As summer comes to a close, we look ahead to the upcoming autumn season. Along with the (much welcomed) cooler temps, the fall season blankets all of Japan with vibrant shades of reds and yellows. Known as koyo in Japanese, the colorful foliage first appears in northern Japan in September and gradually moves down the country. During the Heian period (794-1185), the aristocracy would enjoy the fall leaves through various activities. Some popular examples include visiting the mountains, taking a boat ride and writing poetry.
Today, love for these warm hues remains part of Japanese culture. Come autumn, people travel around Japan to view the fall foliage in a past time labeled momijigari, or "maple leaf hunting". If you plan on visiting Japan in the fall, here are five fantastic sites for you to take in these awesome autumn hues.
Fall colors spot the misty mountains at Daisetsuzan National Park — Photo via Flickr by 方渝飞
Located in: Hokkaido Prefecture
Best time to visit: Mid-September
First on the list is Daisetsuzan National Park. Located in the northern-most part of Japan, this area is the first to experience autumnal leaves. Rich reds and copper oranges are seen en masse on the mountains, near the lakes and beside the hot springs. Japan’s largest national park, Daisetsuzan is larger than Tokyo Prefecture! The aboriginal Ainu group aptly called this grand wilderness ‘kamuimintara’, meaning Playground of the Gods. If you visit Japan in September, kick off your fall festivities with the Gods in Daisetsuzan.
Golden leaves welcome visitors to explore the way of the samurai — Photo via Flickr cc by mos
Located in: Akita Prefecture
Best time to visit: October-November
This next spot is located in the greater Tohoku region. The Kakunodate Samurai Residences in Akita Prefecture were home to roughly 80 samurai families during the Edo period. This district appears untouched by modern influence, with the architecture much preserved. Autumn in Kakunodate is marked by the golden and auburn foliage popping against the stately black walls of the samurai estates. Take a stroll into Japan’s history as you wander the scarlet-spotted streets.
Light shines through brightly colored leaves at the Valley of Maple Trees — Photo via Flickr cc by Shinya Ichinohe
Located in: Niigata Prefecture
Best time to visit: October-November
Located in the quaint onsen (hot spring) town of Yahiko Village in Niigata, Yahiko Park turns shades of pumpkin orange and crimson red during fall. The park—which covers 160,000 square meters—has hills, tunnels, waterfalls and streams. While all areas are beautiful, when in search for warm autumn shades, none compare to the area by Kangetsu-kyo Bridge. By this bridge is Momiji-dani, or the “Valley of the Maple Trees”. Here, fall foliage pairs with the striking red bridge in a setting that is unforgettably charming.
Scarlet kochia blanket the Miharashi Hills in autumn — Photo by Chiara Terzuolo
Located in: Ibaraki Prefecture
Best time to visit: Mid-October
Hitachi Seaside Park may not be a familiar name, but you have probably come across photos of this place on Instagram. This park is covered with flowers and vegetation of all varieties, of which the blue nemophila of spring attracts the most visitors. In fall, however, the park has another star subject, the kochia. Kochia, better known as summer cypress or burning bush, cover the Miharashi Hills of the park and signal the turn of the seasons as they go from a lush green to a bright rouge in October. Visit Hitachi Seaside Park in fall to walk through nature’s sea of flames.
Saturated shades are in reach for urban autumn viewing — Photo by Nathan
Located in: Tokyo Prefecture
Best time to visit: Mid-November-Early December
If you want to stay in Tokyo, fall foliage can almost seem nonexistent. Rikugien, accessible from Komagome and Sengoku Stations, can provide a fresh foliage fix. Rikugien was originally a feudal lord's garden during the Edo period, reflecting scenes from classical Japanese waka poems. The garden hosts an annual night-time viewing of the autumnal colors from the end of November to the beginning of December. The apricot oranges and lemon yellows serve as a warm contrast to Tokyo’s cold concrete jungle.