi" is held every year from October 7th to 9th, is a must-visit tourist destination for those who want to see Japanese festivals. At "Nagasaki Kunchi", a "dedication dance" is performed in which people lift and pull large dragon and whale-like decorations. This festival has been held since 1634 and is designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property. Influenced by countries such as Portugal and China, it can be said that this festival is unique to Nagasaki Prefecture, which had a trading port with foreign countries during the Edo period.
Autumn Grand Festival (Tochigi)
Have you ever wanted to see samurai in real life? If you have, you’re lucky you can witness not just one but up to 1000 samurai. That’s what Autumn Grand Festival, also called “Shuki Taisai”, presents. It brings parade viewers back all the way to the 17th century where the funeral procession of Ieyasu Tokogawa took place in Toshogu Shrine. It commences on the 16th, a day before the actual festival (October 17th), where you can watch their horseback archery tradition.
Sawara Grand Festival (Chiba)
Named a UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Sawara Grand Autumn Festival is one of the best autumn events in the Kanto region. It has evolved in the last 300 years, nonetheless remaining historically symbolic. Festival attendees can see giant and elaborately-designed floats with large statues of famous people from Japanese history and legends, pulled along by enthusiastic participants.
This is just some of the must-visit spots in the fall season.
Kyoto is home to many historical sites and the vast landscapes of russet leaves make it picture-perfect. It offers you the amazing sight of Enrian Temple which is said to have the reddest color of leaves during fall and Kiyomizudera Temple which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Other temples to see are Shoren-in, Kodai-ji and Chion-in temples in Southern Higashiyama that are illuminated at night. Just be prepared for the crowds as autumn in Kyoto is one of the peak seasons for visitors.
Despite its busy streets, Tokyo’s gardens and parks are unbeatable. Enjoy walks or read a book at Yoyogi Park underneath the fall leaves or simply be mesmerized by the picturesque Rikugien Garden. Make sure to strike a pose while strolling along Icho Namiki Avenue, a street famous for its rows of giant ginkgo trees (just mind the smell and sticky ground). Walk around the spacious Imperial Palace East Garden. Or ride a boat, visit the zoo and watch weekend performances at Inokashira Park on a nice warm autumn day. With all of these and much more, it’s just impossible for anyone to skip seeing Tokyo especially in fall.
For nature lovers, Hokkaido would never disappoint. As the place to first welcome autumn in Japan, it grants you mesmerizing sights of mountains, freshwater lakes and forestry. Mt. Asahi is a top recommendation where hiking trails and ropeways are available to reach the spectacular view at the summit. You might also want to check the town of Jozankei. Unwind and soul-search in its attractive valleys, bridges and rivers. Lastly, prepare yourself to see a real life work of art in the famous Shirogane Blue Pond in Biei, Hokkaido. Its reflective blue water, fresh air and dazzling trees are a sight to behold.
Perfect time to visit
As mentioned above, autumn starts as early as mid September in Japan. But you might want to wait for October and November as these are considered the best viewing months for the fall foliage. The foliage season starts from the north and continues on through the middle and southern regions. For instance, regions of Kanto and Kansai (Tokyo and Osaka regions) will see its autumn foliage in mid-October and November while Kyushu region, the southernmost part of Japan, experiences it late November. Nonetheless, they are all beautiful places and it gives ample choices when and where to spend autumn in Japan.
Japan’s autumn must be experienced. There is beauty in every corner, a wide array of activities to engage in and rich culture to observe. Take part in the many cultural events and traditional festivities highlighted during this season. Without a doubt, Japan’s autumn is nothing short of amazing.