Japan’s fall season is the best time to leave the hurly-burly of the city behind for a taste of the quiet life in the country. Here are four hidden gems across the country that invite you to slow down and appreciate the beauty of Japan’s autumn colors in more authentic local settings.
Skip the lines for more relaxed travel around Japan in autumn
Treat yourself to a unique travel experience this fall by skipping well-known and overcrowded areas for a slow journey of discovery to Japan’s lesser-known marvels. Throughout October, November and early December, the changing colors of the autumn leaves invite you to wander from the crowded streets of major attractions to quieter, more rural locations.
Immerse yourself in the slower-paced life of local communities by staying in a country inn, explore Japan’s untouched natural landscapes by ropeway or railcar and take a moment to contemplate the serene beauty of a hidden garden or a mystical lake. Take your time and enjoy a more intimate and enriching experience of autumn in Japan.
Lake Kinrin by the Yufuin hot spring resort is a great place to kick back and unwind.
See Lake Kinrin enveloped in mist on a crisp autumn morning
Lake Kinrin in Oita Prefecture is one of the most beautiful locations on the island of Kyushu for viewing autumn foliage. This small lake on the edge of the Yufuin hot spring resort is fed by both fresh river water and hot springs. On cold mornings in the fall and winter, the temperature difference causes mist to gather and swirl on the surface of the lake, creating a mysterious atmosphere.
The “floating” torii on Lake Kinrin is a breathtaking sight.
Take a stroll around the lake to view the vibrant autumn colors and a torii gate “floating” out on the water. There is a café and a restaurant on the lakeside where you can get something to eat while enjoying the view, or you can have a picnic in Dakemoto Park, before heading back to explore the art galleries, craft boutiques and hot spring baths of Yufuin.
Mist swirls over Lake Kinrin in the early morning.
Stay at a traditional inn: Magome-juku
A visit to Magome-juku in Gifu Prefecture is like taking a trip back in time. This wonderfully restored post town was formerly a stop on the Nakasendo – an important route in the Edo era (1603–1867) that connected Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto. Here a stone-flagged road runs between old wooden buildings that house museums, craft shops and restaurants.
Travel back in time at Magome-juku.
Stay overnight at one of the traditional ryokan inns and you can experience the peace and quiet after the town empties of tourists, as well as enjoy some old-fashioned hospitality. A nearby Buddhist temple also has a lodging house where you can try Zen meditation and vegetarian Buddhist cuisine. If time allows, take a forest walk along the old Nakasendo and feel refreshed by clear mountain air and the sound of rushing waterfalls. A hilltop lookout point is a good spot for a dramatic view over forested mountains ablaze with fall foliage.
Enjoy the slow life on the old Nakasendo.
Reflect on autumn’s beauty at the Former Chikurin-in Temple
The garden of the Former Chikurin-in Temple in Shiga Prefecture is a peaceful spot where time stands still. With carefully manicured shrubs and trees, stone lanterns and a stream that wanders through mossy slopes, the garden presents an image of nature in perfect harmony.
The garden at Former Chikurin-in Temple is a vision of harmony.
This walking garden is 3,000 square meters in area, but appears even larger thanks to its use of Mt. Hachioji as borrowed scenery. Matcha tea can be enjoyed in a house overlooking the garden, and on two floors there are low-level lacquer tables on which you can see the garden’s glorious reflection.
This view of the garden and its reflection is splendid in any season, but in autumn, the palette of red, orange and gold is breathtaking. Built in 1592, this former temple was transferred to private ownership in the 19th century and is now the property of Otsu City and a nationally designated scenic spot.
A time for reflection and serenity awaits visitors to Shiga.
Kick back and enjoy the fall colors on one of Japan’s autumn foliage trains
Japan has an abundance of trains, ropeways and cable cars that provide great views of fall foliage, but a ride on the Watarase Keikoku Railway is a truly magical way to enjoy some spectacular autumn colors.
Take a scenic mountain journey on the Watarase Keikoku Railway line.
The route, which links Kiryu in Gunma Prefecture with Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, is especially picturesque in autumn when the mountain foliage is transformed into vibrant hues. Following the course of the Watarase River, the line runs through the steep sided Watarase Gorge affording passengers dramatic views over the valley. In addition to regular local trains there are also “torokko” – old-fashioned trolley trains – that include open cars without glass in the windows, so you can enjoy the clearest views.
Immerse yourself in the romance of the railroad and vibrant autumn colors.
About the author
Author: Michael Lambe
Profile: Michael is a British writer and translator based in Kobe who has been happily exploring Japan’s language and culture for over 25 years.