If you’ve managed to survive the sweltering, sticky, 蒸し暑い (mushi-atsui) Japanese summer, you’re in for a great reward. Depending on your region, the arrival of October and November means you’ll soon enjoy cooler temperatures, delicious foods, traditional festivals, and changing leaves. Seasonal treats and sweater-weather aside, the bright hues of Japan’s trees during autumn are magical enough to rival the beloved springtime cherry blossoms. Green landscapes slowly transform into rolling hills of bright yellows, burnt oranges, and crimson reds. It’s a fitting last hurrah before the leaves finally fall and the first snow touches the ground. Locals and tourists alike flock to the best spots to see nature’s limited-time performance. This tradition is known as Momiji-gari (紅葉狩り) or autumn-leaf viewing. If you’re in Japan, you don’t want to miss out!
There are many tried and true places to experience momiji (red leaves) for yourself. In 2017, I visited the area around Lake Kawaguchi, the largest of the five lakes surrounding Mt. Fuji. A stroll around the shore offered impressive views of Japan’s tallest mountain, and the trees were absolutely stunning against the blue backdrop of the lake. While Mt. Fuji’s icy snowcap was missing due to heavy rainfall the week prior to my visit, its stature and presence were still breathtaking. There are plenty of things to do in and around the town. Spend the day at Arakura Sengen Shrine and return in time to enjoy a sunset cruise on the lake for about 900 yen.
Nikko, a city known for its World Heritage sights, is another popular autumn destination. Toshogu Shrine, the most famous of these sights in Nikko, enshrines Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo shogunate and one of the three unifiers of Japan. In the fall, you can experience the rich history and culture of this city while also admiring the beautifully colored leaves. I was fortunate enough to visit this unique location about 2 hours from Tokyo in the summer of 2017. While I wanted to return for autumn leaf viewing in November, prices went up exorbitantly because I waited too long to make my reservations. I suggest planning and booking ahead if you’re like me and don’t want to pay more than you you absolutely must.
Although I wasn’t able to travel to Nikko, I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful Niigata City and its surrounding areas became once November arrived. One Sunday morning, I took a local train about an hour away to Yahiko village, a rural town known for its shrine at the base of Mount Yahiko. I had visited the area that summer and completed the difficult trek to the top of the mountain. I wasn’t ready for another vigorous hike, so I instead decided to explore the nearby park. Families enjoyed their picnics in the mild weather, and I was happy to wander the hidden trails and busy walkways alike. It was a beautiful day, and I couldn’t resist the vendors selling delicious goodies like Okonomiyaki and Karaage. I also made some new friends who introduced me to Japanese Sign Language and took me to an outdoor foot bath, but I’ll write more about them later! That spontaneous day trip was a necessary reminder that you don’t need to travel very far to experience Japan’s beauty. Wherever you are, there are bound to be some lovely sights to enjoy and kind people to show you the way. Check out Google Maps to see what parks and landmarks are nearby, and don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers or classmates where they go for autumn leaf viewing!