Nature and Japan are synonymous. What better time to visit than in fall! To witness majestic hundred years old trees change color gives an ethereal feel, that nothing is permanent –even beauty gives way to time. To ponder and reflect upon life, under the cool shade of trees that exude sageness, with hope that we part wiser. If you’re visiting Japan in November, be sure to make a trip to Kyoto as this traditional city is absolutely breathtaking in autumn!

And of course, we wouldn’t leave you to explore Kyoto in autumn without a travel guide, would we? 😉 So here’re the best spots to view the gorgeous autumn leaves!

1. Arashiyama

Arashiyama is in the far west of Kyoto, tucked along the base of the Arashiyama Mountains (meaning “Storm Mountains”). This is a must-visit maple viewing spot in Japan. The plentiful crimson maples that litter the south side of the river have brought millions to witness them over time.

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There is a “Saga Scenic Railway” which runs along the Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka, which allows sightseers to absorb all the scenery at a leisurely speed.

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A brilliant display of fiery red maples in Tenryuji Temple, Arashiyama.
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The garden of Tenryuji Temple was the first to be designated as a National Historic Site and Special Place of Scenic Beauty by the World Heritage Site.

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Mix-colored trees are a sight to feast on along the Hozugawa River
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The Togetsu-kyo Bridge is a preferred viewing spot and walks along both sides of the river have panoramic views.
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Address: Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Admission: 500yen to enter Tenryuji Temple, check here for the Saga Scenic Railway
Opening hours: For Tenryuji Temple – 8:30 – 17:30, 8:30 – 17:00 (10/21 – 3/20)
Bonus: Arashiyama is home to the Tenryuji Temple (lovely autumn foliage viewing spot) and the famous green bamboo grove
How to get there: Alight at Saga Arashiyama Station or Keifuku Arashiyama Station

More info: Website

2. Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera is a temple and one of Kyoto’s star attractions, drawing 5 million annual visitors. The autumn foliage here is especially dazzling with about 1,000 trees turning red and yellow!

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Kiyomizu-dera temple, with wooden piling visible at its base. There is not a single nail used in the entire structure.
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The view from the terrace of Kiyomizu-dera at sunset. Kiyomizu means clear, or pure, water.
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Autumn is one of the few times the Kiyomizu-dera is illuminated. Make sure you visit it at night, too, for this spectacular display of lights!
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Address: 1-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Admission: 300yen
Opening hours: 06:00 to 17:30
#HHWT Tip: The temple and much of the grounds will be illuminated (Nov. 14 – Dec. 6), 18:00 – 21:00, 400 yen
How to get there: Kyoto City Bus 206, get off at Kiyomizu-michi

More info: Website

3. Tofuku-ji

Tofuku-ji Temple is the oldest and largest temple in Kyoto. Famous for its autumn leaves and the Sanmon gate (a National Treaure, the oldest Zen main gate in Japan), this temple was actually inspired by the great temples of Nara. Its original buildings were burned but were rebuilt in the 15th century according to the original plans.

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One of the oldest Zen gates in Japan, the Sanmon Gate
[a title=”By Fg2 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons” href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATofukuji-Sanmon-M9589.jpg”][img width=”512″ alt=”Tofukuji-Sanmon-M9589″ src=”https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e1/Tofukuji-Sanmon-M9589.jpg/512px-Tofukuji-Sanmon-M9589.jpg”/][/a]
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Dressing up in kimonos and taking pictures against the pretty fall background is a favorite activity!
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tofukuji autumn leaves
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The Tofuku-ji grounds awash with yellowed maple leaves.
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Square-cut stones and moss are distributed in a small-sized checkered pattern in the North Garden
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Address: 15-778 Honmachi, Higayshiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Admission: 400yen
Opening hours: 08:30 – 16:30
#HHWT Tip: The temple and much of the grounds will be illuminated (Nov. 14 – Dec. 6), 18:00 – 21:00, 400 yen
How to get there: Alight at Tofuku-ji station, or take Bus 6 or 16 from Shijo-Karasuma

More info: Website

4. Kyoto Gyoen Imperial Palace Park

A green sanctuary at the heart of Kyoto city, the Kyoto Gyoen (Kyoto Imperial Palace Park) is Kyoto’s Central Park. This is the most quickest and convenient place to view the fall trees and leaves, if you are staying in the city.

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The Kyoto Gyoen park has a rich history. In the Meiji Era it was a small settlement of about 200 houses for court nobles who would frequent the Palace. However, most of the houses were removed and turned into the park you could enjoy today.
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If you opt for the free-guided palace tour (register online or in person –details in the official website link below), you would have a chance to revel in this beauty –the Sento Imperial Palace Garden, Kyoto Imperial Palace.

Address: 3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 602-0881, Japan
Admission: Free
Opening hours: 24 hours, everyday
#HHWT Tip: The temple and much of the grounds will be illuminated (Nov. 14 – Dec. 6), 18:00 – 21:00, 400 yen
How to get there: Alight at Imadegawa Station

More info: Website

5. Sanzen-in

Located in Ohara, Kyoto, Sanzen-in temple is Ohara’s main attraction. The temple dates from the 12th century, and is renowned for its lush moss-covered garden set among tall cedar trees. There are many maples flanking the temple gate stairs, and also in its upper garden areas.

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Soft sunset-dabbled maple trees in Sanzen-in
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Sanzen-in Temple, also called Kajii Monzeki, Nashimoto Monzeki or Enyu-in Monzeki, is one of the five Tendai Monzeki temples. Monzeki temples are a special kind of temple, where in days gone by, the chief priest was a member of the imperial family.

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Little Buddha statues at Ohara Sanzen-in, Kyoto, Japan
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Address: 540 Ohara Raikoin-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 601-1242
Admission: 700 yen
Opening hours: 08:30-17:00
How to get there: Alight at Kokusaikaikan Station, then take the Kyoto City Bus 19 to Ohara, it’s a
10 min. walk uphill from Ohara bus stop

More info: Website

#HHWT Travel Tips:

  1. Book accommodations, reserve restaurants, etc. well in advance. Avoid going to these spots on weekends if possible, and try to go early. The Japanese love Koyo hunting!
  2. Get a Japan Rail Pass if you consider taking the train to several locations.
  3. Take your camera with you at all times.
  4. Try sleeping in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn). These ryokans often have gardens and baths too for an authentic experience.

And, there you have it –Kyoto in its autumn glory! It would definitely be a memorable trip, to capture beautiful photos and immerse yourselves in this age-old tradition. A simple pleasure of observing autumn foliage that brings us closer to nature.

P.S. If you’re planning to visit the other cities, check out the 2015 forecast for autumn leaves in Japan and the estimated period for autumn foliage in 2016!

Japan Autumn Leaves Forecast 2015

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