Kyoto is one of the destinations for both Japanese residents and foreign tourists to see the beautiful colors of the autumn leaves. From November to early December, Japan welcomes the beautiful and romantic season of the exquisite Japanese maple leaves known as “momiji”. Streets and parks are filled with golden yellows, bright oranges and scarlet reds. For this fall season, there are 10 places to see autumn leaves in Kyoto. Smiles hopes that we can help our Smilers who are looking for a place to take a walk this fall.
Before you take a look, feel free to take a look at the list of Japanese vocabulary words related to this blog’s topic:
Fall/autumn – 秋 (aki)
Autumn leaves – 紅葉 (kouyou)
Leaf – 葉っぱ (happa)
Japanese maple leaves – 紅葉 (momiji)
Fallen leaves – 落葉 (rakuyou)
Autumnal equinox – 秋分 (shuubun)
Nature – 自然 (shizen)
Red – 赤 (aka)
Orange – オレンジ (orenji)
Yellow – 黄色 (kiiro)
10 Places to See Autumn Leaves in Kyoto 2021
Table of Contents
1. Autumn leaves in Arashiyama 嵐山
Arashiyama is one of the most popular travel destinations in Kyoto with its luscious bamboo forest and rich nature every season. This spot has always been a favorite destination of choice for almost everyone who visits Kyoto. During the fall, tourists enjoy the beauty of the vibrant red leaves which surround many temples in Arashiyama. You can also experience Japan’s autumn wonders on the banks of Katsura River while riding a boat or sipping coffee. On top of all of that, there’s a well-known bridge, namely the Togetsu Bridge, that’s quite large and is surrounded by hills covered in vibrant autumn leaves. With all of these features, Arashiyama has become one of the must-visit places to see autumn leaves in Kyoto every season.
2. Autumn leaves at Tofukuji 東福寺
Tofuku-ji Temple is a large Zen temple in Kyoto that’s famous for its gorgeous colors and landscapes in autumn. This temple was founded in 1236. Its name comes from two major temples in Nara: Todaiji Temple and Kofukuji Temple. In autumn, people come from all over Japan to see the autumn leaves around Tofukuji. The most popular spot inside the temple is the Tsutenkyo Bridge, which is under a dense, red Japanese maple tree. The views from the bridge are just as spectacular; the colorful leaf-covered walkway is 100 meters long, usually a highly anticipated time around mid to late November. Kiyomizudera is not just a pretty place for autumn leaves in Kyoto but also a pretty place for admiring Japan’s Zen culture.
The entrance fee to Tofukuji varies by sections:
- Tsutenkyo Bridge and Kaisando Hall: 600 yen
- Hojo and the park: 500 yen
- All sections: 1000 yen
Location: 15 Chome-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0981 (Tofukuji Station – 6 min. walk)
3. Autumn leaves at Kiyomizudera 清水寺
When it comes to hot spots to view autumn leaves in Kyoto, you should definitely visit Kiyomizudera. Kiyomizudera is a very famous shrine and is the main destination for tourists visiting Kyoto. The temple was founded in 780, and it was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1994. Kiyomizudera is famous for its wooden structures that jut out 13 meters above the hillside below. This building gives visitors a beautiful natural view that feels like you’re flying in the clouds. The many cherry and maple trees surrounding it make this shrine beautiful especially during spring and autumn. The architecture and nature there make it one of the hot spots to see autumn leaves in Kyoto. The entrance fee for Kiyomizudera is 400 yen per person.
4. Autumn leaves at Eikaindo Temple 永観堂
Eikaindo Temple is one of the hot spots to visit during the fall to see the beautiful autumn leaves in Kyoto. The temple offers an unforgettable view of autumn leaves that are lit up at night, known as illumination. This year, the event will be held from November 6th to December 5th. The origin of the name of Eikando came from the head priest, Eikan, in the 11th century. The entrance fee for this shrine is 1,000 yen at the peak of autumn and 600 yen at night.
