The viewing of autumn leaves in Kansai typically starts around mid-November and can last until early December. It’s a great time to head to Western Japan and check out those beautiful leaves amid gorgeous scenery. Don’t know where to start? This guide to fall foliage in Kyoto and beyond can help!

Kyoto autumn leaves viewing spots

Kyoto is one of Japan’s top spots to see autumn leaves. Take note that these are just a few of Kyoto’s beautiful foliage viewing spots. It’s no exaggeration that there are many (many, many) places in Kyoto to soak in the autumn colors. While Kyoto usually gets insanely crowded at this time of year, the crowds may still be thinned out in 2022 due to reduced inbound tourism, which is good for domestic visitors.

If you’re planning to go, better start making reservations already! Departing from Tokyo? Here are the fastest and cheapest ways to get to Kyoto.

1. Kiyomizu-dera

kyoto autumn illuminations at Kiyomizudera
Photo by iStock.com/SeanPavonePhoto

Arguably Kyoto’s most popular temple, Kiyomizu-dera sees loads of tourists each day, and you can expect even more of them in autumn. This huge, sprawling complex is the temple for those who are pressed for time and can’t visit too many places in the city. It’s in central Kyoto, and is covered by several bus routes.

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It has a very impressive view from the balcony in autumn. If seeing the leaves during the day isn’t enough, hang around until nightfall for the special, seasonal illuminations.

Pro tip: If you want to combine sights and see Kiyomizu-dera with Kinkaku-ji and Arashiyama (another spot on our list; see below) in one go, then try this half-day tour.

Autumn 2022 dates & opening hours: Nov. 18 to 30; 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Illuminations: 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (last entry at 9 pm)
General admission: ¥400 for adults, ¥200 for junior high school students and children

2. Tōfuku-ji

autumn leaves at Tofukuji Temple
Photo by iStock.com/FotoGraphik

Tōfuku-ji is Japan’s largest and oldest Zen temple. It has gained national recognition for its Sanmon, Japan’s oldest Zen main gate (designated as a National Treasure), and its Honbō Garden, which has the honor of being a National Site of Scenic Beauty. See the beauty of Tōfuku-ji for yourself this autumn as the temple grounds are home to several maple trees.

The temple is a 10-minute walk from JR’s or Keihan Railway’s Tōfukuji Station, but it’s also accessible by bus.

Autumn 2022 dates & opening hours: Nov. 10 to 30; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Autumn special admission: ¥1,000 for the temple + ¥500 for the garden

3. Kitano Tenman-gū

Photograph of colored leaves lit up at night | Photo by iStock.com/shirosuna-m

This long-standing Shintō shrine, built in honor of Sugawara no Michizane (the god of wisdom and learning), has a garden that’s only open a few times a year for seasonal attractions such as plum blossoms and autumn scenery. The garden has about 250 maple trees that are around 300–400 years old. You can enjoy them not only in their natural splendor during the day, but also lit up at night. As Michizane’s birth and death both fell on the 25th (of June and February respectively), a small festival is held each month, making it a bonus day to aim for.

The entry cost may seem a bit steep for a garden, but just look at that scenery! Besides, the entrance price also gets you a small sweet.

Autumn 2022 dates & opening hours: Nov. 12 to Dec. 4; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Illuminations: Sunset to 8 p.m.
Illuminations special admission: Garden entry ¥1,000 for adults and ¥500 for children (general admission to the temple is free)

4. Kōdai-ji

Kodaiji autumn
Photo by iStock.com/Torsakarin

Kōdai-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple where warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi and his wife, Nene, who happens to be co-founder of the temple, are enshrined. Aside from its main hall, which used to be decorated with lacquer and gold before it burned down (several times over), the temple has some gardens, a bamboo grove, a museum (admission already included in the ¥600 fee). For ¥900, you can get a combo ticket for Kōdai-ji, the museum, and the Entoku-in sub-temple.

Autumn 2022 dates & opening hours: Oct. 21 to Dec. 11; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Illuminations: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (last entry 9:30 p.m.)
General admission: ¥600

5. Chion-in

Chion-in autumn leaves
Photo by iStock.com/coward_lion

Chion-in is the head temple of the Jōdo (Pure Land) Buddhist sect. As such, its founder Hōnen is honored here. The temple grounds are extremely spacious; in fact, its Sanmon (main gate) is one of the largest in Japan. It has two gardens, one of which — Hōjō Garden — goes back all the way to the early-Edo era and has been designated as a Famous Scenic Spot of Kyoto.

