Viewing the changing colors of fall leaves or foliage, called koyo in Japanese, is autumn’s answer to spring’s more famous cherry blossom viewing; a traditional opportunity to get outdoors to live in the moment of the season and reflect on the impermanence of it all. Appreciation of the beauty of the changing seasons has been a Japanese characteristic since ancient times, and is even referenced in the novel “The Tale of the Genji;” one of the world’s first novels, written during the Heian Period (794 to 1185).
Starting in mid September the “koyo front” slowly moves its bands of color south from Hokkaido to central and southern Japan and the end of November where it turns to winter, and many families will head to local parks, or to the mountains and countryside to enjoy the cooling temperatures and spectacular views of changing leaves.
While some people celebrate the leaves much like they do the flower petals of spring, by spreading out a blanket beneath them for feasting and much drinking, it is more common for koyo to be celebrated by taking a short hike or walk through the mountains, or often in certain areas of the city, where the trees can be found.
Sometimes, the trees are further beautified by “illumination,” or the use of lights to create an even more beautiful and striking scene. Every region and location has its share of scenic spots from which to enjoy the explosion of color fall brings to Japan.
If you are interested in getting out and experiencing this quintessential Japanese tradition we have collected some options for you.
Kobe’s Chuo ku
There is much more to than enjoy herbs. A walking path winds from the mountain’s base, near the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens, up and across falls. Nunokibi Falls are a midstream plunge of the Ikuta River and one of the country’s most revered waterfalls, renowned for its water’s purity and high quality. The hike takes about 40 minutes to complete. Another way to tame the mountainside is inside the ropeway gondola. Whether on foot or by ropeway car, the panoramic views of Kobe City and the Seto Inland Sea will be memorable to say the least in fall or whenever you go.
Fukiaicho, Chuo Ward, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 651-0058 (map link)
The Sorakuen Gardens were originally attached to a private residence, but ownership was passed to the city of Kobe in 1941, and the gardens have been open to the public since. Unfortunately, most of the residence itself was destroyed in WWII, only the stables survived to be designated an Important Cultural Property to the people of Japan. The stables were joined by the relocation of two other buildings, the 1902 Hassam House, and a boat house dating from about 1700.
Only 20 minutes by car from Kobe Sannomiya Station, another world awaits. Outside of the hustle and bustle of the city, the fall colors explode around this 1000 year old temple.
Kobe’s Kita ku
Kobe City Forest Botanical Garden
The Kobe City Forest Botanical Garden, previously known as the arboretum, is a massive botanical garden and arboretum located near Mount Maya. Despite its close proximity to the city, the “garden” is an oasis of nature where you can immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the forest. There are several hiking course options, all around an hour each to complete. From the trails you can view most of the garden’s collection of 1,200 trees and shrubs.
651-1242 Hyogo Prefecture, Kobe, Kita Ward, Yamadacho Kamitanigami, Nagao 1−2
Shiawase-no-mura is a comprehensive welfare complex equipped with a variety of facilities designed to support independent living for the disabled and the elderly, and their participation in society. These facilities make up the developed 70 HA portion of the total 205 hectares of land (506 acres). Strolling around the various outdoor activities and walking courses is a great way to spend a fall day.
Futatabi Park is a small protected area of wild space featuring a walking path around Shiogahara Pond. Besides the stunning fall foliage the park is well known for plum and cherry blossoms, as well as azaleas.
651-1102 Hyogo-ken, Kobe-shi, Kita-ku, Yamadacho Shimotanigami, Nakaichiriyama, 4-1 (map link)
Kobe’s Suma ku
Another temple just outside of town, Zenshoji Temple is a famous for the many old maple trees that dot the mountain behind the temple and its grounds. It is often referred to as the “Momiji Temple” because the leaves around the main temple are particularly lovely, drawing people to their colors every autumn.
2 Chome-5-1 Zenshojicho, Suma Ward, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 654-0001 (map link)
Sumadera was founded in the year 886 as a temple of Shingon-shu, a Buddhist sect founded by Kobo Daishi. The grounds are famous for cherry blossoms and fall colors, but also for pieces of mechanical art, each imbued with its own meaning and significance, are installed against the beauty of the grounds.
Suma Rikyu Park
Suma Rikyu Park is 20 minutes by car from the center of Kobe, this western style, specifically Victorian garden offers a variety of plants, especially roses and iris, as well as seasonal flowers and autumn colors like plum trees alongside water features like fountains and views of Osaka Bay.
1-1 Higashisuma, Suma-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 654-0018
Okusama Park is just to the east of Taikyodan Shinki Shrine, and is famous for fireflies. 54 species inhabit the park due to intensive conservation efforts. Stroll about the park and enjoy the autumn leaves of the natrual forests, rice terraces, grasslands and not one, but 7 ponds to explore.
654-0133 Hyōgo-ken, Kōbe-shi, Suma-ku, Tainohata, Wakabayashi (map link)
Kobe’s Nishiki ku
Taisanji Temple was first established in 716 by the Empress Gensho, the main temple hall, completed in 1293 is a designated National Treasure of Japan.
Shiawase-no-mura from www.shiawasenomura.org
Okusama Park from www.kobe-park.or.jp