5. Autumn leaves at Toji 東寺
Toji, which means “east temple” in Japanese, has a famous five-story pagoda that shows its most beautiful views in the fall. Its iconic structure is surrounded by the vibrant colors of autumn leaves, which is a well-known image seen in television, posters and other types of advertisements. It’s also one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Toji, a remnant of the Heian Period, was built about 1,200 years ago; it was registered as a world cultural heritage site in 1994. During the fall in Japan, the 250 maple trees in the park flash their true colors, literally. The best time to see the legendary fall foliage is from mid-November to early December. The contrast of the pagoda under the blue sky with the colorful leaves is a sight that truly represents Kyoto.
6. Autumn leaves at Rurikoin Shrine 瑠璃光院
The current structure of the Rurikoin Shrine was built around the beginning of the Showa period (1926-1989). There are three gardens within the shrine grounds, and in particular, Ruri-no-Niwa (Ruri Park) is famous for its stunning, moss-covered landscape. Rurikoin Shrine is highly protected as a cultural property, and it used to be closed to the public. Fortunately, since 2015, it has been open during the spring and autumn months. In the spring, the shrine is opened between May and June, and in the fall, it’s opened between October and December to see the autumn leaves. The eye-catching spot is the Japanese-style room with wide windows that almost give a 180-degree view of the colorful leaves, making it one of the hot spots to see autumn leaves in Kyoto.
7. Autumn leaves at Nanzenji Temple 南禅寺
Nanzenji Temple, a sprawling estate nestled at the base of the forested Higashiyama mountains in Kyoto, is one of the most prominent Zen temples in Japan. Located just behind the former site of Emperor Kameyama’s original retirement villa, the shrine hall and garden centered around a pond become one of the hot spots to see autumn leaves in Kyoto. A part of Nanzenji Temple complex is Tenju-an Garden. It is best known for its two gardens: the rock garden and the pond garden. They’re both recommended sites to see as they’re illuminated at night during the fall. The best time to see the autumn leaves at the Nanzenji Temple is usually mid to late November.
8. Autumn leaves at Bishamon-do Shrine 毘沙門堂
Bishamon-do Shrine, located not far from the city center in Yamashina Ward, is famous for its 150-year-old cherry trees and beautiful Japanese maple trees. When visitors approach the shrine’s Chokushi-mon Gate, they will see the Japanese maple trees lining the stone showing off their brilliant shades of red during the autumn season. Bishamon-do was originally founded in 703 by the order of Emperor Monmu on Izumo Street north of the imperial palace under the name Izumo-ji. You can visit the temple by train or by taking a little hike from Nanzenji Temple.
9. Autumn leaves at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine 北野天満宮
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is one of several hundred most important shrines in all of Japan dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, a scholar and politician who was unfairly exiled by his political rivals. A few years ago, Kitano Tenmangu joined the list of Kyoto’s hot spots to see the autumn leaves. The shrine opened its gardens, at that time, to the public during the peak season which is from November to mid-December. Hundreds of maple trees line the park’s river and are lit up at night. The most famous iconic feature is the red bridge surrounded by multicolored autumn leaves.
10. Autumn leaves at Enkoji Temple 円光寺
Enkoji Temple was founded in 1601 by the Edo Period Shogunate Ieyasu Tokugawa and was originally opened for public school use. The temple has a refreshing zen garden with a pond and is an eye-catching scene all year round. The best time to visit Enkoji Temple is during the fall to see the warm-colored autumn leaves that can be seen from the main hall of the shrine. The site also has an artistic rock garden and a stunning bamboo walkway. If you want to discover new sights in Kyoto, we highly recommend visiting this shrine this fall. Not only is the hot spot very popular but it’s also really worth visiting. It gives you a peaceful and quiet environment.
Location: 13 Ichijoji Kotanicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8147 (Ichijoji Station – 15 min. walk)
So, which spot is it?
Are you ready to see the beauty of the vibrant-colored autumn leaves in Kyoto? Kyoto is known to offer a lot when it comes to viewing the autumn leaves with historic parks and rich nature. There are many places to choose from the list we provided above. Which ones have you visited? Or which one will you visit? Feel free to let us know!