Photo by Syuzo Tsushima via Flickr
Japan offers four distinct seasons and it could be argued that autumn is the perfect season to fall in love with the country. While it may lack the famous cherry blossoms of the spring hanami season, it provides just as much vibrant color in the form of autumn foliage. Cooler weather makes hiking more comfortable and there is also the benefit of fewer tourist crowds as well as lively festivals and events to experience.
Come along as we explore just some of the many things to do in Japan during the autumn season as well as other helpful information regarding visiting the country during this time of year.
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The weather in Japan during autumn varies considerably depending on the month. September can still see warm summer-like temperatures but cooler weather with chilly nights usually ushers in by the time November rolls around. Of course, Northern Japan including the regions of Hokkaido and Tohoku will see colder temperatures earlier than Southern Japan. You can expect more rainfall early on during autumn in the months of September and October. It is also important to note that part of the typhoon season falls during the autumn months, with September bringing the highest possibility.
Japan offers visa exemptions for 68 countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. This allows for short stays of up to 90 days for tourism purposes or visiting friends and family.
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Although crowds from spring and summer will begin to thin out as the autumn shoulder season kicks in, it is still wise to book accommodation in advance due to the popularity of autumn foliage viewing. There are also several public holidays to be aware of such as Health-Sports Day in October as well as Culture Day and Labour Thanksgiving Day in November. This often results in sightseeing spots becoming more popular with domestic tourism and hotels may book out early.
Things to Do:
Autumn Foliage Viewing
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One of the greatest highlights of autumn in Japan is the colorful fall foliage. Known as koyo, the leaves begin changing color around late September to early October in Northern Japan as well as higher elevations and usually peak around mid to late November for cities like Kyoto, Tokyo, and Hiroshima. Tokyo’s annual Meiji Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Festival takes place around mid-November to celebrate the golden ginkgo trees where you can enjoy the colors of autumn among dozens of food vendors. Other great Tokyo locations for fall foliage include Rikugi Garden and Ueno Park. Check out Tofukuji Temple as well as Eikando Temple in Kyoto and don’t forget about great national parks such as Oze and Daisetsuzan for more private viewing experiences. Of course, the Fuji Five Lakes region also offers incredible fall foliage with Mount Fuji as a backdrop.
Taimatsu Akashi Fire Festival
One of Japan’s three major fire festivals, the Taimatsu Akashi has been held annually for more than 400 years. Giant torches are carried to the summit of Mount Gorozan where come nightfall they are lit to the sound of taiko drums. The entire mountain looks to be ablaze as those lost in early historical battles and recent earthquakes are honored.
Tokyo Game Show
This popular video game expo takes place in late September and features the latest releases from Japanese game makers as well as selected international companies. The first two days of the event are reserved for industry and press only but days three and four are open to the public. The event is usually very crowded and playing the newest games requires queuing early. See the latest games and gaming equipment from companies like Namco Bandai, Capcom, and Sony as you are surrounded by thousands of cosplayers dressed in all kinds of crazy outfits.
Nagasaki Kunchi Festival
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Nagasaki’s most notable annual event, the Kunchi Festival takes place every October. Centered around Suwa Shrine, Otabisho, Yasaka Shrine, and Kokaido, visitors can enjoy great food and traditional Japanese dance performances which include dragon dances and large floats. You will notice a bit of Chinese and Dutch culture thrown into this centuries-old festival as well. Tickets for paid seating to this 3-day event sell out quickly and can be difficult for non-Japanese speaking tourists to purchase. There are, however, numerous areas where you can catch some of the action without a ticket if you can navigate the crowds.
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Autumn is a great time for food lovers to visit Japan. Numerous food festivals offer delicious traditional Japanese cuisine across the country. Visit Tokyo’s Komazawa Olympic Park in October for the annual Ramen Show where you can sample different varieties of ramen from around Japan. Check out Hokkaido’s Sapporo Autumn Fest to find Japanese cuisine prepared by chefs of local popular restaurants in addition to great wine, craft beer, and sake. Crowds gather around Odori Park to not only sample delicious Hokkaido food, but also to learn what goes into creating such dishes. Enjoy sampling items such as Hokkaido ramen, soba, sea urchins, and scallops.
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Every autumn, the Hitachi Seaside Park becomes a colorful field of pinkish-red kochia. Around 30,000 pom-pom looking Kochia plants are planted each summer on Miharashi Hill and gradually they turn from green to a vibrant reddish hue as autumn arrives. They are joined by pink and white cosmos flowers. Come spring, the fields become draped in blue nemophila flowers. Enjoy music and Japanese cultural experiences during this month-long celebration that takes place from mid-September to mid-October.