Japan Travel Guide
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Skip Japan’s Cherry Blossom Season and Come for the Autumn Maples Instead

PHOTO: Japan National Tourism Organization

This colorful display is absolutely jaw-dropping.

Travelers flock to Japan in droves from March to April to see pink cherry blossoms dot the trees. But for locals, the best and most underrated time of the year to explore Japan is autumn, when the leaves on the maples turn into a technicolor rainbow.

Leaf peeping, as it’s called in the States, is known as koyo or momiji-gari in Japan. Just like cherry blossom trees, the red maple and Japanese maple leaves start to change at different times depending on where you are in the country. The mountainous regions and northern areas like Hokkaido will see the leaves begin to turn in September. For other areas like Kyoto, Tokyo, and Osaka mid-October to early-December is a safe bet. Prime viewing areas last for about two weeks. See the chart for the 2018 fall foliage forecast.

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PHOTO: Terence Toh Chin Eng /Shutterstock
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Niseko

For those up north, take a train to the famous ski resort area of Niseko. Stunning during winter, the trees turn a deep red in autumn from mid-October to late-October. Surrounded by trees, Zaborin Ryokan is an outstanding place to see the foliage of Hanazono Forest and the nearby volcano. The 15-room hotel is a complete luxury experience with your own private indoor and outdoor onsen and award-winning dining options.

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Karuizawa

From Tokyo, there are a number of overnight excursions to see the leaves change. Head to HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, a contemporary luxury resort in the middle of a forest with a river running through the property, from late-October to early-November. There are fiery maples outside your balcony and a chance to take an eco-tour with Picchio.

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Nikko

Another popular destination hidden in between mountain ranges and volcanos is Nikko. Here you’ll see yellows and reds along the lake while sipping tea at the British Embassy Villa Memorial Park. Ryuzu Falls has breathtaking colors. Stay at Kanaya Hotel, the country’s oldest operating Western hotel or wait until the Ritz Carlton opens in time for the 2020 Olympics.

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Mt. Fuji

After a visit to Nikko, head south from early-November to early-December to see Mt. Fuji from the floor to ceiling windows of your glamping cabin at HOSHINOYA Fuji. The red leaves against the white snow on Mt. Fuji makes for one seriously epic Instagram picture and a mental image you’ll never forget.

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PHOTO: MC_Noppadol / Shutterstock. ; 2. Hoshino Resorts
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Kyoto

Farther south in Kyoto, the HOSHINOYA Kyoto is perched on the Oi river. Watch the leaves turn under the lanterns in the common-area garden near the waterfall, during morning yoga at the Zen garden or from your private bay window overlooking the water.

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PHOTO: Suksamran1985 /Shutterstock
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Kinosaki

From mid-November to late-November take a train two and a half hours west from Kyoto to Toyooka and the famous Kinosaki onsen town. A great place to visit year-round, autumn is the perfect opportunity as a chill hits the air, and the outdoor onsen trees start to change. Kinosaki has seven public onsens you can visit wearing your ryokan kimono. Nishimuraya Hotel Shogetsutei also has luxury private onsens you can reserve if you’re feeling shy. The nearby city of Toyooka has castle ruins and a quaint town to explore under the changing foliage.

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PHOTO: Hoshino Resorts
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When to Go

By early December, the leaves will have fallen making way for a whole new type of peaceful Japanese scenery. An increasingly popular time of the year, fall is a favorite for the country’s citizens. Be sure to book accommodation and transportation in advance, so you don’t miss out on the vibrant natural beauty of autumn in Japan.