Visiting Japan in Autumn

Tourist boats run along Hozugawa River in Autumn Morning
Tourist Boats run along Hozugawa River in Autumn at Arashiyama, Kyoto. DoctorEgg/Getty Images 

Most regions of Japan have four distinct seasons, so if you're visiting in September, October, or November, you'll get the chance to experience fall in Japan with its colorful autumn leaves, unique holidays, and numerous festivals.

From strolling through the lush forests of the Daisetsuzan mountains in Hokkaido to the annual Health and Sports Day celebrated across the country, visitors to Japan are sure to enjoy the seasonal traditions of the Nihonjin people.

When you're planning your autumn trip to this great island nation, make sure you check the current schedule of events and special attractions only available in this season as dates are subject to change from year to year.

Fall Foliage in Japan

Fall foliage is called kouyou in Japanese and means red leaves, named so for the bright displays of red, orange, and yellow that dominate the visual landscape of Japan. The country's earliest fall foliage occurs north of the Daisetsuzan mountains in Hokkaido where visitors can take a hike through the colorful trees in a national park of the same name.

Other popular fall foliage destinations include Nikko, Kamakura, and Hakone where you'll experience spectacular colors and breathtaking views.

In Kyoto and Nara, which both were once Japan's ancient capitals, the colorful leaves match these cities' historical architecture and attract many visitors during the fall; here you'll find old Buddhist temples, gardens, imperial palaces, and Shinto shrines.

Fall Holidays in Japan

The second Monday in October is the Japanese national holiday of Taiiku-no-hi (Health and Sports Day), which commemorates the Summer Olympics held in Tokyo in 1964. Various events take place on this day that promotes sports and a healthy, active lifestyle. Also in the fall, sports festivals called undoukai (field days) are often held in Japanese schools and towns.

November 3 is a national holiday called Bunkano-hi (Culture Day). On this day, Japan holds many events that celebrate art, culture, and tradition and festivities include art exhibits and parades as well as local markets where visitors can purchase handmade crafts.

November 15 is Shichi-go-san, a traditional Japanese festival for 3 and 7-year-old girls and 3 and 5-year-old boys—these numbers come from East Asian numerology, which considers odd numbers to be lucky. However, this is an important family event, not a national holiday; families with children of those ages visit shrines to pray for the children's healthy growth. Children buy chitose-ame (long stick candies) that are made of a rare kind of sugarcane and represent longevity. On this holiday, children wear nice clothes such as kimonos, dresses, and suits, so if you're visiting any Japanese shrines around this time, you might see many children dressed up.

On November 23 (or the following Monday if it falls on a Sunday), the Japanese celebrate Labor Thanksgiving Day. This holiday, also called Niinamesai (Harvest Festival), is marked by the emperor making autumn's first offering of harvested rice to the gods. The public holiday also pays homage to human rights and workers' rights.

Fall Festivals in Japan

During fall in Japan, many autumn festivals are held throughout the country to give thanks for the harvest. In Kishiwada in September is Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri, a festival that features hand-carved wooden floats and a harvest celebration to pray for autumnal bounty. In Miki, another autumn harvest festival occurs on the second and third weekends in October.

Nada no Kenka Matsuri is held October 14 and 15 in Himeji at the Ōmiya Hachiman Shrine. It is also called Fighting Festival because portable shrines set on men's shoulders are knocked together. You might be able to see some Shinto rituals held at various shrines, as well, and it's fun to visit the many food vendors that sell local specialty food, crafts, charms, and other regional items at the festivals.