Visiting Japan in October: The Best of Autumn in Japan

Visiting Japan in October - Matsumoto shrine with red autumn leaves

The best travel experience of my life was visiting Japan in October. As a fall foliage fanatic, I loved seeing the country decorated in vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. And when you add in pleasant weather, cheaper travel, and traditional festivals, autumn in Japan becomes the ideal time for a trip.

I’m sure cherry blossom fans are shocked to hear this bold statement! However, I’ve been to Tokyo and Kyoto for sakura season, and I still feel the fall season in Japan is superior.

Don’t believe me yet? Keep reading, and we’ll see if I can convince you…

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Visiting Japan in October: What You Need to Know

Why is October a good time to visit Japan?

Kanazawa stone bridge over river viewed during autumn in Japan

I could fill an entire book about why you should travel to Japan in October! But that would be impractical, so I’ll offer you this list instead:

  • Magical walks through forests of red and gold
  • Hot onsen baths on crisp evenings
  • Centuries-old festivals with traditional events like horseback archery
  • Pumpkin-filled taiyaki
  • Comfortable, relatively dry weather across the country
  • Fewer crowds at tourist attractions and popular cities
  • Cheaper accommodation and airfare (compared to cherry blossom season and summer)

Is it cold in Japan in October?

Japan is a multi-island nation with a very diverse climate. October in Hokkaido looks (and feels) very different from October in Okinawa.

That being said, October is the rare month where weather is pleasant across the entire country. Even in the northern parts of Japan, high temperatures hover around 16°C/60°F.

As you head south, temps continue to rise. Central Japan (around Tokyo/Kyoto) and Kyushu see highs around 22°C/71°F, while Okinawa is a warm 25°C/77°F.

However, elevation plays a big role in how cold it gets. For example, the mountain areas of Kamikochi National Park are far cooler than nearby Matsumoto city, especially when the sun goes down.

You’ll find a fall packing list for Japan further down the post.

Will I see fall foliage in Japan in October?

Togakushi Mirror Lake with fall foliage and white clouds

As I mentioned above, Japan is spread across multiple climates. This means that not all areas will get autumn foliage at the same time.

Koyo (fall foliage in Japanese) starts at Hokkaido in early October, and spreads south towards central Honshu over the course of the month. Mountain areas like Nagano will get autumn colors sooner because of the cooler temperatures.

By the end of October, autumn foliage will have peaked in places like Nikko and Aomori, but will have just kicked off in Tokyo and Kyoto.

This post will cover some of the best places to see autumn leaves in Japan. But to create your ultimate momijigari (leaf-peeping) trip, you should use an updated forecast.

The current year’s weather affects when the leaves start turning, so always check the koyo forecast before planning your itinerary!

Do I need travel insurance in Japan?

Whether you’re going to Japan for three days or three weeks, I always recommend buying travel insurance. This is especially true if you plan to hike in semi-remote places to see autumn leaves, where emergency medical care and transport are costly.

You probably spent thousands of dollars planning the perfect trip. But it only takes one injury, family emergency, or cancelled flight to derail your vacation (and your bank account).

I use World Nomads to protect my international trips. Their affordable policies cover everything from emergency medical treatment to lost luggage, and their claims team is available 24/7 to help in your moment of need.

Request a quote today and enjoy the peace of mind.

What to wear in Japan in October

Woman in red yukata representing what to wear in Japan in October

Layers are the secret to dressing for autumn weather in Japan. Even in the northern cities, the midday highs in October are often warm enough for t-shirts and pants. But temperatures drop during the mornings and evenings, making a jacket essential.

I’m a big fan of minimalist packing and carry-on only travel. I managed to fit a week’s worth of clothes into my PacSafe Vibe 30L, and they worked for 20°C/70°F days in Tokyo and 7°C/45°F evenings in the Nagano mountains.

Here’s what to include in your fall Japan packing list:

Check out my hiking gear guide if you’re planning some outdoor adventures in Japan!

