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The Beauty of Autumn in Japan: Volume 1 - Eastern Japan

Even thought the temperatures are dropping, the change in seasonal colors from green to jewel tones of gold, magenta, vermilion, pink and yellow add a singular warmth to the atmosphere. Autumn in Japan wraps one up in a feeling cozier than any sweater. Eastern Japan offers spectacular autumn foliage, yet some places are a bit off the beaten path adding to their charm. Many have evening illumination so you many enjoy the scenery both while the sun is shining and when the moon is high in the sky. Here's a glimpse at a few famous foliage viewing locations and some special autumn festivities!

Kakunodate (Akita Prefecture)

This small town in Akita of 14,000 is home to beautiful foliage night viewing from mid October till the end of November, and is also home to many well-preserved samurai residences. The black fences and walls and white plaster houses beautifully accentuate the fall colors. One of the first locations to show its autumn colors in this region is Dakigaeri Valley, offering a variety of hiking trails from which to enjoy the foliage.

For more information about Kakunodate, visit here.

Gero Onsenji Temple (Gifu Prefecture)

The town of Gero in Japan's central mountains is famous for its onsen (hot springs) and is considered one of the three best hot springs in Japan! Onsenji Temple's main buildings are located halfway up the forested mountain, and there is a ropeway near the temple gates that offers a bird's eye view of the flamboyant autumn colors displayed below. There is also an observation deck. Ujo Park is another scenic location. Visitors can take a gentle walking path up into the hills, following a terraced stream to a waterfall surrounded by Japanese maples, glowing red as if on fire. Many areas are illuminated at night creating a romantic ambience in November.

For more information, please visit here.

Kenrokuen (Kanazawa Prefecture)

In late October Kanazawa's foliage comes breathtakingly alive with the hues of fall. In mid-November, the Kenrokuen garden offers an "Autumn Light Up" evening illumination that reveals the nighttime beauty of the garden colors-autumn leaves and yukitsuri supported trees (yukitsuri are ropes protecting the tree branches so they don't break under the weight of the snow) come aglow and appear to be floating in a dream-like environment.

For more information, please visit here.

The Beauty of Autumn in Japan: Volume 2 - Western Japan

As temperatures lower in Japan, autumn colors pop out in all their glory. From about mid-November on, Japan is awash in reds, golds, greens and browns. The colors seem to vibrate under the autumn sun and the bluest of autumn skies, and viewing the same scenery at night, by candle-lit lanterns provided by many temples, gardens and other locations, is a completely different and not-to-be-missed experience. While vibrant colors can be found all through the archipelago, for now we will focus on the foliage of western Japan.

Sagano / Arashiyama (Kyoto Prefecture)

In the western outskirts of Kyoto lies Arashiyama which, though a big tourist destination, retains a lovely charm that doesn't escape any visitors who come for its many attractions. It is during the fall, however, that the beauty of this area grows exponentially, particularly near the Togetsukyo Bridge, arguably Arashiyama's most iconic landmark. In the evening in mid-December, the Arashiyama Hana Touro offers visitors the opportunity to view the beauty of Arashiyama from the light of open-air lanterns (touro). Besides the entire Togetsukyo Bridge area, other illuminated areas are the Flower Arrangement Promenade, and Bamboo Forest Walkways. The marvelous chiaroscuro of the different locations is breathtaking.

For more information on Arashiyama, please visit here.

Hogon-in Temple (Kyoto Prefecture)

Also in Arashiyama, the Hogon-in temple is part of the Tenryu-ji Temple. From mid-November to early December, evening illumination provides visitors with a chance to see what is called a "circuit stroll garden"- its famous rock garden encircled by a beautiful promenade, enclosed by tall Japanese maple trees, with various varieties of moss, and several colossal rocks. The moss is so beautiful, especially when the fallen leaves in their autumn finery are resting upon it, that Hogon-in more than holds its own against Kokedera, a.k.a. the famous Moss Garden Temple.

