Autumn is arguably the best time to be in Japan. As the blazing heat and suffocating humidity of the summer begins to fade, the quiet and cool beauty of fall enters. Students go back to school, leaves change their color, and the cooler nights become a perfect time to take a stroll under the starry sky. For many people in Japan, autumn marks the end of hectic summer vacations, signaling a transition to a season filled with delicious food, gorgeous scenery, and a flourishing of the arts.
Dig into Seasonal Cuisine
If you’ve ever heard of the Japanese phrase “食欲の秋 (shokuyoku no aki, which can be translated as "appetizing autumn"),” you must already know that autumn is the season for eating in Japan. There are plenty of delectable foods you can only enjoy during this season, starting with the aromatic matsutake gohan (pine mushroom rice), salt-grilled fresh sanma (mackerel pike), and juicy pears and persimmons. Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), chestnuts, and sweet potato are also popular fall ingredients; you can taste pumpkin croquettes, candied chestnuts, and yakiimo (baked sweet potato), handed to you still piping hot by the vendor.
Grilled sanma with grated daikon radish. ©TsunaguJapan.com
To fully experience the tastes of autumn, why not book a kaiseki meal? Kaiseki is a multi-course Japanese dining experience that brings together the freshest seasonal ingredients, presenting them artistically in their most natural state. You can be sure that any kaiseki meal incorporates the freshest seasonal fish and produce! For example, during the recent summer, fresh bamboo leaves are spread beneath the dish, and the ingredients float on a bed of finely crushed ice. In autumn, one of the most important seasonal dishes will be the flavorful matsutake clear soup. Also during autumn, carrots are cut into the shape of maple leaves, and simmered chrysanthemum leaves and petals are beautifully sprinkled to mimic the image of fallen leaves in a garden.
Explore Japanese Art, Tradition, and Culture
Another phrase appropriate during fall is “芸術の秋 (geijutsu no aki),” which literally means “autumn, the season for art.” In Japan, fall symbolizes freshness and new endeavors, due to the mild climate and crisp air; it is a season for both artists and art enthusiasts to appreciate art and encounter artistic inspiration. Art exhibitions and events are held all across the country, making it is a perfect time to explore the various aspects of Japanese traditional art, including tea ceremony, ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement), traditional dance, museums, public gardens, pottery warehouses, and handicraft shops.
In particular, November 3rd is a special day known as Bunka no Hi (Culture Day) – a national holiday that celebrates the arts, academic endeavors, and Japanese culture. This holiday is celebrated all across the country, with exhibits, parades, festivals, and shows held in dozens of major cities. One of the most famous festivals is the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages) in Tokyo, for which people dress up in various historical costumes; the streets are filled with parading samurai warriors, dancing geisha, and more.
Jidai Matsuri in Kyoto. ©Kyokanko.or.jp
Jidai Matsuri in Kyoto. ©Kyokanko.or.jp
Experience the Colorful Beauty of Fall in Japan
Japan is famous for its cherry blossoms in the spring, but the fall foliage is just as beautiful, if not more. Compared to the autumn foliage of Western countries, Japan's can start as early as September and last until December, depending on where you are. Because of Japan's geographical location, leaves are exposed to sunlight for a longer period of time than in Europe or North America, leading to brighter and richer colors.
There are hundreds of picturesque spots across the country to view the colorful autumn leaves, some more famous (and therefore more crowded) than others. In Kyoto, a popular city any time of the year, you can see the autumn foliage beautifully lit up along the lake at Daigo-ji temple, the leaves reflected in the waters making for a gorgeous panorama of red, orange, and yellow. At Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki, enjoy a breathtaking view of crimson leaves covering the hills of the park. Or, get away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and lose yourself in a world of colors while hiking in the Nikko National Park in Tochigi.
Autumn is undeniably a wonderful season to visit Japan, whether its for the natural scenery, or the traditional culture. We hope you'll have a chance to experience for yourself the food, arts, and scenery you can only enjoy during this time of the year!