Enjoy the autumn colors in Kyoto, Japan

Photos by Nano Betts
Photos by Nano Betts

Enjoy the autumn colors in Kyoto, Japan

by Nano Betts

With shorter days and crisper air – plus all the seasonal produce like mushrooms, chestnut and sweet potato filling up the shelves – I feel sad to bid good-bye to vibrant summer days, but feel equally excited for autumn and that proper feeling of hygge we all crave. Most of all, I look forward to seeing colors turn. There is something truly majestic about autumn in Japan: the eye-catchy yellow gingko trees lining up the avenues and draping maple trees seem matching so perfectly with time-kissed wooden shrines and landscape gardens. If you happen to find yourself in Kyoto during this time, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I traveled there last November specifically to admire koyo (colorful autumn leaves in Japanese). I traveled during the fourth week and sadly only caught the tail end of the season, but there still were plenty of nooks where maple trees were at their peak. Of course, it does vary from year to year and Japan Guide does a superb job providing foliage updates each season. While everywhere you look is beautiful, I put together this list to share some of the best places to view autumn leaves in Kyoto in case you plan a trip there. From the most touristy to the off the beaten track places in Kyoto, I’m sure you’ll find a perfect place to enjoy the beauty of this amazing time of year.


While it is most popular for its bamboo grove, Arashiyama is stunning during autumn as well. Take a stroll along the river or, better yet, take a boat ride to enjoy the multi-colored thick gorge. Best of all, take a hike in its lush forest, and reward yourself with this off-beat tofu restaurant in the end.

Adashino Nenbutsu-ji Temple

While in Arashiyama, make sure you also visit this truly gem of a place. hundreds of Buddhist statues cover the ground intended to commemorate those who died without families to remember them and create somewhat eerie atmosphere.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

I’ve written aplenty about one of the most striking temples in Kyoto. Remember, the further up you go, less crowded it gets. Also, do stop at the udon restaurant on your way down and slurp to your hearts content as you admire the view of the forest from the comfort of your tatami seat (or char, in my case).

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Touristy as it might be, visit to this temple is a must, especially in fall. I highly recommend coming just before sunset, because that magical golden cast upon the colorful hills make it even more stunning.

Tofuku-ji Temple

Probably one of my favorite temples in Kyoto, Tofuku-ji has a beautiful gateway arch – the oldest in Japan – that leads to an expansive medieval complex consisting of 24 temples. Four contrasting gardens – both dry gravel and landscaped – are arranged around the main hall. In addition, I don’t think anything can compare to the sight of the burnished maple trees that cover the entire grounds.

Enkou-ji Temple

This zen temple, first established in 1601 as an educational institution, is tucked away in the north-east of Kyoto. One of the primary features is a stunning garden containing a bamboo forest and numerous maple trees which is so picturesque as to attract crowds during fall.  The garden also has a remarkable underground water basin that allows visitors to appreciate the delicate sound of dripping water.

Nanzen-ji Temple

Nestled in the forested foothills of Kyoto, Nanzen-ji was turned into a temple after the death of its owner – Empreror Kameyama – and became the most powerful Zen temple in Japan for a time. The sprawling grounds feature enormous San mon (Triple Gate) symbolizing entrance into the sacred part of the precinct; a peaceful Leaping Tiger Garden and the brick aqueduct which serves as a nice photoshoot backdrop.

Bishamon-do Temple

If you want to see the fiery red maple tree galore, then Bishamon-do Temple, located in Higashiyama Mountains, is a perfect place for you. This antient temple dating back to the 8th century AD can be reached easily by hiking from Nanzen-ji Temple. It’s an easy stroll with a bit of gentle climbing.

Kodai-ji Temple

Established in 1605 and serving as one of the largest and most important sub-temples of Kennin-ji, Kodai-ji is renowned for its beautiful design and exquisite craftsmanship. There is so much to explore here and the grounds were absolutely stunning during autumn. I enjoyed wandering around and taking in the scenery of the expansive garden of serene pools swimming with colorful koi, hills of meticulously tended moss, a forest of tall bamboo, tea houses with thatched roofs and the rock garden with raked grey gravel.

Eikando Zanrin-ji

This zen temple dating back to the 9th century is undoubtedly one of the best spots for colorful foliage viewing in Kyoto. You could easily spend a couple of hours here admiring the scenery of maple trees, ponds, and rock gardens. The view of the pagoda nestled in the woods is one of the most iconic fall views of Kyoto and one of the main features of the temple is the statue of Amida Buddha with a turned head.

Ginkaku-ji Temple & Philosopher’s Path

Ginkakuji, the brown sister of the famous Golden Pavilion in the opposite side of the city – has it all: landscape garden, antient wooden temple and a lush garden to compliment the scene. After you are done touring it, take a walk along the Philosopher’s Path. It was beautiful in spring, I bet – it is equally so in autumn.

Daigo-ji Temple

The temple features iconic one-storied pagoda set behind the vermillion bridge a colorful array of maple trees. Ieven if you don’t paint, this place is so perfect, it will make you want to pick up the brush and start creating a landscape painting.

Ennaruyama Reikan-ji Temple
This temple is truly off the beaten path, mostly because you can access it only a few times during the year, and autumn is one of those periods. Their maple tree grove contrasts so nicely with aged stone lanterns and the thick moss that covers the grounds. Quite picturesque, if you ask me. Honen-in Temple next doors is also offers a beautiful foliage and a quite respite from the crowds.

Kifune Shrine

Northern mountains of Kyoto City which hide a dormant town Kibune which is home to Kifune Shrine. According to legend, a goddess traveled in a boat from Osaka all the way up the river into the mountains north of Kyoto, and Kifune Shrine was built at the site where her boat journey had come to an end. Kifune Shrine is dedicated to the god of water and rain and believed to be the protector of those at sea. Here you can obtain a unique type of fortune written on paper slips (omikuji) that reveal their messages when dipped into water. Actually, many flood to Kibune to escape the summer heat and feast on a kaiseki meal served kawadoko style, when a covered tatami dining patio are extended over the river where visitors can enjoy a meal as the water flows beneath them, while lanterns and fireflies illuminate the surroundings in the evenings.

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