While Japan’s wintertime illuminations get much well-deserved hype, autumn’s light-up displays deserve to be better known. Centered around fall foliage, these illuminations enhance the already colorful leaves, creating magical and unworldly sights.
Rich in lush wilderness, gardens, and stately historic shrines and temples, Shikoku and Kyushu are well-poised to have some of the most glorious illuminations. So, if you’re looking for a trip in late fall, why not head out to one of our favorite destinations below?
1. Kamado Shrine (Fukuoka)
Kamado Shrine is located at the foot of Mount Homan in Fukuoka’s famous Dazaifu area in Kyushu. The shrine has two main sanctuaries that venerate the Shinto goddess Tamayori-hime, who is said to bring people together, making this a popular site for couples and romance-seeking singles.
In the latter half of November, the area’s spectacular autumn foliage, comprising about 300 maple and ginkgo trees, is lit up at night for two weeks.
2. Ritsurin Park (Kagawa)
In Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku, Ritsurin Park is a gorgeous and highly-rated Japanese landscape garden. The park covers 13 hectares of land and includes six ponds and 13 artificial hills. The park was designed to provide scenic views to visitors walking along the meandering pathways, meant to emulate valleys and mountain ranges. It is also a stunning place to visit during its autumn illumination festival, when the park’s foliage is on full display and painstakingly lit up.
In late November, the park’s onsite eateries also offer special course menus featuring autumn foods, musical performances and Japanese-styled cruise boat rides.
3. Mifuneyama Rakuen (Saga)
This expansive garden located in Saga, Kyushu, and approximately the size of ten Tokyo Domes, is well-known for its extensive autumn foliage. Its main fall attractions are the 500 maple trees along the Furimaizaka Slope and Hyotan Pond. Mount Mifuneyama, at an elevation of 210 meters, can be seen reflected in the pond’s waters with myriad red, yellow and orange leaves.
The garden also boasts one of Japan’s largest autumn illuminations. Come fall, all the walking paths are lit up at night, allowing visitors to stroll around and bask in the glow of fall’s natural beauty.
4. Misojien (Nagasaki)
Tucked away in the Unzen Mountains in Nagasaki Prefecture, Misojien is unique on this list for being a privately owned garden. While it is closed and tended to by the property owner for most of the year, Misojien is opened up to the public solely to admire its changing leaves.
Covering approximately 26,000 square meters of land, this enchanted space includes several benches, ponds and paths under a canopy of reds, oranges and yellows. As the night illuminations begin, snap a shot of some foliage reflected in a pond for double the color!
5. Matsuyama Castle’s Ninomaru Garden (Ehime)
Located at the top of Mount Katsuyama, Shikoku’s Matsuyama Castle is recognized as one of the twelve castles in Japan to still have its original keep. At the base of the mountain lies the Ninomaru Garden, which served as the original palace site before falling into ruin and eventually being converted into a park with green spaces and several ponds.
In the fall, Ninomaru Garden, nicknamed the “sacred place for lovers,” is beautifully illuminated and has become a popular spot for dates and wedding photos.
6. Iya no Kazurabashi Bridges (Tokushima)
Originally constructed with kiwi vines and now reinforced with steel cables, these two bridges are some of the sole survivors of a larger set of vine bridges that once provided passage in the region. The Husband Bridge measures 45 meters long, while the Wife Bridge, slightly upstream, is about half the length. While they are regularly illuminated every evening, this season supplies the extra treat of changing autumn leaves.
As you cross the canyon below, you’ll be immersed in reds, oranges and yellows on all sides, which tend to change color relatively early due to the high altitude.
7. Kyu Hosokawa Gyobutei (Kumamoto)
Kyu Hosokawa Gyobutei, also known as the Former Hosokawa Residence, is a stellar example of a high-class samurai mansion constructed in the Edo period. Although the home was severely damaged in the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquakes and has been largely closed off to the public since this year’s annual autumn illumination, it gives visitors a rare chance to admire both the remains of its architecture and the area’s changing foliage.
As you walk towards the residence along a gravel path, you’ll be met by maple trees flanking your approach. This event is one part of a larger one that illuminates parts of Kumamoto Castle and Ninomaru Park in a fantastic display of color and light.
8. Yujaku Park (Oita)
Yujaku Park in Oita Prefecture in Kyushu was originally the villa and gardens of the area’s chief retainer in the Edo period. Central to this traditional Japanese-style garden are two ponds representing a harmonious heart and sincerity and true love. Surrounding the waters are about 500 maple trees of the momiji and kaede varieties, which burst into a fiery red come November, making this park a popular autumn tourist spot.
During their Momiji Matsuri (maple festival), on holidays and weekends, the garden is gloriously lit up to highlight the brilliant vermillion trees against the darkness of the night. If you’re up for more fall fun, you can also buy kusamochi (mugwort sweet dumplings) and participate in events in the park during the festival.
9. Monet Garden (Kochi)
Kochi Prefecture in Shikoku is home to the Monet Garden, modeled after the painter’s garden in France. With a flower, water and bordighera garden, the latter of which recreates a garden in the Italian Riviera town visited by Monet in 1884, this unique site is overflowing with gorgeous seasonal flora.
In late November and early December, the many red maples, azaleas, American sweetgums and redwoods that have burst into reds and yellows will be beautifully illuminated. With a themed cafe and an on-site art gallery, why not plan an afternoon and evening in the quiet and scenic Monet Garden?