The nights are getting colder and the days are getting shorter, which means autumn is coming. It’s that time of year when we do away with our shorts and swimsuits and make room for sweaters, scarves and all things cozy. While spring in Japan is undoubtedly famous among international tourists due to sakura (cherry blossom) painting the sky pink, something about fall makes it just as unique.
In Japan, autumn means clear evening skies, crimson red foliage, beautiful seasonal blooms and tasty sweets and sake. And if there’s one thing Japan does well, it’s celebrating the seasons, so let’s look at how to make the most of the fall.
1. Go to an autumn leaf illumination
We all know that the autumn leaves in Japan are beautiful. There are tons of different species that create different shades of red, yellow and orange. And while the sun softly shining through the leaves in autumn is a soothing sight, seeing the leaves light up at night has its unique magical atmosphere.
Some of Japan’s most famous spots for pretty autumn leaves light up at night to create a vivid contrast of the red and orange leaves against the night sky. Check the foliage forecast to catch them at their best, as peaks vary by region. Generally, colors won’t start to show until October and finish around November or December.
These are some great spots for autumn illuminations around Japan:
- Kiyomizudera, Kyoto
- Kenrokuen, Ishikawa
- Rikugien, Tokyo
- Various spots in Nikko, Tochigi
- Illuminations in Jozankei, Hokkaido
2. Marvel at the autumn moon
If you’ve ever tried to look for Mount Fuji in summer, you’ll know that it’s often far too hazy or cloudy to even get a glimpse of the majestic mountain. That is pretty much the same for the night sky, too. But in autumn, the temperatures start to cool and the night sky lights up again with the perfect silver moon and twinkly stars.
In Japan, the full moon is traditionally connected to the harvest and celebrated according to the lunar calendar. The act of moon viewing is called tsukimi, and is most famously celebrated in September. However, the full moon in October and November is also celebrated so mark it on your calendar and grab your loved one for a romantic evening of tsukimi.
To get the best views, it’s better to venture out of bigger cities to avoid light pollution, so it could be a fun excuse to go camping or glamping.
3. Rent an autumnal kimono
Japanese kimono patterns and colors are highly linked to the seasons, and autumn has some of the most beautiful colors to choose from. If you can’t get enough of the reds and golds on the trees, why not go one step further and wear them?
If you just fancy a photo shoot, plenty of studios around Japan will let you try on a kimono and get some top-notch pics. But for a more hands-on experience, many traditional towns offer kimono rental for half or full days, so you can experience the autumnal sensibilities in the most traditional way possible.
If you’re wondering where to rent a kimono for a day out, these are a few of the towns around Japan that are known for it:
4. Try traditional autumn sweets and sake
In Japan, where there’s a season, there’s undoubtedly an array of traditional food and drink to match that season. Of course, autumn is no exception!
Alongside the classics like a warming pot of nabe (hotpot), you’ll likely also see a lot of chestnut-flavored sweets around. The most common dessert is a Mont Blanc, sweetened chestnut puree with cream and cake. You might also find wagashi (Japanese traditional confectionery) in the shape of autumn leaves. If you like all-natural sweets, this is also a popular time to go grape picking.
To warm your body up a little on those cold autumn nights, you could also try out hiya-oroshi, a sake traditionally only available in autumn. Usually, hiya-oroshi is only fermented once, rather than twice, resulting in a fresh and lively taste, which feels much “younger” than a typical sake.
5. Celebrate October with some less traditional fun
Other months of Japan are dotted with traditional festivals and celebrations, but October seems to be a time for something different. In Japan in October, the two main events are Halloween and Oktoberfest.
Japanese shops start selling Halloween goodies left and right as soon as mid-September hits. This must be for small parties and snacks at home though because trick-or-treat certainly isn’t the norm in Japan. Instead, masses gather for the group cosplay event of the season, October 31.
The most famous Halloween celebration takes place in Shibuya, where people don their spookiest outfits, crowd the streets and that’s pretty much it.
Oktoberfest on the other hand is a much more organized event. There are sometimes smaller Oktoberfest events, but the main two are in Tokyo and Sapporo. Spanning from September to October 1 or 2, the festivals involve a lot of beer, snacks and fun performances.
What kinds of activities do you like to do during autumn in Japan? Let us know in the comments below!