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How To Make The Most Of Your Autumn Trip In Kyoto

All the magic of momijigari

By Melissa M. Perry

16 August 2018

Move over, cherry blossoms—Japan’s season of momijigari, or fall foliage viewing, is about to take over. As the weather cools, Japanese maple trees blaze throughout the country, creating pockets of stunning beauty.

One of the most popular places to experience momijigari is Kyoto. Kyoto’s ancient temples and tree-lined canals become even more atmospheric when the leaves change. It’s the season of Gion Odori, the traditional autumn geisha dance, and many Japanese flock from other cities to get a glimpse of the red leaves at famous temples such as Tofukuji and Kinkakuji. In this guide, we’ll cover a few of our top must-see attractions and hidden gems to experience during Kyoto’s most vibrant season.

Travel Tips To Remember

  • The best time to see fall foliage is mid-September to early December, with November being the peak time.
  • During the Kyoto autumn leaf season, hotels and ryokans are usually booked out several months in advance. Start planning as soon as possible.
  • To avoid the crowds, we recommend visiting the most famous spots on weekday mornings or evenings.

Wear layers! In September, the weather will be cool and pleasant, but by November winter’s bitter cold starts to creep into the city.

Top Sights For Momijigari

Shinnyodo Temple

@masato_ky

Shinnyodo is one of the city’s lesser-known temples, hidden away in north Kyoto not far from the Philosopher’s Walk. In autumn, the maple-filled garden is an explosion of red, gold, and orange color.

Tofukuji Temple

@robechi24

Tofuku-ji is impressive year-round—but its autumn colors are simply spectacular. Head to the iconic Tsutenkyo Bridge early in the morning to beat the crowds.

Hozugawa River Boat Ride

@coffeeby_p

This scenic, two-hour boat ride from Kameoka to Arashiyama is guided by boatmen who use oars and bamboo poles to steer the craft. During the more leisurely parts of the ride, there are plenty of opportunities to take photos of the surrounding mountains. Food and drink is allowed on the boat, so bring a picnic to enjoy while taking in the rich fall colors.

Kodai-ji Temple

@s.a.idea

In addition to daytime leaf peeping, several temples also hold nighttime illumination events, allowing guests an opportunity to see the fall foliage in a different light. Kodai-ji Temple is one of the most popular places to go for autumn illuminations, so expect a line to get in.

It’s worth the wait, though: the view overlooking the pond, with the maple tree leaves reflected on the surface of the water, is absolutely breathtaking.

Of course Kyoto isn't the only autumn destination to experience Japan's beautiful fall foliage. If you have the time to continue exploring, we recommend seeing one of these autumn foliage hot spots: Fuji Five Lakes (Mt. Fuji), Rikugien Garden (Tokyo), Mt. Takao (Hachioji), Daisetsuzan National Park (Hokkaido), Shoyoen Japanese Garden (Nikko), or Lake Towada (Tohoku).

Day Trips from Kyoto

If the hustle and bustle of Kyoto gets to be too overwhelming, consider a day trip to a more rural area. Kyoto’s surrounding mountainside offers a number of hidden treasures.

  • A one hour bus ride from central Kyoto, you’ll find Takao, a small mountain village with three beautiful temples. Spend the night at the historic Momijiya Ryokan and relax in the onsen surrounded by dense forest. If you’re feeling adventurous, hike to the vermilion-covered Shigetsukyo Bridge leading to Saimyoji Temple to take in striking autumn views. Jingoji Temple also offers night-time illuminations during November.
  • Kibune and Kurama are two quaint, mountainous towns in North Kyoto. Many people go here to enjoy the hot springs at Kurama Onsen. After sunset, Kifune Shrine draws a crowd for ‘Kibune Momiji Toro’, where lanterns line the pathway to Kifune Shrine, casting the autumn leaves in a mysterious glow.

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Svend Haakon Kristensen