It’s autumn in Japan and Japanese are crazy about “kouyou,” the changing of the leaves. Most Japanese will make a special trip to view fall foliage and Kyoto is the most famous kouyou destination. Surrounded by mountains with Japanese maple trees that turn bright red, amidst a backdrop of temples and shrines, Kyoto makes for a truly memorable experience. Kyoto also offers a unique take on fall foliage night viewing.
When to go
The leaves can turn anytime starting in November, depending on the weather, and they last about two weeks. This year’s leaves are turning a little late due to the warm autumn, so aim for mid-November for Kyoto.
Where to go
“The leaves are so famous at Tofukuji that there are more people than leaves,” says John Dougill, long time Kyoto resident and author of “Kyoto: A cultural history.” He recommends staying away from Kodaiji and other more popular temples and instead heading to Takao in the north-west, which is spacious and further from the city center, or to Enko-ji which is also lit up at night. For those who don’t want to walk a lot, Dougill recommends the train ride on the Eiden line from Demachiyanagi to Kurama as the trees on either side of the line are lit up. For those who are fearless and don’t mind jumping into the kouyou mosh pit, try any of Kyoto’s World Heritage sites such as Kinkakuji, Kozanji, or Kiyomizu-dera.
Paul Satoh offers an English speaking fall foliage excursion every year. Paul is Japanese with excellent English skills who has been giving tours to foreigners in the Kansai area for 8 years. This year on Nov. 12 he will take people to Arashiyama (also home of the Iwatayama Monkey Park), during the annual boat festival. Along with kouyou viewing, you can watch festival boats carrying traditional dancers and musicians down the Oi River. There is a nominal charge of 1,800 yen for the tour which includes bus fare and lunch. Meet at the Kyoto City Tourist Information Office on the second floor of Kyoto Station at 9:30am on the day.
- Kyoto City Tourist Association provides a list of temples and shrines for leaf viewing and directions to get to each – Tel : 075-343-6655
- Kyoto City Tourism and Culture Information System
“Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast and teaches Japanese online. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com