Top 10 Spots For Kyoto’s Fall Foliage: Fiery Reds and Luscious Oranges in the Ancient City (2020)

Top 10 Spots For Kyoto’s Fall Foliage: Fiery Reds and Luscious Oranges in the Ancient City (2020)

by Live Japan
Live Japan

Throughout Japan, autumn brings a spectacular display of changing leaves as maples turn red and ginkgos shift to yellow. In Kyoto, the autumn landscape and the distinctly Japanese scenery of the city’s temples and shrines converge to create unforgettable scenes.

Here are ten excellent spots where you can fully enjoy the autumn colors in Kyoto and the best time to see them as you take in the city’s elegant atmosphere.

1. Kiyomizu Temple: This is the true meaning of autumn in Japan!

Kiyomizu Temple overlooks the Higashiyama area and is perfect for getting the feeling of ancient Kyoto. The nearest station is Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Keihan Railway, and from there, it’s about a 25-minute walk east to the temple. A top tourist draw, the temple is also close to other attractive sites like Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka.

The autumn colors are in full view from Kiyomizu-dera’s hilltop main hall, also called the “Kiyomizu Stage.” The carpet of autumn colors spreading across the Kin-un-kyo Gorge below is breathtaking, and feeling the refreshing air while taking in the view from the main hall is the epitome of “Autumn in Japan.” The best time to experience this inspiring scene is from late November to early December.

Lit up at night

When viewed from the Koyasu Pagoda, the stage itself stands out tastefully among the autumn colors. From November 18 - 30, 2020, there will be special evening hours so visitors can see the illuminated autumn leaves.

Kiyomizu Temple
1-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0862
Phone Number
Hours: 6:00 - 18:00, November 18 - 30 until 21:30 (last entry 21:00) for autumn night viewing
Admission: Adults 400 yen (high school students and above), junior high and elementary school students 200 yen

2. Tofukuji: Maple sea right before your eyes

Tofukuji is the main temple of the Tofukuji School of the Rinzai sect and boasts the largest temple hall in Kyoto. The name “Tofukuji” is a combination of the names of Nara’s Todaiji and Kofukuji temples. Many cultural properties have been preserved on the site, including the country’s oldest temple gate.

Maples begin to turn red in mid-November, and are at their best from late November to early December. Seen from Tofukuji’s Tsutenkyo Bridge, they look like a sea of red ​​clouds, giving viewers a heavenly perspective.

Since it’s very crowded in autumn, photography may be prohibited on Tsutenkyo. However, if you go down to the Sengyokukan Gorge, you’ll have the opportunity to take some spectacular pictures. From Keihan Tofukuji Station or JR Tofukuji Station, it’s an easy 10-minute walk to the temple.

Tofukuji Temple
15-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0981
Phone Number
Hours: 8:30 - 16:30 (last entry 16:00), open from 9:00 from the end of April to October, closes at 16:00 from 1st Sunday of December to the end of March
Admission: November 10 - 30: Honbo Garden - adults 500 yen, elementary/junior high school students 300 yen; Tsutenkyo - adults 1,000 yen, elementary/junior high school students 300, Combined ticket for both - adults1,000 yen, elementary and junior high school students 500 yen

3. Nijo Castle: The harmony of the fall leaves and Honmaru Garden

Nijo Castle is home to several important cultural properties, including the national treasure Ninomaru Goten, the main East Gate, and the corner Southeast Watchtower along the outer moat. Easily accessible via Kyoto Municipal Subway’s Nijojoumae Station, the palace and its three gardens are a major tourist attraction.

Nijo Castle leaves a variety of impressions throughout the four seasons and is even more attractive during the fall foliage season (normally mid-November to early December). Maple and ginkgo planted along the moat turn bright red and yellow, further inspiring a walk through the castle grounds. The contrast between the complex’s southeast corner and the maples is also beautiful, with a very “Japanese” feel. The Ninomaru garden is designated as a special scenic site, and Seiryuen Garden is transformed in autumn. Viewers will find a passion for the fascinating imagery of Nijo Castle amidst the serenity.

Nijo Castle
541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, 604-8301
Phone Number
Hours: 8:45 - 16:00 (17:00 when the castle is closed), 8:00 - 17:00 in July and August (18:00 when the castle is closed)
Admission: Adults 1,030 yen (including Ninomaru Goten viewing fee), 350 yen for junior high and high school students 350 yen, elementary school students 200 yen, (all tax included); closed December 29 - 31

4. The Philosopher’s Path: Take a stroll along the riverside

© Kyoto Media Support Center

The Philosopher's Path is so named because the philosopher Kitaro Nishida, who served as a professor emeritus at Kyoto University, and his students would walk in thought along the path. Now, modern walkers come here to enjoy cherry blossoms in spring, fresh greenery in summer, and autumn colors in fall.

The path is built along a canal, making a stroll along the path is pleasing to both the ears and the eyes with the sound of flowing water and the red leaves. There are many unique shops along the way, and it’s fun to stop into a few while enjoying the maple trees outside.

The best viewing is from mid- to late November. Getting off at the Ginkakuji-michi bus stop via the Kyoto City Bus is recommended to visit Ginkakuji Temple.

Tetsugaku no Michi
Shishigatani Honenin Nishimachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, 606-8427

5. Eikando Zenrinji: An enchanting view of 3,000 maple trees

Eikando Zenrinji Temple, seen as you go south along the Philosopher’s Path, is so well known for the beautiful autumn colors it has been called “Momiji Eikando” (Japanese maple Eikando) since ancient times. The temple’s Tahoto Pagoda and the 3,000 maple trees surrounding it form a breathtaking scene that has inspired many a poet to celebrate its beauty.