For more information on Hogon-in temple, please visit here.

Nara Park (Nara Prefecture)

Nara Park is a large park in central Nara whose autumn colors show up in startlingly bright pockets of flaming red and burnished gold among the non-deciduous trees and shrubs. Within the perimeters of the park are several temples and gardens which the park's many visitors come to visit on day trips from Kyoto or Osaka. One of the main attractions of the park is the presence of the 1,200 free roaming deer which have been designated national treasures. These deer are not shy about competing for your attention as you gaze at the foliage, and might just demand a handout! It's fun to feed them with the deer crackers for sale around the park.

For more information, please visit here.

Ritsurin Garden (Kagawa Prefecture)

Ritsurin Garden was granted three stars in the Michelin Green Guide Japan and has been a favorite of visitors since its inception in the 17th century. It is one of the largest parks (75 hectares) in Japan and has been designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty. Unrivaled for its exquisite and historic pine trees (about 14,000, many of which are bonsai), there is a lovely cluster of about seventy maple trees whose gold and red colors create a stunning autumn palette both from up close or from several viewing points in the garden. Key scenic points are illuminated in the evenings during peak foliage season, creating a truly majestic atmosphere.

For more information, please visit here.

Winter Events in Japan

When the cold of a Japanese winter starts to pierce right through you, there's no better way to take the chill out of those frigid days by experiencing local events and participating winter festivals. Here are some winter events in Japan that will help you warm up and enjoy a few local traditions.

Hatsumode (Beginning of January throughout Japan)

When New Year's rolls around, you can be sure that many of Japan's population heads out to pay their respects to a Shinto shrine and/or Buddhist temple. Hatsumode is the first visit of the year, and most folks go on the first, second or third day of the new year. If you haven't visited a shrine or temple during this time, you don't know the meaning of the word "crowded"! Enjoy a snack at the many food vendors on the street and purchase an amulet for good luck in the new year!

For more information on Japanese New Year, please visit here.


Setsubun (Beginning of February, various shrines and temples throughout Japan)

Setsubun (Bean-Throwing Festival), which ushers spring into Japan via a fun-filled custom held usually at the beginning of spring on the lunar calendar, includes "mame-maki" or bean tossing, to drive away evil spirits and purify the household. Widely known events include the Setsubun Mantoro Festival at the Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara, the Naritasan Setsubun Festival at Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Chiba, and the celebration at the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo.

For more information Setsubun, please visit here.

Sapporo Snow Festival (Beginning of February, Hokkaido)

In the beginning of February, Hokkaido hosts the Sapporo Snow Festival, the northernmost island's most well-known winter event, and one of Japan's largest winter festivals. 2016 marks the 67th year that the city of Sapporo will dazzle and delight the over two million expected visitors from Japan and across the globe with snow and ice statues and sculptures.

Snow sculptures of all sizes fill Sapporo's "Odori Site" and "Susukino Site". Additionally, there are also concerts and lots of other events to enjoy.

All sites are open from morning until late. At night, the sculptures are illuminated, creating a beautiful sparkling snow and ice fantasyland. You can enjoy regional foods from all over Hokkaido, and there are staged performances and concerts, etc., often performed directly on the sculptures!

For more information about the Snow Festival itself, please visit here.


Iiyama Kamakura Festival (Mid February, Nagano)

Come and visit these wonderful "snow huts" in one of Japan's snowiest regions! Around 20 kamakura (snow huts) are available for visiting; some are big enough to hold ten adults, others just a cozy two or three. Lit from within lanterns, the nighttime scenery is both dramatic and romantic. You can eat grilled rice cakes, mushroom soup and play games in these huts.

For more information, please visit here.


Hirosaki Castle Yuki-Doro (Snow Lantern) Festival (February, Aomori)

Held in Hirosaki castle park since 1977, hundreds of snow lanterns and miniature igloos light up the night in a section of Japan where winters tend to be long. Visit during daylight hours to enjoy games and concerts. Nightime is the stuff of dreams, lit by warm lantern light. During the festival, there are many events and food stands that accentuate the area's culture.

