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Why Autumn is My Favorite Season in Japan

From seasonal treats to vibrant colors, fall is the perfect time of year.

By 4 min read 1

The first time I arrived in Tokyo was during the autumn season. A refreshing apricot aroma greeted me as I stepped out of the car and into my new home. What I thought to be fresh laundry washed with an orange-scented detergent, I later learned, was the kinmokusei, or osmanthus fragrans, a fall-blooming shrub native to Asia. Walking through my new neighborhood, I found small parks and residential gardens filled with sweet-smelling orange flowers, blending perfectly with the cool autumn air.

During fall, many comforting smells can be found across the Kanto region. The warm, sweet scent of yaki imo, or Japanese baked sweet potatoes, can be found at street stalls, food trucks and markets throughout the city. Take a day trip to Kawagoe in autumn, a traditional town north of Tokyo. You’ll likely find an abundance of sweet potato-based treats like daigaku imo, candied sweet potatoes. On a chilly fall day, there’s nothing quite like breathing in the hot steam of a potato before taking the first bite.

The Tastes of Autumn

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Shabu-shabu is the perfect dish for cool and cold nights.

Tokyo’s library cafes and coffee shops became my refuge for studying Japanese and getting work done during autumn in Japan. In mid-September, I began to see fall-themed treats like sweet potato lattes, pumpkin pudding and Mont Blanc pastries made with chestnuts. Traditional Japanese sweets, or wagashi, were inspired by maple leaves, red dragonflies and koyo, the season’s changing colors. Among the many local shops and department store dining areas, you could find wagashi and other Japanese desserts like zenzai, a sweet bean soup with mochi (rice cakes). And, of course, there was no shortage of fall-flavored snacks like apple pie Kit-Kats.

When it comes to autumnal dishes, you can’t miss gathering around a nabe, or hot pot, with family and friends, a tradition that begins in the fall and continues long into winter. Shabu-shabu, sukiyaki, and oden are ways to cook proteins, fresh vegetables or noodles in savory simmering broths. Local eateries, fancy restaurants and just about every supermarket will have a variety of hearty combinations for you to choose from.

Sanma, the Pacific saury, has also become Japan’s favorite fall fish. Early October welcomes this fish with the Sanma Matsuri, a festival in Meguro where you can enjoy grilled sanma served with grated daikon radish. The mikan, or mandarin orange, enters the season in late October. In residential neighborhoods, beautiful trees flourish with perfectly round and juicy mikan. In Kanto, even vending machines undergo an autumnal transformation, swapping out sumetai (cold) beverages for atakai (warm) ones. Strolling through the city street while sipping on a hot Royal Milk Tea or hojicha, roasted green tea, adds a comforting taste to the season.

Cycling and Fall Colors

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Kawaguchi in autumn.

Although it had been years since I had last ridden a bicycle, I rented one from a bike station and skittishly pedaled through a city park. Cycling through colorful streets like Meiji Jingu Gaien, where ginkgo trees transform into a golden tunnel, is an easy way to enjoy the season’s beauty in urban areas. For greater adventures, go hiking at Nikko National Park, camping in the forests of Chichibu, or wander through the cosmos-filled landscapes of the Miura Peninsula.

My first experience with ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, was in a department store in Shinjuku during autumn, where various seasonal flowers and plants were beautifully exhibited. From mid-September, parks in Tokyo come alive with white and pink cosmos flowers. Fields in Hakone flow with silvery-gold pampas grass, while fields in Hidaka burst with crimson-red spider lilies. In October, blooming rose bushes can be spotted along Otsuka Rose Street, while fluffy, bright red kochia bushes can be enjoyed at Hitachi Seaside Park. November brings chrysanthemum, the national flower of Japan. And all throughout autumn, the maple, ginkgo and cherry trees that line the streets take turns flaunting their fiery attire.

As the weather cools and atmospheric visibility improves, Mt. Fuji becomes easier to spot. If you can’t make a day trip to Hakone or Lake Kawaguchiko, there’s still a good chance to see the peak from a highrise in Tokyo on an early autumn morning. Oddly enough, my first and best glimpse of Fujisan was from the rooftop parking lot of an Aeon Mall during the fall.

Sweet Potatoes and Songs

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Roasted beni haruka’s sweet potatoes.

In autumn, the once-deafening buzz of cicadas, a quintessential sound of summer in Japan, finally quiets down. This allows us to shift our attention to other melodies—the chirping of birds, pine and bell crickets, the ringing of handbells and the chant of food vendors saying “yaki imo… yaki imo… dozo!” On a busy street, I could hear the joyful chatter of children on their way to a field trip, not yet burdened by the weight of heavy coats. Among them, a child stood out, singing “Mushi no Koe,” a song that explores the sounds of five autumn insects, signaling the arrival of the autumn season.

In Kanto, these memories have nurtured my love for autumn. Across urban and rural landscapes, people all around you will embrace “the arts of autumn,” “the appetite of autumn,” and “the sports of autumn.” In my own imperfect way, let this be a love letter to “the senses of autumn,” inviting you to feel the region’s beauty during the fall season.

Love autumn in Japan? Let us know win the comments!

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  • Susan Lindle says:

    How beautiful ! My son Christopher is visiting Japan for a two week journey of a life time. He arrived in your country yesterday. I know he will bring Japan back with him in his mind and his heart. I am looking forward to hearing all about his trip to your beautiful country. I love the colours of the trees in the picture, so vibrant but at the same time peaceful and serene. With all good wishes, Susan.

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