My Favorite Japan Travel Planning Books

These books win my travel blogger Seal of Approval for vacation planning:

Best places to visit in Japan in October

Nagano

Togakushi forest path with fall foliage during October in Japan

Nestled in the mountains of central Honshu, Nagano prefecture is an ideal place to spend October in Japan. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, with waterfalls, hiking trails, and scenic viewpoints galore.

Around mid-October, fall foliage spreads through the region, and peaks towards the end of the month. While nearby Tokyo is still pretty green, cities like Karuizawa and Komoro are awash in red and gold.

Luckily, Nagano is only an 80-120 minute train ride away from Tokyo, so you can easily take a leaf-peeping day trip.

Some of the best things to do in Nagano include visiting Shirato Falls in Karuizawa, hiking the Togakushi Shrine path, and watching the famous snow monkeys of Jigokudani take an onsen bath.

Book your Nagano snow monkey trip here!

Kamikochi

Kamikochi forest river path with distant mountain view

Kamikochi is widely considered to be one of the country’s most beautiful national parks. The pristine mountain valley is stunning year-round, but this famous place in Japan truly comes alive in October.

From golden larches reflecting in Taisho Pond to red Japanese maple leaves drifting on the breeze, Kamikochi is a wonderland for fall foliage in Japan. And the main trails are accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels, so you can enjoy this autumn jewel without fancy hiking gear.

The only tricky thing about Kamikochi is that it’s somewhat remote, and there’s a motor vehicle ban in the park. However, it’s easy to travel here by bus if you do a little research.

Fortunately, I wrote a detailed Kamikochi hiking guide to help you have an amazing, stress-free trip!

Hokkaido

Famous Hokkaido red bridge over river with golden autumn leaves in Japan

Japan’s northernmost main island is a land of rugged natural beauty. Volcanic mountains and dense forests surround the island’s developed cities, providing plenty of opportunities for leaf peeping.

When people ask where to go in Japan in October, Daisetsuzan National Park is often the answer. Daisetsuzan is Japan’s largest national park, and it’s famous for being the first place in the country to get autumn foliage.

Don’t Forget Your Japan Rail Pass!

Having a Japan Rail Pass can save you a ton of time and money when traveling around Japan. I’ve used a JR pass for two out of three Japan trips, and here’s why:

– Easy to use: Just show your pass to the gate attendant!
– Free bullet trains: Quickly travel all over Japan to maximize vacation time.
– Affordable day trips: Visit popular places like Nara, Nikko, Kanazawa, and more without spending a fortune!

Order your Japan Rail Pass today!

Lake Towada

Lake Towada shoreline with view of fall trees and mountain

This vast crater lake inside Towada-Hachimantai National Park is one of the most popular autumn destinations in Japan. Boat tours ferry guests around the lake, offering amazing views of the red and gold trees that surround the shore. And there are numerous hotels and onsen resorts that make for a relaxing home base.

Nearby Oirase Stream is also renowned for its stunning autumn colors, which peak around late October.

Save me for later!

How to plan a trip to Japan in October - collage of Japanese castles, shrines, and bridges    How to spend autumn in Japan - Mount Fuji with autumn tree and lake

Nikko

Nikko shrine with view of lake and red Japanese maples

Waterfalls, canyons, golden mountaintop shrines… If Nikko isn’t on your radar, it should be!

Nikko is best known for Toshogu Shrine, the opulent final resting place of shogunate leader Tokugawa Ieyasu. The village sits at the edge of Nikko Nationa Park, which boasts some of Japan’s best places for fall color in October. Highlights include Lake Chuzenji, Kegon Falls, and Ryuokyo Canyon.

Nikko is only 2 hours away from Tokyo by bullet train, so it’s a great autumn day trip option. Its beautiful and peaceful location also make it ideal for visitors traveling to Japan alone.

Nara

Nara deer in front of lake with shrine and fall foliage

With sacred deer roaming ancient temple grounds strewn in autumn leaves, it’s no wonder Nara is a fall favorite.