For more information, please visit here.


Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri Festival (Mid February, Okayama)

The origins of this festival date back 500 years. A pair of lucky sticks are tossed out of a temple window by a priest. Approximately 9,000 nearly naked men fight to grab them and stick them upright in a small wooden square box called a masu that is filled with uncooked rice. The person who succeeds is blessed with good fortune for the year. Spectators can get up close and personal within the Saidaiji temple precincts, but if you'd prefer to watch from a safe distance, seats are available for a fee.

For more information, please visit here.

Spring Events in Japan

It may still be cold, but it's never too early to begin planning your trip to Japan for the early spring of 2016! Here are some local festivals and events that you won't want to miss.

Hina-Matsuri Festival (Doll Festival) (Early March, throughout Japan)

Hinamatsuri Also known as the Peach Blossom Festival, Hina-Matsuri is a celebration of the change of seasons from winter to spring, and emphasizes the wish for happy and healthy daughters. Hina dolls are the stars of this show, and you can see them in many diverse forms, surrounded by a variety of decorations all throughout the archipelago. Offerings of diamond shaped rice cakes and sweet and peach blossoms are made to accompany the festival's decoration. Notable festivities include:

Hina-no-Tsurushi Matsuri Festival in Inatori Onsen Hot Springs
(From Late January till March, Shizuoka)

Kyo Nagashi Bina at Shimogamo Jinja Shrine
(Beginning of March, Kyoto)

Hundreds of small handmade dolls made from cloth, each with a families' wish for the health and happiness of their daughters, are hung up in a beautiful display. This type of decoration is famous in the Izu area, but it originated here at the Inatori Onsen hot spring.

For more information on Shizuoka, visit here.

This is the ancient custom in Japan of floating paper hina dolls on small straw boats down a river, taking impurities, bad luck, and other troubles with them for the sake of children. Now it is celebrated in a special ceremony at the Shimogamo Jinja shrine as a man and woman dressed in traditional kimonos worn in the Heian period (9th - 12th century) float the dolls in a nearby stream and ceremonially make wishes for the health of all girls.

For more information, visit here.

Yanagase Hina-Matsuri Sagemon Meguri (February to early April, Fukuoka)

Sagemon are the ornaments made with small cloth, decorative balls and charms displayed at both sides of a tiered stand for Hina dolls. Many residents open their homes and invite the public to enjoy the sagemon and dolls, and there are also a number of other locations which have these hanging displays open to viewing, and many events are going to take place between early February and early April, including a boat parade.

For more information, visit here.

Bai-en at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (February through March, Kyoto)

The Kitano Tenmangu shrine has a famous plum garden called "Bai-en" with nearly 1,500 trees blooming from February through March. Originating 900 years ago, the baikasai (plum bloom festival) towards the end of February has a special tea ceremony. The ceremony is attended by maiko (apprentice geisha) and geiko (what geisha are called in Kyoto).

For more information about Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, please visit here.

Events in the US: Save the Date!

The New York Times Travel Show

From January 8 (Fri) - 10 (Sun), 2016, the New York Times Travel Show will be held at the Jacob K. Javits Center in NYC. It's the perfect place to gain information for your next travel experience. Join seminars, talk with experts, enjoy live performances, food tastings and cultural presentations from around the globe.

Come and drop by our JNTO booth and say hi! We'll answer your questions and help you get the latest travel and event information.

For more information, visit here.

Information is provided as a courtesy to users of this website. Though the JNTO endeavors to ensure the information is accurate, users of the information are to act on such using their own judgement and at their own risk. Neither the JNTO nor any holder of copyright to the information shall be held responsible in any way whatsoever for any loss or misunderstanding, either direct or indirect, that is incurred as a result of utilizing the information.












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