Leaves in Japan's sunny southern island are among the last to fall so you can take your sweet time to explore.
Japan’s southernmost main island, Kyushu, is one of its most diverse regions. Sunny, tropical vibes radiate across high-rise urban landscapes, emerald rice paddies, and even a fiery, active volcano in the middle of the sea, making it difficult to picture this kaleidoscopic landscape cloaked in the cooler temperatures of fall.
Don’t worry, though, autumn in Kyushu is the real deal, and it’s equally as spectacular as the more well-known northern areas. Leaves here are among the last to fall across the country, which means there’s plenty of time to plan a trip to hit every one of these breathtaking spots. Challenge accepted.
Although most famous for cherry blossom viewing, Fukuoka Castle Ruins (Maizuru Park) also holds its own during autumn thanks to its golden gingko trees and momiji in the neighboring Japanese garden. It’s also a lovely spot to escape from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding Fukuoka City which you can see from the top of the ruins.
Head over to the picturesque temple town of Dazaifu to enjoy the autumn colors on display in between exploring the quaint streets. With a smattering of vibrantly colored trees, Dazaifu Tenmangu Temple looms large over the town and is a nice start or endpoint for your koyo-viewing tour.
An iconic feature of the city of Shimabara, this white castle has a storied history that’s fascinating to explore in the shade of the bright red momiji planted around the grounds. Go up to the fifth floor to the observation deck for sweeping views out towards the volcanic Mt. Unzen and the Ariake Sea.
Speaking of the volcanic Mt. Unzen, the hot spring haven of Unzen Onsen in its foothills is especially popular during fall when the surrounding forests change to a rich swathe of yellows, oranges, and reds. A large number of public and private baths are available at ryokans and hotels sprinkled around the region. Their source is the Unzen Jigoku, or Unzen Hells, a key feature of Unzen that, despite the scary name, looks rather pretty in fall.
One of the best-known spots to view the autumn leaves in all of Kyushu, Kunenan Gardens is a residence modeled in the traditional Japanese tea house architectural style and encircled by a beautiful Japanese traditional garden. Though it remains closed for the majority of the year, there are nine days during the peak of autumn foliage when it opens its gates to the public.
Comprising of 150,000 square meters—approximately the size of 10 Tokyo Domes—of parkland, Mifuneyama has the honor of being Saga Prefecture’s first registered national monument. In autumn, Mifuneyama draws visitors from all over with its soaring hillside lit ablaze in fiery shades of red and orange. The nighttime light-up at Mifuneyama Rakuen, a park at the bottom of Mifuneyama, is an awesome way to see the leaves, too.
Takachiho attracts visitors from across Kyushu with its famed boat ride through the heart of the narrow gorge which winds to the back of the 1800-year-old Takachiho Shrine. In autumn, the changing leaves transform what’s an already mystical landscape into something out of a psychedelic fairytale. Immerse yourself further into the magic with a traditional Yokagura folk dance performance in the grounds of the shrine, held nightly.
Senganen is a traditional Japanese garden that offers picturesque scenery and a glimpse into the interesting history of the powerful feudal family who built it. Autumn sees the popular Chrysanthemum Festival take place where over 15,000 flowers are on display against the dramatic backdrop of the mighty Sakurajima volcano.
A prized gem among Japanese locals, Kurokawa Onsen is a secluded hot spring resort located high up in the lush Aso mountain range that’s particularly stunning in the autumn season. Bathers will find themselves spoilt for choice with the various baths on offer which are open to the public for daytime bathing, meaning you can go on a Rotemburo Meguri or “Bath Tour” in your yukata robe and wooden geta sandals dipping in whichever one takes your fancy.
Nestled deep inside a valley in the far north of Kumamoto sits the steaming town of Tsuetate Onsen. With a history that dates back 1,800 years, Tsuetate was once thought of as a luxury retreat for the high society, though now it’s more known as an eclectic, if slightly retro, collection of hot spring baths. In autumn, Tsuetate relives its glory days, attracting travelers from far and wide to see its colorful koyo display.
Just next door to its more famous counterpart, Beppu, the utterly charming onsen resort of Yufuin offers a fantastic selection of hot spring baths, trendy boutique cafes, and scenery. While the center of town is pretty as a picture in fall, it’s worth venturing out to nearby Lake Kinrinko for an autumnal lakeside show.
If you travel to one of these spots, use #GaijinPotTravel on your Instagram photos for a chance to be featured in our Top 10 Reader’s Photos of the Month!