Fall foliage in Nara doesn’t peak until November, but places like Mt. Wakakusa will take on color starting in late October. Even if the weather pushes back koyo, you can still enjoy the town’s amazing attractions, like Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Grand Shrine, without heavy crowds.

Check out my Nara day trip guide to make the most of your trip!

Kanazawa

Kanazawa castle viewed through orange autumn leaves

If you want to feel as though you’ve walked back in time, Kanazawa should be on your itinerary.

Use my Kanazawa day trip guide to plan your visit!

Unlike other Japanese cities, much of Kanazawa has been preserved since the Edo period. You can explore centuries-old neighborhoods, a ninja temple, and the iconic Kanazawa Castle against a backdrop of fiery hues. Kenroku-en Garden, with its red Japanese maples, is especially lovely in late October.

Kanazawa is on a direct shinkansen line from Tokyo, making it an easy day trip or secondary destination.

Book your Kanazawa historical walking tour here!

Fuji Five Lakes

View of Mount Fuji and lake framed by red and gold leaves

Mount Fuji and cherry blossoms are synonymous with Japanese beauty. But the sacred mountain and surrounding lakes are perfectly accentuated by fall foliage.

Aside from taking in the natural splendor, the Fuji Five Lakes area is home to Fuji Q Highland amusement park, hot springs resorts, and multiple museums.

Plan your visit for the last few days of October for the best chance to see autumn colors.

Book your Fuji Five Lakes tour here!

Kyoto

Traditional Japanese temple with orange wooden bridge leading to it

Kyoto in October is all about the festivals. Though autumn colors don’t arrive until the last few days of October, the lighter crowds and cultural events make Kyoto a great addition to a fall itinerary.

Check out my Kyoto 2 day itinerary to plan your visit!

On October 22nd, the grand Jidai Matsuri festival celebrates the founding of the city. Thousands of performers dressed as geisha, samurai, and other historical figures parade through the streets towards Heian Shrine.

In nearby Arashiyama, dozens of women dressed in colorful Heian period costumes participate in the Saigu Procession (Saigū Gyōretsu). This event recreates the purification and departure ritual of a royal woman leaving to serve as a shrine priestess.

Set up a traditional Kyoto experience or local tour here!

Tokyo

People dressed in Halloween costumes getting photo taken in Tokyo

Visiting Tokyo in October is a great idea. While you won’t see much autumn foliage, the lighter crowds and Halloween festivities more than make up for it.

Halloween may be a Western holiday, but in the land of cosplay, it’s a full-blown celebration. All month, shops and restaurants decorate with displays and sell themed food and merchandise. And on the 31st, the streets of Akihabara look like an outdoor Halloween party.

For the ultimate Halloween experience, head to Tokyo Disney. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter comes alive with pumpkins, giant cobwebs, and skeleton wreaths. And experiences like the Haunted Mansion and Spooky Boo! parade transform the park into a magical must-see.

Book your skip-the-line Tokyo Disney tickets here!

If you’re looking for more traditional October festivals, you’re in luck. There are a number of fireworks festivals, parades, and fall markets in the city and surrounding suburbs. This article has a list of what to see and when.

Use my detailed guide to spending 6 days in Tokyo for an amazing experience!

Nagoya

Nagoya Castle with red tree and partly cloudy sky view

Anyone interested in Japanese history and culture should visit Nagoya in October. Near the middle of the month, the city puts on its largest event: the Nagoya Festival.

It’s a cultural extravaganza featuring two days of parades, traditional folk music, horseback archery competitions, and plenty of must eat Japanese food. Modern elements, like marching bands and motor vehicles, are also woven into the festivities.

Autumn color doesn’t usually arrive in Nagoya until November. However, attractions like Nagoya Castle and the Sakae entertainment district provide plenty of amusement in addition to the festival.

