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Top 10 Unknown Autumn Destinations in Japan

Fall off the beaten track with these lesser-known spots for enjoying autumn in Japan.

A red, orange and gold version of the spring cherry blossom takeover, the whole of Japan goes mad for fall, keenly following the autumnal kaleidoscope as it travels down from Hokkaido to Okinawa. There’s no shortage of (justifiably) famous places to experience the best of autumn in Japan – but what about those that aren’t featured in your travel guidebook?

Hold on to your pumpkin latte and take a break from munching on that marron for our pick of lesser-known spots to visit this fall in Japan.

Shikotsu-Toya National Park (Hokkaido)

Lake Toya Hokkaido

Hokkaido’s most easily-accessible national park, you’ve got 1000 square kilometers of lakes, volcanoes, hiking trails, and onsen (hot springs) to choose from. For an especially stunning autumn vista, make your way to Lake Toya and the surrounding slopes of Mt. Usu.

Peak: Mid-October

Mount Bandai (Fukushima)

If the Mount Fuji of the north, with its “heavenly mirror lake”, isn’t enough to tempt you, consider that the big changes in elevation around Urabandai (Bandai Highlands) mean that you can see autumn leaves for the entire month of October. Renting a car? Don’t miss the Bandai Azuma Skyline, a breathtaking mountain road that curves all the way from Urabandai back to Fukushima City.

Peak: Mid to end of October

Lake Daigenta (Niigata)

See the autumn leaves at Daigenta Lake in Niigata.
See the autumn leaves reflected in the glossy surface of Lake Daigenta, close to Yuzawa Ski Park. Circle the lake on the surrounding suspension bridge; you can also get up close and personal in a rowboat, and there are plenty of hiking options. Campgrounds are available too – it’ll be hard to tear yourself away.

Peak: Early to mid-November

Kurobe (Toyama)

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Get there before access to the Tateyama Alpine Route is closed (at the end of November) for some dizzying views of one of Japan’s deepest valleys colored in fiery hues. You’ll be able to take it all in by ropeway, open-sided train, trolley bus and more.

Peak: Mid-November

Tokugawa Garden (Aichi)

Autumn leaves at Tokugawa gardens Nagoya

It’s not hard to imagine how the grounds of this samurai’s retirement villa must have looked during the last days of the shoguns. During autumn, the spectacular garden is a living painting.

Peak: Late November

Hitachi Seaside Park (Ibaraki)

Autumn in Hitachi seaside park Ibaraki

This public park is a botanists dream year-round but it’s the autumn sea of red kochias that really attracts the fall fanatics. The pink cosmos take up the floral baton after, lasting until early November. Amazingly, you can still see flowers in January when the bright yellow rapeseed comes into bloom.

Peak: Early October

Mount Kurama (Kyoto)

Photo by: Jens Schott Knudsen

Beat the koyo crowds in nearby Kyoto at this forested mountain escape just outside of the famous city. Wander around Kurama-dera temple complex for a seriously spiritual autumn experience.

Peak: Late November

Iya Valley (Tokushima)

Iya valley and Kazurabashi vine bridge, Tokushima Prefecture

The secret heart of Shikoku, cross the twisting vine bridges that hang throughout this remote valley on your way to Mount Tsurugi, or “Sword Mountain” for unebe-leaf-able views (gettit’?!). This place is a well-guarded secret among Japanese people for a reason.

Peak: Late November

Kunenan Mansion (Saga)

This designated place of natural beauty took nine years to create, made up of an historic holiday home and traditional Japanese garden with the Chikushi Plains as a stunning “borrowed” backdrop. Understandably one of the most popular places to see koyo among locals, this spot is limited edition – being open for nine days and then closed until spring.

Peak: Mid November (15th – 23rd November only)

Yufuin (Oita)

Prettier than a really pretty picture, Yufuin’s autumn leaves showcase occurs around Lake Kinrinko on the edge of town. Climbing Mount Yufu will afford you some stellar views of the fall scenery below. It’s almost too scenic to be true.

Peak: Early to mid-November