Top 12 Places in Kyoto to Enjoy Japan's Unique Fall Foliage
Japan is blessed with the natural scenery that changes distinctly from season to season, and seeing the fall colors is an unmissable part of experiencing Japan in autumn. There are countless picturesque fall color spots all throughout Japan, but autumn in Kyoto is simply something you have to experience to believe. The autumn foliage harmonizes beautifully with Kyoto's historical shrine and temple scenery, and the vivid green moss makes for a stunning contrast with the red leaves in all the Japanese gardens here. Read on for the 12 best spots for seeing some of the most beautiful fall foliage scenes in Kyoto!
Nov 14 2019 (Sep 09 2020)
Tofukuji Temple (Higashiyama Area)
Tofukuji Temple is famous throughout Japan as being Kyoto's most popular autumn color spot. This temple is known for its vast grounds that span around 20,000 square meters, as well as its Honbo Garden and Sanmon Gate, which has been designated a national treasure. With around 2,000 maples and other autumn trees adorning the grounds, the fall colors here are stunning. The beauty of the valley seen from Tsuten Bridge that connects the main building and Kaisando Hall is also beautiful. Don't miss the variety of maple named Tsuten Momiji which has a three-tipped leaf and brilliant gold coloring. Tofukuji Temple is full of highlights, but it can get very crowded in the peak times, so make sure you factor in enough time to see it all.
Fall color period: Mid-November to early December
Bishamon-do Temple (Yamashina Area)
Bishamon-do Temple is an ancient temple that enshrines Bishamonten, a god of fortune. The path leading to the main hall transforms into a bright red carpet of leaves in the fall. This unique blanket of leaves is a symbol of fall at Bishamon-do Temple, and is a scene you can only see in Kyoto. Bansui-en Garden is also located in the temple grounds. A little removed from the city, this quiet, historical space is sure to leave you intoxicated with the beauty of Japan in fall.
Fall color period: Mid-November - Late November
Eikan-do Temple (Higashiyama Area)
Eikan-do Temple stands out even among the many fantastic autumn leaf spots in Kyoto. Famous throughout Japan, this temple is sometimes nicknamed "Eikan-do of the Fall Colors", and has been known as a fall leaf spot since the Heian period (794 - 1185). Around 3,000 maple trees grow on the grounds, creating a beautiful scene with the temple's two-storied pagoda and Japanese gardens. Trees nicknamed "rock wall maples" also grow on steep stones and rock wall faces on the grounds. It's not clear how these trees were able to naturally grow on such steep slopes, so these trees have come to be known as one of the "Seven Wonders of Eikan-do".
Fall color period: Mid November - Early December
Fall Illumination Period: November 6th - December 4th, 2019, 5:30 pm - 8:30 pm (Gates close: 9:00 pm)
Kifune Shrine (Kibune Area)
An ancient shrine dedicated the god of water, Kifune Shrine is known as a spiritual power spot for love and marriage. Around 3,000 wild maple trees grow in the area, lending a gorgeous color in the fall. The variety of cultivars in the maple family means that visitors can enjoy a spectrum of color that moves from green to yellow, orange, and red. The path to the temple and the area around the main hall takes on a beautiful color from early to late November. The Kifune Momiji Tourou Festival (Kifune Fall Color Lantern Festival) is also held from November 2nd to November 24th. The sight of autumn leaves surrounded by the soft light of Japanese lanterns creates a magical atmosphere during this time.
Fall color period: Early November - Late November
Enkoji Temple (Rakuhoku Area)
Enkoji Temple is one of Kyoto's best known fall spots, and the perfect place to enjoy the late autumn in Kyoto. A feature of this temple is the Jyu-gyu Garden, built harmoniously with a strolling path around its central pond. In fall, the wild maples turn red and beautifully color the garden.
Enkoji Temple is also known as being particularly beautiful when the leaves here start to fall. These fallen leaves on the garden's blanket of moss creates a classical Japanese scene that gives viewers a taste of autumn's true elegance. A little out of town, this temple does take some time to get to, but you can see a wealth of gorgeous autumn trees through the windows of the Eizan Electric Railway on your way, so the time spent won't feel like a waste. This quiet area away from the crowds of the city is guaranteed to be a place where you can relax and enjoy the fall colors.
