Home  >  Magazine  >  Issue 11 : Oct 2006  > Features >  Autumn Koyou Guide


Autumn Koyou Guide
By Christopher Domitter

From late September to late November Japan’s diverse landscape is highlighted in vibrant crimson and gold, while autumn’s dry, mild weather make it the perfect time for momiji-gari – hiking trips aimed at savoring the colorful season.

Late September—Early October

Mt. Nasu, Tochigi
Take the cablecar to the top then walk and enjoy the colorful patterns and great views. Finish off the day with a soak at Nasu-Yumoto Onsen.

Togakushi Heights, Nagano
Make your own soba noodles at the Soba Museum or practice your ninja skills at the Ninja Museum, then head to Togakushi Shrine, lined with giant cedar trees.

Shiga Heights, Nagano
There are more than twenty hiking trails in the Shiga highlands where you can enjoy some early fall colors and daydream about riding these same mountains in winter.
Hachimantai Plateau, Iwate

Hiking trails near the summit of Hachimantai offer lakeside views ablaze with autumn colors.

Niseko, Hokkaido
Japan’s powder Mecca is also comes alive in fall with lakes, hiking trails and hot springs. Spend the day golfing, canoeing, or paragliding and finish it off with a local microbrew.

Early October—Mid October

Fuji Five Lakes, Yamanashi
The Subaru Line near Lake Kawaguchi and the foothills surrounding Mount Fuji makes a nice autumn drive with the mountain above and the lakes below.

Yatsugatake, Nagano
Autumn is a great time to view the rugged landscape of the Yatsugatake Heights, offset by the surrounding peaceful forests where you can enjoy walking trails and relaxing hot springs.

Mt. Zao, Yamagata
The scenic drive along the Zao and Zao Echo Line toll roads is worth the trip alone. Take the cablecar to the summit for panoramic autumn views, then chill out in a bath at Zao Onsen.

Lake O-numa, Hokkaido
Enjoy cycling or walking around O-numa and Ko-numa lakes. The view of Mt. Komagadake draped in autumn hues across Lake O-numa is stunning.

Mid October—Late October

Kinugawa River, Tochigi
The Kinugawa River area’s popular hot springs are a great place to admire the autumn colors. You’re also close to Nikko, Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls.

Takaragawa Onsen, Minakami, Gunma
Take a soak in Japan’s largest rotenburo while also soaking in the colorful trees surrounding the baths as the Takara River flows by.

Karuizawa, Nagano
Japan's imperial mountain playground is a great place to enjoy some golf or autumn hiking then check out the museums and the outlet mall.

Lake Towada, Aomori
Enjoy the view from a sightseeing boat, stroll along the bank from Katsura-ga-hama, or visit nearby Okuirise. A three-hour hike through the spectacular gorge features fourteen waterfalls.

Late October—Early November

Takachiho Gorge, Miyazaki
Take a breathtaking train ride across Asia’s highest railway bridge or enjoy a boat ride through the gorge down the Gokase River with its red cliffs and take in the koyou.

Mt. Koya, Osaka
Koya-san is a peaceful place to enjoy the koyo. This sacred mountain and active Buddhist monastery hosts an autumn festival (Oct. 16).

Hakone, Kanagawa
View the reflection of Mt. Fuji in Lake Ashino, stroll through Gora Park or the Hakone Art Museum, soak in one of the many onsen or walk the colorful foothills in this popular area.

Lake Inawashiro, Fukushima
Mt. Bandai and Mt. Azuma are popular autumn destinations, and a bit further north Lake Hibara and Lake Goshiki-numa also offer incredible views.

Risshaku-ji Temple, Yamagata
Enjoy the unforgettable view of Risshaku-ji Temple, built in 860, perched atop a rock, then climb on up for great views.

Early November—Mid November

Momiji-dani Park, Miyajima Island, Hiroshima
As its name suggests, Momiji-dani (literally Maple Valley) turns bright red each fall. Walk or take the cable car up Mt. Misen for more view.

Okutama, Tokyo
Tokyo’s outdoor playground has countless trails where you can enjoy colorful hikes along the Tama River or around Mt. Mitake.

Nagatoro Valley, Saitama
Enjoy the koyou with a relaxing float on a boat down the Arakawa River. Then take the cable car up nearby Mt. Hodo for a bird’s eye view.

Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
One of Japan’s most famous gardens and a great place to relax with a cup of green tea while taking in the fall foliage.

Aoba-dori Avenue, Sendai, Miyagi
This well known street in Sendai come alive in color each fall.

Mid November—Late November

Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto
Stroll the castle grounds filled with the golden yellow leaves of gingko trees.

Arashiyama, Kyoto
Enjoy the fall colors by boat on the Hotsu River or by toy train, then walk through the nearby temples.

Eikando Temple, Kyoto
The temple gardens are beautiful anytime, but a visit is at night in November when the trees are flooded with lights is unforgettable.

Yoro Valley, Chiba
There are eight hiking trails, ranging from 4 to 8 hours that offer great autumn viewing including some stunning waterfalls.

Imperial Palace, Tokyo
Enjoy a brisk autumn stroll and the gingko trees around the Imperial Palace grounds.

Note: Approximate peak viewing dates are based on national averages but actual viewing dates vary depending on weather and location.


OJ people share their favorite places enjoy the koyou.

Tokufuji, Kyoto

I have a soft spot for Tofukuji in Kyoto. It is in a residential part of the city, so there are no tall buildings to spoil the view. In autumn the exquisite gardens come alive with color, and if you get there early on a weekday, it is surprisingly peaceful. I like the combination of an ancient shrine and natural-looking gardens.


Mt. Takamaru, Tokushima

While the symmetry and bold colors of the momiji (maple leaves) is undeniably attractive, the beech trees (buna) have enchanted me most here in Shikoku. Virgin buna forests can be found deep in Tokushima’s mountains near Mt. Takamaru. The large yellow leaves blanketing the lower slopes create a bright, uplifting atmosphere - sure to rejuvenate you after the long drive up the winding road past Kamikatsu. An enjoyable hike to the summit of this gentle peak also offers great views.

均整美の取れた、もみじも素晴らしいが、ここ四国で僕の心を捉えるのはブナの木。徳島県の高丸山の山深いところに、ブナの原生林がある。長く、くねくねと曲がった道を運転した後目に入る、黄色のブナが山すそに広がる景色は本当に素晴らしく疲れも取り去る。頂上からみる紅葉もいいものだ。. –ML

Okutama, Tokyo

Of course Okutama is where you want to be to enjoy the changing seasons! Walking on the Mukashi-michi, through the Tama River valley from Okutama Station to Lake Okutama is my choice for a wabi sabi autumn experience. You can see traditional farmhouses, walk over suspension bridges and soak in the reflection of fall colors near the tranquil banks of Lake Okutama. I’ll see you there!


Tateshina, Nagano

Between the Yatsugatake mountain range and Kirigamine Plateau is a popular resort area called Tateshina. There are a lot of hot spring hotels in the vicinity and one of my favorite places to go when I lived in Nagano was the rotenburo at Taki-no-yu Onsen. It’s not the largest, or the most popular onsen around, but the simple stonework, smooth wood baths surrounded by momiji and an icy stream rolling by make it a perfect place soak in the warmth, feel the crisp fall air and spend a lazy day – getting psyched for winter!


Ashibetsu-dake Hut, Hokkaido

This is a great place to get away from it all and enjoy the colors of this magical season. It’s a three-hour hike to the old stone hut sitting at the foot of Mt. Ashibetsu-dake, nestled between the bank of the Yuufure River with the surrounding forest showing off its spectacular wears. There is nothing at the hut so you have to take everything with you, but its well worth it and the hike to the peak will reward you with wonderful autumn colors all the way to the top where you can enjoy some great views.


Tanzawa, Kanagawa

Personally, I love the beechnut forests with their green and white trunks and “refreshing” leaves. In autumn they turn a beautiful yellow and when a few bright red maple trees are interspersed, the scene is like a homecoming. Tanzawa was the first mountain I climbed as a child, and although it doesn’t boast a magnificent forest, my relationship with the area makes it a personal favorite. This fall I’ll bring my family for the first time in a long while.

ぼくの好きな森はブナの森。ミドリやシロイロの模様の入った太い幹と、 “爽快な”という形容詞が見事にあう幹の広がり、葉っぱ。紅葉もやはりブナの森が美しい。ブナの葉は赤くはならず黄色い黄葉だが、そこに真っ赤に燃えるようなカエデが少し混ざった様を見ると自分の住み処がそこにあることを感じるのだ。丹沢は、ぼくが少年の頃、始めて自分で目的をつくって登った山である。決して壮大な森ではないが、だからこそぼくは、あの森が好きなのだ。今年の秋、久しぶりに家族を連れて、秋の丹沢を訪れてみようと思う。–TM

Karasawa, North Alps, Nagano

I highly recommend the Karasawa area of Nagano’s Northern Alps for autumn views. The leaves along the tree line are lightly colored and dance beautifully among the rocks creating an unforgettable view.


What is your favorite place to enjoy the koyo? Send in your comments (and photos if you have some). If your is chosen we’ll send you a free subscription to Outdoor Japan Magazine or an OJ hat. E-mail editor@outdoorjapan.com.