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Viewing autumn leaves sites in Tokyo and Kyoto

Koyo (colorful leaves) viewing is to autumn what cherry blossoms viewing is to spring all over Japan. Both of these highly popular seasonal activities are deeply rooted traditions. When they are celebrated they’re bound to be viewing party events in parks, gardens, temples, and mountainsides. You’ll find families and friends having "sake" parties and a sumptuous feast.

Tōfuku-ji Buddhist temple, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture.
Tōfuku-ji Buddhist temple, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture.
663highland via Wikimedia Commons
Beautiful fall foilage in Rikugien, Tokyo, Japan.
Toshihiro Oimatsu via Wikimedia Commons

These are visited not only by the Japanese, but international tourists too. The autumn leaves season starts as early as September on the northern island of Hokkaido. It commences approximately 50 days later on the southern island of Kyushu in late November to early December.

If you are presently in Japan either working or visiting for some extended period of time, or may soon visit in the coming weeks, you’ll be just in time for the koyo viewing. Here are some helpful information to see the splendid beauty of the red maple leaves and golden ginkos. This is what the Japanese have done for centuries.

Specific Fall Months of the Year for Viewing

The concentration will be primarily on Tokyo and its surrounding areas, as well as Kyoto, since these are the most popular cities and frequented areas for autumn viewings. A note of caution, however, approximate times for the colorful foliage may differ from year to year due to weather conditions. For the most part, this is the most accurate historical data to go by.

Tokyo's best viewing of autumn leaves where you can see a combination of red, yellow, gold, and brown leaves is late November. Outside of Tokyo in the Kanto region is the popular tourist spot of Kamakura, where the famous statue of Amida Buddha is located. At Mt. Takao the leaves are at its best in late November. Another beautiful destination that is loved by the Japanese and foreign tourists is Nikko, where the leaves peak earlier in early to mid-November.

Kyoto's koyo viewing is at its greatest in mid-to-late November. You’re certain to see the immense red maple leaves that are everywhere in Kyoto. Some consider Kyoto the best city in all of Japan to see the autumn leaves.

The Best Sites for Viewing in Tokyo and Kyoto

Here are some parks located right in central Tokyo where you don't have to go too far to see the colorful leaves: Yoyogi Koen and Showa Memorial Park are western style city parks, with the latter a combination of a western and traditional Japanese garden. Koishikawa Korakuen and Rikugien are Japanese style landscape gardens.

Kyoto has an assortment of temples, gardens, and mountainsides to choose from. The best temple sights would have to be these three: Eikando, which offers night viewing thanks to its special lighting; Enkoji, with its spectacular view from atop. Tofukuji has the best foliage overall and can get very crowded, because of its breathtaking beauty.

Yoshiminedera and Arashiyama are mountainside areas with plenty of autumn leave viewing to go around. Here you can enjoy seeing the leaves and avoid the intense crowds by either hiking or walking up into the mountains where there are plenty of temples to feel a sense of calm.

Lastly in Kyoto, another great spot to see plenty of autumn colors is the Shugakuin Imperial Villa. However, you can only visit these royal grounds with a designated tour and advanced reservations.

When you arrive in Japan, or are presently there, you have all the necessary information now on hand to take part in a very traditional way of life for the Japanese. Many Japanese tanka and haiku poems have been written about this highly popular season. It is worth the effort to go out and see for yourself the joys of viewing these multi-colored leaves, which will take your breath away.