The other garden, Yūzen-en, has two teahouses. It also happens to be one of three sites within the temple grounds that is illuminated nightly through most of November. The other two sites are the Amida-dō (Amitabha Hall), which houses a 2.5m-tall statue of the Buddha; and Kuromon, the Black Gate.

Autumn 2022 dates & opening hours: Nov. 12 to Dec. 3; general admission 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Illuminations: 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (last entry 9 p.m.)
Illuminations special admission: ¥800 for adults and ¥400 for children (general admission to the temple is free)

6. Arashiyama

arashiyama
Photo by Tiffany Lim

This is not a temple, shrine, or garden — it’s an entire area in western Kyoto. With temples, shrines, a bamboo forest, and more, it’s a popular tourist attraction. However, it’s noticeably more rural than central Kyoto (i.e. the part of Kyoto where most of the tourist spots are clustered), so you can feel closer to nature here.

The view of the mountainside — with its trees a vivid crimson — from Arashiyama’s famous bridge, Togetsukyō, is extremely popular. If you like the idea of a Rickshaw ride, this option means you can relax and give the leaves your full attention.

If you happen to be there in mid-November, be sure to check out the Arashiyama Momiji Festival!

Getting there: You can get to Arashiyama by bus or train (Saga-Arashiyama Station via JR; Keifuku Arashiyama via Keifuku Railways; or Hankyu Arashiyama via Hankyu Railways).

You can also enjoy Arashiyama’s breathtaking landscape by taking a scenic train, aptly called the Sagano Romantic Train, from Torokko Saga Station (which is very near JR Saga-Arashiyama Station) to Torokko Kameoka Station for ¥880 one way. The journey lasts 25 minutes and books up quickly during autumn.

Pro tip: Book at package that includes travel on the Sagano Romantic Train plus sightseeing time in Arashiyama and Kiyomizu-dera — another autumn leaves must-see.

7. Rurikō-in

Rurikoin temple
Photo by iStock.com/seaonweb

Rurikō-in isn’t located in a touristy part of Kyoto, so it’s trickier to get to, and significantly more expensive than the other viewing spots. But it’s a photographer’s dream come true, so it’s well worth the visit. Also, it’s not always open to the public due to structural concerns, so autumn is a unique chance to see this elusive temple.

Ruriko-in has three beautiful gardens and a tea room, so you can enjoy the autumn leaves in relative tranquility. It’s a 5-minute walk from Yase-Hieizanguchi Station on the Eizan Main Line, nearly an hour away from central Kyoto.

In 2022, you can visit Ruriko-in between October 1 and December 12, but reservations will be required between November 1st and December 4th. You can reserve a spot via this link, with and online payment required. There are a limited number of tickets, but lots of slots available.

Autumn 2022 dates & times: Oct. 1 to Dec. 12; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Special reservation period: Nov. 1 to Dec. 4; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Autumn admission: ¥2,000 for adults, ¥1,000 for students, and free for elementary school children.

Autumn leaves in Kansai: Day trips from Kyoto

Experience fewer crowds and some stunning views a short ride from the ancient capital with these easy day trips. The timing of the peak colors will vary a little depending on how far from Kyoto you travel and elevation, so keep that in mind.

1. Lake Biwa and surrounding areas (Shiga Prefecture)

Photo by iStock.com/kentaro

Japan’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Biwa is often alluded to in ancient Japanese literature. Within the vicinity of the lake, there are some attractions, listed below, known for their autumn leaves.

Keisoku-ji

Keisoku-ji, a temple on a mountain north of the lake, is one of the most stunning fall spots in the region. Ancient steps are carpeted with vermillion leaves in scenes that could be cut straight from a film. Just to add to the forgotten vibe, the temple was actually abandoned at the end of the Edo period (1603–1868), but has been dutifully maintained by locals. Around 200 maple trees line the picturesque approach, with peak viewing season between mid to late November.

Autumn 2022 peak: Mid- to late November
Autumn admission: Entry costs ¥200 during the second half of November, with money going to the upkeep of the temple and grounds.
Getting there:The temple is 15 minutes from the Kobashi bus stop, which in turn can be reached by bus from JR Kinomoto Station in about 10 minutes.

