A Feast of Colors: Exploring the Best Prefectures for Autumn Foliage in Japan in November 2023
Japan’s vibrant autumn foliage is a sight to behold, and every year, thousands of travelers flock to this beautiful country to witness nature’s breathtaking transformation – myself included! In all honesty, autumn has always been my absolute favorite time to visit Japan. The weather is often very good, mild temperatures and little rain and the autumn foliage also lasts longer than the fickle sakura blossoms.
If you’re planning a visit to Japan this year in November 2023 and want to experience the country’s autumnal beauty at its peak, you’re in for a treat. If you saw this year’s foliage forecast in shock how late everything seems to turn red and yellow – don’t worry, this article will guide you through some of the best prefectures to witness the stunning autumn foliage during November according to the 2023 autumn foliage forecast.
Aomori, located at the northern tip of Honshu Island, experiences ealier autumn foliage than most of the main island. Visit the Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada for mesmerizing scenes of colorful leaves reflected in crystal-clear waters. Thanks to the well developed Shinkansen route, Aomori can be visited in a little bit more of 3 hours from Tokyo.
- Oirase Gorge: One of Aomori’s crown jewels, Oirase Gorge is famous for its enchanting riverbanks lined with vibrant foliage. Stroll along the well-maintained walking trails that follow the Oirase River, and marvel at the symphony of red, orange, and yellow leaves reflected in the crystal-clear waters.
- Hirosaki Castle: Hirosaki Castle is renowned for its beautiful cherry blossoms in spring, but it also shines in autumn. The castle’s park boasts numerous maple trees that turn brilliant shades of red and orange during November, creating a stunning contrast against the castle’s black walls.
- Lake Towada: Located adjacent to Oirase Gorge, Lake Towada is Japan’s third-deepest lake and offers a captivating setting for autumn foliage. You can take a boat ride on the lake for a unique perspective of the colorful scenery.
Fukushima has had a bad reputation in the past due to its history following the 2011 disaster, but it offers a blend of traditional and natural beauty. Explore preserved Edo-period villages with thatched-roof houses, and panoramic views of autumn colors.
- Ouchijuku: Step back in time at Ouchijuku, a well-preserved Edo-period village. In November, the thatched-roof houses are surrounded by fiery foliage, creating a nostalgic and picturesque scene. It’s a unique opportunity to experience traditional Japanese architecture amidst autumn beauty.
- Bandai Azuma Skyline: For panoramic views of autumn colors against the backdrop of Mount Bandai, head to the Bandai Azuma Skyline. The winding roads provide excellent vantage points to capture the vibrant hues of Fukushima’s fall foliage.
Yamagata’s diverse landscapes offer a rich tapestry of autumn foliage, mountainous temples that offer a peaceful retreat as well as some of the most famous Onsen towns.
- Yamadera Temple: Nestled in the mountains, Yamadera Temple is a serene and spiritually significant site. In November, the temple complex comes alive with the brilliant colors of autumn leaves. Climb the 1,000 stone steps to the temple’s main hall, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape ablaze with fall hues.
- Ginzan Onsen: Ginzan Onsen is one of the most famous hot spring town in Japan with a nostalgic ambiance. The picturesque streets and bridges that line the Ginzan River are particularly enchanting in autumn, with leaves reflecting in the water.
- Zao Onsen: Especially famous in winter, Zao Onsen is equally captivating in the autumn. The Zao Mountains transform into a canvas of red and gold, and the famous Juhyo (ice trees) start to take shape. Enjoy a soak in the onsens while surrounded by this natural beauty.
Nagano’s mountainous terrain offers excellent opportunities for leaf watching. Head to the Japan Alps for a breathtaking experience that provide a unique blend of autumn leaves and snow monkeys.