Fall color period: Mid-November - Early December
Rurikoin Temple (Rakuhoku Area)
Rurikoin Temple used to be a hidden gem in Kyoto, but in recent years Instagram has caused it to experience a boom in popularity. Photos of the autumn leaves reflected on the surface of a desk in the second floor drawing room went viral on social media, causing a sudden surge of visitors. This temple also has three Japanese gardens with different charms: Yamaroji Garden, found just inside the temple gate, Ruri Garden, seen from the drawing room, and Garyu Garden, that spreads outside the tea room. You'll find yourself being swept away by the scenery as you spend time wandering this temple. If you're looking for the perfect photograph of autumn colors in Kyoto, look no further than Rurikoin Temple.
Fall color period: Mid November - Early December
Genkoan Temple (Takagamine Area)
Genkouan Temple is a fall color spot famous for the beauty of the autumn scenery through the windows in the main temple hall. In this hall there is a square window called the "Window of Confusion", which designed to represent mortal human life, and the "Window of Enlightenment", a circular window that represents the universe. It's said that looking through these windows can help lead you along the Buddhist path of enlightenment. The autumn leaves as seen from the dim light of the main hall look even more colorful, creating scenery you won't find anywhere else. This temple, located in a residential area, is a little more effort to get to, which means that this is a hidden spot you can enjoy in peace away from the crowds.
Fall color period: Mid-November - early December
Kitano Tenmangu (Kitano Area)
Kitano Tenmangu is the head temple of the around 10,000 Tenjin Shrines spread throughout Japan. The Momiji-en maple garden is famous for its autumn colors, and the temple even has the remains of a historical fortification created by military commander Toyotomi Hideyoshi. This fortification, called an "odoi", is a type of wall and moat structure created to protect an area from enemy attack and flood waters. This autumn garden has around 350 trees, including a good number of trees as old as 350 to 400 years old. Taking in the beauty of each tree is sure to give you a sense of the history of this area. The grounds are illuminated in the fall color season, and this garden is beautiful to visit both in the evenings and at twilight.
Fall color period: Early November - Early December
Momiji-en Garden Special Opening: October 25th - December 8th (Closed to the public outside this period)
Jojakko Temple (Arashiyama Area)
For many, Arashiyama is the go-to spot for autumn colors in Kyoto. There are many places to see autumn leaves in the area, including Jojakkoji Temple. This temple is located at the base of Mt Ogura, situated across the Katsura River opposite the Arashiyama mountains. The blanket of leaves that fall from the maples on the stone-paved grounds creates a beautiful scene here. As busy as Arashiyama is, this temple gets comparatively fewer visitors, making it a place where you can take your time at. This is definitely a hidden gem among Kyoto's many great fall color spots.
Fall color period: Mid-November - Late-November
Tenryuji Temple (Arashiyama Area)
Tenryuji Temple is a historical temple built around 700 years ago. The Sogen Pond Gardens on the grounds are said to be an example of Japan's oldest kaiyu-shiki garden (circular promenade with a central pond), and was the first site specified as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese government. Tenryuji Temple has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The colors of the trees themselves are beautiful, but the sight of Arashiyama in the background only adds to the stunning scene here. This temple can get crowded during the day in autumn, so we recommend visiting in the early morning. During November, gates open as early as 7:30 am, so set your alarm a little early to see the garden at its best!
Fall colors period: Mid-November - Early December
Hozukyo Ravine (Arashiyama Area)
Hozokyo Ravine is an approximately 16 kilometer long ravine that runs between Kyoto Prefecture and Kameoka City in the Arashiyama area. Here you can enjoy the grand ravine and the fall colors decorating the surrounding mountainsides on a two hour long Hozugawa River Boat Ride. If you want to try this boat ride, we recommend either taking the first or last departure so you can either enjoy the fall colors glowing in the morning sun or the illuminated trees lit up along the train line that goes through the ravine. The river ride becomes very popular during the fall season, so we recommend booking your ticket in advance to ensure you don't miss out. It can also get chilly on the water, so make sure you dress accordingly.
Fall color period: Mid-November - Early December
Kodaiji Temple (Higashiyama Area)
Kodaiji Temple was established in the 1500s in memory of military commander Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It is known for its Kaisando Hall and mausoleum that still remains from the time of the temple's founding. The best spots for fall colors here are the historical gardens on the grounds. The colors of the trees around Garyochi pond reflected in the water makes for a particularly spectacular sight. The trees are illuminated the evening, creating a mysterious atmosphere all throughout the grounds. This is definitely one Kyoto fall color spot you'll want to visit after sunset.
Fall Color Period: Early November - Early December
Illumination Period: October 25th - December 15th (Sunset to close of gates)
Kyoto is absolutely stunning this time of year, so stop by and take in your surroundings if you plan on visiting these spots. You won't regret it!
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Title Image: Visun Khankasem / Shutterstock
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.