Hikone Castle

genkyuen and hikone castle
Photo by Hikone Sightseeing Association

The beautiful national treasure that is Hikone Castle has a garden called Genkyū-en, which is illuminated at night during a special viewing season. Unfortunately there is no tea ceremony due to Covid-19 restrictions, but hopefully that will return in the future. If possible, we suggest pairing it up with the castle illuminations, which takes place on Saturdays and Sundays from October to November, with bonus days on Friday, Nov. 25, and the first two Saturdays of December.

Autumn 2022 dates & opening hours: Nov. 19 to 30; general admission 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Illuminations: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. (last entry at 8:30 p.m.)
General admission: garden only adult/child ¥200/¥100; castle + garden adult/child ¥800/¥200
Illuminations admission: ¥700 for adults, ¥350 for children
Getting there: The castle and its garden are a 10-minute walk from JR Hikone Station.

Ishiyama-dera

The autumn moon at Ishiyama-dera, where Lady Murasaki is said to have begun writing The Tale of Genji, is traditionally considered to be one of the Eight Views of Omi (the ancient name for Shiga Prefecture). Head on over to see for yourself if it deserves the recognition.

Autumn 2022 dates & times: Nov. 11 to 27; general admission 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Illuminations: 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. (last entry at 8:30 p.m.)
General admission: adult/child ¥600 for adults, ¥250 for children
Illuminations admission: ¥800 for adults, ¥350 for children
Getting there: 10 minutes from Keihan Ishiyamadera Station

Mt. Hiei

Lastly, there’s Mt. Hiei, on the southwestern side of the lake, which stands on the border of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures. One of the holiest sites in the country, Mt. Hiei is home to Enryaku-ji Temple, which was the first base of the Buddhist Tendai sect. Founded in 788, it has an impressive complex of ancient and renovated buildings, all surrounded by stunning autumnal leaves from mid October to late November.

Autumn 2022 peak: Mid-October to late November
General admission: Mountain is free; Enryaku-ji requires a ¥700 fee for the East and West Pagodas and Yokokawa.

2. Mt. Kōya (Wakayama Prefecture)

mt. koya forest autumn leaves
Photo by iStock.com/smshoot

Mt. Kōya, or Kōyasan in Japanese (-san is the suffix for “mountain”), is holy ground for Shingon Buddhists as their founder Kūkai (aka Kōbō Daishi) established a monastery there. It’s both a pilgrimage and tourist spot, albeit a quieter and more tranquil tourist spot than most. With temples making up most of its tourist attractions, the sacred aura of the place really gets to you, so it’s a good place for a spiritual (or a day trip from Kyoto).

Or, if you’re not the spiritual type, it’s still offers a place to clear your mind. It also happens to be a very scenic place throughout the four seasons. It might be more crowded than usual during autumn, but it’s still relatively quieter than most other viewing spots. If you fancy an organised day trip, try this option to see all the sights with a guide of your very own.

Autumn 2022 peak: Late October to mid-November
Admission: Free
Getting there: It takes about 2 to 3 hours to reach Kōyasan from Kyoto, read more here.

3. Mt. Yoshino (Nara Prefecture)

Mt. Yoshino autumn leaves in Nara
Photo by iStock.com/meikyou

Mt. Yoshino is better known for its cherry blossoms (in fact, it’s said to be Japan’s best viewing site for cherry blossoms), but this World Heritage Site also has a view to offer in autumn. Parts of the mountain are even lit up at night. There’s a ropeway that can take you up the mountain for ¥450 one way or ¥800 round trip. There are also buses to take you to town. Alternatively, you can go on a relatively easy hike up Mt. Yoshino.

Autumn 2022 peak: Mid- to late November
Admission: Free
Getting there: Yoshino Station can be reached from Kyoto Station in about 2 hours, give or take, via Kintetsu Railways’ limited express (¥2,590) or express (¥1,250) trains.

4. Nara Park (Nara Prefecture)

Nara Park autumn morning with deer
Photo by iStock.com/gyro

This vast expanse is where most of Nara’s main tourist attractions — like Tōdai-ji, the famous temple with one of Japan’s largest Buddha statues; and Kofuku-ji, the temple with an iconic pagoda — can be found. (You can read about Nara Park here.) There are several maple trees around the park, and their beauty is complemented by temples, shrines, ponds, stone lanterns, and so on.

Autumn 2022 peak: Mid-November to early December
Admission: Free
Access: Nara is a half-hour train ride from both Osaka and Kyoto on the Kintetsu Line.

We do our best to ensure information is correct, however details are subject to change. This post was first published on November 19, 2015. Last updated in October, 2022.

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