Other Japanese autumn festivals in October

Kurama Fire Festival

Known as hi-matsuri, Japanese fire festivals are beloved by locals and tourists alike. On the evening of October 22nd, the hot spring village of Kurama hosts an epic, flaming processional up to Yuki Jinja. Hundreds of villagers clad in traditional garb carry torches through the streets, and add them to the bonfire once they reach the shrine.

Nagasaki Kunchi

From October 7-9, parades and performances take over the city of Nagasaki. This popular festival has everything from sailboat-looking floats to energetic traditional dancing. Foreigners should check out this website for more information on how to watch the events, as seated tickets are difficult to buy outside of Japan.

Your best bet for enjoying this festival is to book a local guide.

Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival

On the evening of October 4th, more than 2,000 red paper lanterns drift through the streets of Nihonmatsu. Locals bob and weave as they carry the seven floats holding lanterns and drummers. It’s one of Japan’s most impressive lantern festivals, especially when the floats travel in front of Nihonmatsu Castle.

Nada Fighting Festival

If you think Japan is all about quiet rituals and pretty lanterns, think again! Every October 14-15, male residents of Hyogo prefecture put on a wild show of strength and destruction.

Day one of the Nada Fighting Festival involves a blessing and parade of decorated floats. But on the second day, groups of men in traditional clothing ram three floats together in an effort to destroy one. All this action is set to beating drums and chanting onlookers, making it one of Japan’s more lively fall events.

Where to stay during autumn in Japan

From capsule hotels to fancy resorts, accommodation in Japan spans all budgets and travel styles. However, I highly suggest booking a ryokan for your autumn trip to Japan.

Ryokans are traditional guest houses that offer an authentic Japanese cultural experience. Expect to find woven tatami mats in your room, a wooden soaker tub in the bath, and plush futon mats for sleeping.

When we stayed at Yuzuya Ryokan in Kyoto, we enjoyed perks like afternoon tea in our room and amazing kaiseki dinners overlooking a Japanese garden. It was an unforgettable experience!

Many ryokans also have onsen (hot spring baths), which feel incredible after a long day of leaf-peeping.

6 thoughts on “Visiting Japan in October: The Best of Autumn in Japan”

  1. Ok this is AMAZING. I have to agree with you— I love Japan in the fall. We’ve been to Kyoto in November and it is absolutely magical with all the gorgeous foliage and delicious seasonal cuisine. Will have to visit these other destinations in autumn next time! Hokkaido looks incredible.

    Reply
  2. How many days do you think are ideal for an October visit to Japan? Would 10 days be sufficient? If so, which cities and parks would you prioritize? We would likely travel from Oct 17-27. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Great question, Vanessa! 10 days is a fantastic amount of time to spend in Japan. The leaf forecast changes every year depending on the weather, but you’ll definitely see some great colors in Hokkaido and mountainous areas like Nagano prefecture. I did my 5 day Nagano itinerary in late October and saw plenty of autumn foliage. Nikko, Sapporo, and Daisetsuzan National Park would be great as well.

      Reply
  3. Thanks so much for this wonderful article Chelsea! I visited Japan during sakura season and I have been wanting to visit Japan in fall. I have a tentative plan to have a small simple wedding ceremony in Japan next fall. Do you have any recommendations on this? I was thinking a small simple gathering in Hakone or Fuji lakes but open to more ideas. Goal is to have an intimate wedding with the beautiful fall nature background and then everyone can just enjoy being in Japan. Look forward to your thoughts!

    Reply
    • That sounds lovely, Rachel! There are a ton of hotels and resorts in the Hakone/Fuji Five Lakes area, and I’d imagine many would be able to host your guests and do a wedding dinner. A ryokan would also be a good option if you only have a very small number of guests.

      If you’re hoping for a view of Mount Fuji during the ceremony, I suggest an early morning or late afternoon ceremony, as the clouds and mid-day haze can obstruct the view. Waiting until the first week of November should give you more clear viewing conditions, as well as good fall foliage. Check out 37 Frames Instagram for some lovely Mt. Fuji wedding shots. Congrats and best of luck with the planning!

      Reply

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