- Kamikochi: Nestled in the Northern Japan Alps, Kamikochi is a pristine natural paradise. During November, the area is ablaze with autumn colors. Hike along the Azusa River, where the vibrant leaves frame stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
- Matsumoto Castle: Known as the „Crow Castle“ due to its black exterior, Matsumoto Castle offers captivating views of the surrounding city and the Japanese Alps. In autumn, the castle’s park is adorned with vibrant foliage.
- Jigokudani Monkey Park: While most famous for its snow monkeys, Jigokudani Monkey Park is also a fantastic place to witness the fusion of autumn foliage and geothermal hot springs. The sight of monkeys soaking in hot pools amidst the fall leaves is both unique and endearing. Be aware that the chance of seeing the monkeys in autumn is at its lowest as the monkeys are in mating season and find plenty of food along the way, so they might be too distracted to make it to the onsen some days in autumn.
Gifu is home to the enchanting Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its thatched-roof farmhouses. In autumn, these historic villages are framed by fiery foliage. Don’t forget to take a stroll along the scenic Hida River for more stunning views.
- Shirakawa-go: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-visit in Gifu. In autumn, the traditional thatched-roof farmhouses and the picturesque Shirakawa River provide an idyllic setting for fall foliage photography. The contrast between the rustic houses and the vibrant leaves is truly remarkable. Be aware that Shirakawa-go is incredibly popular and therefore notoriously crowded. If that’s not really your jam consider going instead to..
- Gokayama: Gokayama is very similar to Shirakawa-go, being another traditional village with Gassho houses. While Gokayama is generally more tranquil and less crowded than Shirakawa-go, it’s also a lot smaller in scale; moreover, it’s harder to access.
- Hida River: Take a leisurely stroll along the Hida River in Gifu City, where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the riverbank adorned with colorful trees. It’s a tranquil spot to soak in the beauty of autumn.
Tochigi Prefecture offers a mix of natural beauty, historic sites, and hot spring experiences, making it a wonderful addition to your autumn foliage journey in Japan and a personal favorite of mine. Whether you’re exploring the cultural treasures of Nikko or unwinding in a soothing onsen, Tochigi has something special to offer during the fall season.
- Nikko Toshogu Shrine: No visit to Tochigi is complete without visiting Nikko, which is famous for its stunning shrine complex, and in autumn, the vibrant foliage adds to its allure. The surrounding forested hills and centuries-old cedars create a mesmerizing backdrop for this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Lake Chuzenji: Located near Nikko, Lake Chuzenji is encircled by lush forests and offers picturesque views year-round. In autumn, the reflection of the changing leaves on the lake’s surface is particularly captivating. You can also take a boat ride to fully immerse yourself in the fall scenery.
- Nasu Ropeway: The Nasu Ropeway offers stunning views of Nasu’s volcanic landscapes and surrounding forests, which transform into a mosaic of autumn colors during November. Take a cable car ride to the top and hike along the trails for a closer look at the foliage.
- Nasu Onsen Town: Nasu Onsen is a popular hot spring town in Tochigi. In autumn, you can relax in soothing hot baths while surrounded by the vibrant hues of fall. Many of the town’s ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) offer picturesque views of the changing leaves.
These highlights in Aomori, Yamagata, Gifu, Fukushima, Nagano, and Tochigi prefectures offer a diverse range of experiences, from serene temple visits to picturesque rural landscapes. Each prefecture has its own distinct charm during the autumn season, making it a fantastic time to explore the beauty of Japan. Of course there are many more prefectures to explore! But these are the best if your dates have already been set in stone for this year.
But what about Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka? If you are hoping to see Kyoto, Nara and Osaka at peak, you might want to push back your travel dates to the beginning of December. That being said, the forecast announces the peak, which means that you will certainly be able to enjoy some autumnal views 1-2 weeks before that time as well. As for Tokyo, having been very hot in the summer of 2023, Tokyo has always been notoriously late for autumn leaves. While you while be able to see yellow leaves most likely in November 2023 in Tokyo, I sadly doubt that it will be possible to see the red momoji leaves before the beginning of December.