Come autumn, destinations around Japan attract visitors with promises of beautiful koyo (Autumn leaves). Similar to enjoying cherry blossoms in the spring, autumn leaf viewing is a beloved seasonal event.
If you want to experience leaf viewing minus the crowds of well-traveled areas, Tottori—Japan’s least populated prefecture—might be the destination for you. From national parks to the gardens of historic mansions, this rural prefecture offers diverse autumn views that are connected to the region’s culture, history and daily life.
Here are five of the most popular and accessible koyo spots in Tottori.
1. Mount Daisen
Home to one of the largest beech forests in western Japan, Mount Daisen boasts a network of trails that immerse visitors in the atmosphere of the autumn woods—which usually arrive around late October or early November.
Those who want to experience autumn foliage and a challenging hike can embark on summit trails or former pilgrimage routes—roads that travelers once used to reach Daisen-ji Temple. Meanwhile, those who want to experience cultural sites or an easygoing leaf-viewing trek can explore trails that lead to historical places such as Ogamiyama Shrine and Amida-do Hall.
No matter your desired travel plan, the Daisen National Park Centre—which is accessible by car or bus and sits near the start of many trails—offers maps, information and recommendations. If you go to Daisen by car or take a guided tour, you may also have the chance to see Kagikake Pass—a viewpoint on the mountain’s southern side where you can get a bird’s eye view of the autumn forest.
2. Tottori Hanakairo Flower Park
In addition to changing leaves, this 50-hectare botanical park raises flowers that bloom in autumn, such as cosmos and red salvia. The park is also known for its view of Mount Daisen, and if the timing of your visit is right, you can see the mountain’s changing leaves against a foreground of salvia flowers.
Typically, the park’s leaves change colors around late October or November, but some flowers can bloom as early as September. At any time during the fall, you can easily spend a day in Hanakairo exploring greenhouses and outdoor gardens. Amenities like on-site restaurants and activities like riding the park’s Flower Train offer even more to do. The park is also wheelchair and stroller-accessible.
3. Utsubuki Park
If you want to experience a typical autumn day in small-town Tottori, Utsubuki Park is the place to do it. Located in the center of Kurayoshi—a historic former castle town—this wooded park offers laid-back outdoor activities against a canopy of autumn colors. A local playground is popular with families. Walking trails and sites like Hagoromo Pond—a traditional-style pond garden with red bridges—invite visitors to take a stroll and snap pictures.
Late November to early December is usually the best time to enjoy autumn in the park. November is also a great time to enjoy locally-grown foods such as pears, which can be sampled in the nearby Tottori Nijisseiki Pear Museum.
4. Jinpukaku and Tottori Castle Ruins
Jinpukaku—a French Renaissance-style mansion built in the early 20th century— is famous for being the first building in Tottori to have electric lights. During autumn, the mansion draws visitors with its Japanese garden, highlighted by the changing leaves colors.
Next door to the mansion, the Tottori Castle Ruins offer even more leaf-viewing opportunities. Hike to the tops of preserved stone foundations, and you can view the leaves of surrounding trees from above—which usually change colors around late November or early December.
Tottori Castle Ruins
5. Sanbutsuji Temple
Sanbutsuji is a Buddhist temple on the cliffs of Mt. Mitoku. It’s renowned for its unique and dangerous location, perched on a steep mountainside. The temple complex includes several different structures, but the most famous of these is the Nageiredo, which literally means “Thrown-in Hall.”
Visiting Sanbutsuji and especially reaching Nageiredo requires a challenging climb, often involving chains and narrow paths, but it offers a unique spiritual and historical experience. In autumn, Mt. Mitoku and the surrounding Sanbutsuji Temple transform into shades of fiery red, deep oranges and radiant yellows, creating a stunning contrast with the evergreens.
Before being allowed on the trail, temple monks will inspect your shoes. If they think your footwear isn’t suitable for the terrain, you can’t climb. However, they will offer you the chance to purchase straw sandals that monks traditionally use to climb.