The temperature shifts from sweltering hot to mild and pleasant, the sweet smell of yaki-imo (baked sweet potatoes) wafts through the air, onsen getaways are on the horizon, and seasonal treats dominate supermarkets, cafes, restaurants and convenience stores. Oh, and the landscape transforms into a tapestry of red, orange and yellow leaves. No big deal.
Just kidding — we're screaming and think you might be too! Japan's 2023 fall foliage forecast has landed; from foliage varieties to regional hot spots and autumnal activities, we're here to run you through it all.
Check out byFood's roundup of seasonal experiences and restaurants with limited-time offers for more ways to make the most of the season.
Fall Season in Japan
As the summer heat wanes and the days grow shorter, Japan switches from summer shades to an autumnal color palette. Fall foliage, known as koyo in Japanese, is a breathtaking natural spectacle that draws visitors from all four corners of the world. Nature enthusiasts, photographers and wanderers eagerly anticipate the foliage forecast each year, predicting when and where the country's fall colors will be at their most brilliant. Let's dive into Japan's 2023 fall foliage forecast and discover the best places to experience the vibrant kaleidoscope of colors.
Varieties of Fall Foliage in Japan
Japan boasts a rich variety of trees contributing to its stunning fall foliage. Four prominent species dominate the landscape during the fall season.
Momiji (Japanese Maple): Vibrant Red Hues
The iconic Japanese maple leaves, or momiji, turn a vibrant red in the fall, casting a warm, fiery glow across the country. These delicate leaves are the stars of the show in many Japanese gardens and parks.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba): Brilliant Yellow Canopies
Ginkgo trees provide a striking contrast with their brilliant yellow leaves. Known for their fan-shaped foliage, ginkgo trees create golden tunnels along city streets and can be found in numerous urban areas.
Kaede (Japanese Zelkova): Sunny Yellow-Green
Japanese zelkova, or kaede, offers a distinct take on fall foliage. Its leaves turn a vibrant yellow-green color, reminiscent of fresh spring growth. This foliage type is often seen in the countryside, providing a refreshing contrast to the fiery reds and yellows of other species.
Koyo (Japanese Oak): Deep Burgundy and Rusty Reds
Japanese oak, or koyo, is responsible for some of Japan's fall foliage's deeper, earthier tones. Its leaves transition to rich shades of burgundy and rusty red, casting a warm and inviting ambiance. These trees are often found in wooded areas, creating lush, multi-colored forests that are a delight to explore during this time of year.
The 2023 Fall Foliage Forecast
The fall foliage forecast is typically announced in early September, helping travelers plan their trips to coincide with peak foliage. While the timing can vary depending on local climate conditions, here's a general guide for key viewing areas courtesy of our reliable friends from the Japan Meteorological Corporation. Note that 2023 dates are later than usual due to warm temperatures continuing well into November.
Hokkaido (Late September to Early October)
Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido, experiences fall foliage early in the season. Popular spots include Daisetsuzan National Park and Lake Toya.
Sapporo: November 9 (Yellow) | November 13 (Red)
Tohoku Region (Early to Mid-October)
The northeastern Tohoku region offers breathtaking foliage, particularly in places like Aomori and Sendai. The Naruko Gorge and Towada-Hachimantai National Park are prime viewing spots.
Sendai: November 30 (Red) | December 1 (Yellow)
Kanto Region (Late October to Late November)
Tokyo and its surrounding areas, including Nikko and Chichibu, start to don their fall colors. The Imperial Palace East Gardens are a must-visit in Tokyo.
Tokyo: November 26 (Yellow) | December 1 (Red)
Chubu Region (Late November)
Chubu is set to dazzle leaf enthusiasts with its peak foliage expected in late mid-late November. Top spots like Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa, Gero Onsen in Gifu, and Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in Toyama will be awash in vibrant fall colors.
Nagano: November 16 (Yellow) | November 18 (Red)
Kanazawa: November 10 (Yellow) | December 1 (Red)
Nagoya: November 16 (Yellow) | December 2 (Red)
Kansai Region (Mid-November)
Kyoto and Osaka reach their peak foliage later in the season. Don't miss the iconic temples like Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and Tofukuji in Kyoto.
Osaka: November 24 (Yellow) | December 3 (Red)
Kyoto: November 26 (Yellow) | December 11 (Red)
Chugoku and Shikoku Regions (Mid-November to Late November)
Hiroshima, Okayama, and Shikoku islands are popular destinations during this period. Miyajima Island and the Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail are top foliage-spotting destinations.
Hiroshima: November 19 (Yellow) | November 28 (Red)
Kyushu Region (Late November to Early December)
The southernmost region experiences fall foliage toward the end of the season. Consider visiting Nagasaki and the beautiful Kumamoto Castle to see the leaves in all their glory.
Fukuoka: November 26 (Yellow) | December 10 (Red)
Kagoshima: November 26 (Yellow) | December 12 (Red)
Okinawa (Late November to Early December)
Even the subtropical Okinawa islands offer a glimpse of fall colors. The Yambaru Forest and Nakijin Castle are great places to explore.
Remember that the timing of the foliage can change slightly from year to year due to weather conditions, so it's a good idea to check local forecasts as your travel dates approach.
Need more recs? See our curated list of the best places to see fall colors in Japan.
Tips for Enjoying Fall Foliage in Japan
- Plan Ahead: Research the peak foliage times for your chosen destination and book accommodations well in advance, especially in popular areas like Kyoto and Tokyo.
- Visit Gardens and Parks: Japanese gardens, like Rikugien in Tokyo or Korakuen in Okayama, are meticulously designed to showcase fall colors.
- Try Local Cuisine: Fall is an excellent time to savor seasonal dishes like chestnut rice and hot pots made with fall vegetables.
- Hiking and Nature Walks: Explore hiking trails and nature reserves for a more immersive experience.
- Timing is Key: Arrive early in the day or during the week to avoid crowds at popular viewing spots.
As you plan your autumnal adventures for the season, be prepared to witness nature's breathtaking artistry. The radiant reds, golden yellows and fiery oranges will create unforgettable memories.
If you're visiting Japan in the fall, be sure to sample staple Japanese fall foods!