Tahoto is situated atop the highest point on the grounds making it possible to look out over Kyoto with the striking autumn leaves in the foreground. During the peak leaf viewing weeks (usually from November to early December), lights make Eikando Zenrinji a dramatic nocturnal sight.

Eikando Zenrinji
永観堂 禅林寺
48 Eikandocho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, 606-8445
Phone Number
Hours: 9:00 - 17:00 (last entry 16:00)
Admission: Adults 600 yen, junior high and high school students 400 yen; during autumn temple treasure exhibition, adults 1,000 yen, 400 yen for students; for light-up events, 600 yen for junior high school students and above

6. Bishamondo: A carpet of fallen red leaves

Bishamondo derives its name from Bishamonten, one of the seven deities of good fortune said to bring in good luck for the New Year and to whom the temple is dedicated. Known for its autumn leaves, the grounds become aglow with maple leaves. Fallen leaves turn the approach to the main hall into a red carpet, and slowly ascending the stone steps is an exceptional experience.

Additionally, the area around Bishamondo is also dense with autumn colors, creating an amazing atmosphere.

The best time to visit is from mid-November to early December. Get off at JR/Kyoto Municipal Subway/Keihan Yamashina Station and walk about 20 minutes to arrive at Bishamondo.

18 Ansyuinariyamacho, Yamashina-ku, Kyoto, 607-8003
Phone Number
Hours: 9:00 - 17:00 (last entry 16:30), December to end of February closes at 16:30
Admission: Main hall, adults 500 yen, high school students 400 yen, elementary and junior high school students 300 yen, other areas free of charge

7. Ryoanji: Maple autumn leaves complement the stone garden

Ryoanji Temple is famous for its dry landscape garden where fifteen large and small stones are arranged in white gravel. Depending on their imagination, viewers often see the stones as islands and waves, rivers and rocks, and more.

In leaf viewing season (usually from late November to early December), you can see colorful red and yellow maples peeking over the rock garden wall. The leaves complement the garden to form a unique landscape seen only during this brief period.

The red maples surrounding Kyoyochi Pond make a walk around the large pond even more enjoyable. The closest station is Ryoanji Station on the Keifuku Electric Railway. Also, if you walk east on the road in front of Ryoanji, you’ll reach Kinkakuji Temple and its famous golden shrine in about 20 minutes.

13 Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, 616-8001
Phone Number
Hours: 8:30 - 17:00 (8:30 - 16:30 December -February)
Admission: Adults (high school students and above) 500 yen, elementary and junior high school students 300 yen

8. Arashiyama: Enjoy the natural gradation of colors

© Kyoto Media Support Center

© Kyoto Media Support Center

Arashiyama is in the Nishiyama area of Kyoto’s Ukyo Ward. Centered around the Togetsukyo Bridge that spans the Katsura River, it is one of the most scenic spots in Kyoto and hosts countless visitors from Japan and abroad.

From mid-November, Arashiyama’s maple trees are dyed red and yellow, creating a picturesque landscape in striking contrast with the fresh green months. Pictures with the colorful mountains in the background and the bridge in front are frequently subjects of social media posts.

To reach Togetsukyo Bridge, get off at JR Saga-Arashiyama Station or Hankyu Arashiyama Station and walk for about 15 minutes. There are plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops in the area to enrich your visit.

Saganakanoshimacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, 616-8383

9. Kyoto Prefectural Botanical Garden: Trees from around the world light up the night

Kyoto Prefectural Botanical Garden is Japan's oldest public botanical garden. It is located right next to Kitayama Station on the Kyoto Municipal Subway, giving it easy access.

The southern half of the park features a large flower bed and a symmetrical Western-style rose garden. Conversely, the northern half is home to the natural Naragi-no-Mori forest. Botanical beauty can be appreciated throughout the entire garden, including the Plant Ecology Garden, where flora from all over Japan are planted in conditions close to their natural environment.

In autumn, the area around the forest is uniquely beautiful when species such as Japanese maple, metasequoia, ginkgo, and Formosan gum change color. From mid-November to late November (November 14 – 29, 2020), the garden is lit up at night, and the beauty of the trees and the colorful leaves is intoxicating.

Kyoto Prefectural Botanical Garden
Shimogamo Hangicho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, 606-0823
Phone Number
Hours: 9:00 - 17:00 (last entry 16:00), open until 20:00 November 14 – 29 (last entry 19:30); closed December 28 – January 4
Admission: Adults 200 yen, high school students 150 yen for, junior high school students and younger free, (all tax included)

10. Kifune Shrine: A landscape of lanterns and autumn leaves

Although its construction date is unknown, Kifune Shrine is known to be extremely old. About an hour from Kyoto Station by train or bus, it's a little far, but you’ll be able to witness the unspoiled natural beauty of the mountains and a different atmosphere than that of the central areas.

The torii gates at Kifuneguchi (the shrine’s entrance) and vermillion lanterns that line the steps between the two are truly impressive. When the autumn colors arrive in early November, and with the lanterns alight, the scene becomes even more moving. Every year, the leaves themselves are also illuminated in the evening and take on an air of fantasy.

Kifune Shrine
180 Kuramakibunecho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, 601-1112
Phone Number
Hours: 6:00 - 20:00 (closes at 18:00 December – April)
Admission: Free

Let's go to see the autumn leaves unique to Kyoto!

Kyoto’s famous shrines and temples, which are typically calm, quiet places, become more lustrous in autumn, with some lighting up their fall foliage to add to the fascinating atmosphere. Be sure to visit Kyoto during this special season!

*The above article is based on information from June 2020

Via Live Japan

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