While summer is too hot, winter too cold and spring simply too busy, autumn is the Goldilocks pick of seasons for visiting Japan.
Autumn brings golden leaves, clear days and plenty of festivals to enjoy, not to mention delicious seasonal treats. Make the most of the bright-blue skies with city strolls and mountain hikes while saving the chillier evenings for warming hot pots, fireworks and even a soak in a hot spring. Fall in Tokyo truly has the best of both worlds, but not everyone knows it yet, so you can avoid the crowds and view the leaves to your heart’s content.
1. Tokyo’s autumn weather: Blue skies with a chance of rain
As September rolls in, the heat and humidity of summer slowly begin to dissipate, but it’s not as fast as you might hope. If you’re struggling with the tail end of the summer heat here’s a few tips on staying cool, but the best aid is simply knowing it will soon be over.
While it’s still warm enough to picnic in the park, evenings get chilly—and there’s also typhoon season to contend with. At their peak from August to October, typhoons can vary to what, say, the UK would consider a normal day (heavy rain and wind) to genuinely dangerous storms. By way of example, in 2019, Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan, resulting in mass flight groundings, close to 100 deaths and billions of dollars in damage. So what we’re saying is, while they don’t often get this serious, they can. Review our typhoon guide so you know what to expect.
2. What to wear in autumn: Looking good in layers
A tricky season, autumn calls for optional layers above all. You’ll be warm (or hot in September) in the day time and notice a real cooling as the sun sets, so be prepared for both. You can be sure of some rain too; keep an umbrella near in case of mild typhoon days (they’ll carry you off on stronger days).
3. Activities: Leaf viewing and beyond
Koyo—meaning leaf-viewing—is as much a part of autumn in Japan as cherry blossom is of spring. The changing of the season has a slightly more somber feel than the fresh blossom, but it is celebrated nonetheless. Look out for local festivals like Mt. Takao’s month-long event, evening illuminations like Rikugien’s, and special displays at parks and gardens across the city. We’ve picked out some of the best spots in Tokyo as well as some fantastic day trips to give you all those fall feels.
If you’re looking to travel a little farther afield, check out these suggestions for a weekend away in autumn-capital Nikko, autumn leaves across the country, with special picks for old-school capital Kyoto and the foodie-haven that is Osaka.
4. Seasonal foods to feast on
Baked sweet potato, roasted chestnuts and pumpkin croquettes are all delicious highlights of seasonal change. It’s also the time for warming hot pots, root vegetables, and the first batches of classic staples like rice and sake.
Known as shinmai, the new rice of the year is a real treat, and only available from September to December. Likewise, the fresh sake (brewed in winter and aged over summer) is offered in fall, so keep an eye out for hiyaoroshi and akiagari kinds in restaurants and stores.
Here are the best foods to try from mushrooms to grilled fish to sweet persimmon.
5. Autumn festivals and events you can’t miss
With a backdrop of reds and golds, the festivals of autumn are especially beautiful and there are plenty to see.
Some of the best autumn-themed events include:
- Mt. Takao has an month-long autumn leaf celebration with food stalls, dance performances and a local orchestra.
- Kichijoji’s Autumn Festival is a vibrant celebration with portable-shrine parades and street foods galore.
- The Setagaya Hachimangu Autumn Festival features student sumo along with the usual parades and food stalls.
- The Okunitama Chestnut Festival dates back to 1738 and has copious amounts of chestnuts and lanterns.
- The Takigi Noh Performance is a rare opportunity to see the traditional performance by firelight.
- Tsukiji’s Autumn Festival brings crowds to the original fish market of Tokyo, so be sure to arrive hungry!
- The Hachioji Ginko festival has a Showa-era theme, so expect vintage cars, old checking station tours, and golden ginkgo trees, of course!
- The Fuji-Kawaguchiko Fall Leaves Festival has the famous momiji tunnel, autumnal snacks and incredible views of Fuji.
- The Dara Dara Festival lasts a whole 11 days and takes place at Shiba Daijingu in September
- The Nakanobu Nebuta Festival brings the floats of Aomori’s famous festival to the streets of Shinagawa.
- The September Sumo Tournament has cushion-throwing, fancy footwork and good-old grappling in a sandy sumo ring.
- The Oeshiki Festival as Honmonji Temple sees an elegant evening procession of lanterns and blossom commemorating the death of Buddhist leader Nichiren.
- The Kawagoe Festival is the city’s biggest of the year with festival floats carrying unusual dolls.
- The Kawasaki Halloween Parade is one the coutnry’s largest, with countless costumes and characters to spot.
- The Dream Yosacoy Festival has processions of over 7,000 dancers showing off their moves on the streets of Tokyo.
Top regular events in autumn
They’re not specifically fall-themed, but they’re great events nonetheless: