As Sean Bean famously once said on one of my favourite TV shows, Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming!”
Thankfully here in Japan we don’t have to contend with wildlings or white walkers, but the cold, cold winter of Japan can be long and bitter, even in a place as temperate as the Kansai region.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom, before the “nights start drawing in” as the old colloquialism goes, there’s the small matter of Autumn. It may be something of a cliché these days, but it is true to say that Japan is indeed one of the few nations on Earth in today’s era of climate change and global warming that does still enjoy 4 full seasons of weather.
And for many people here in Japan, Autumn is the most romantic, and indeed beautiful season of the year for sightseeing and taking a day trip.
Photo: sunnywinds* on Flickr
The main reason for venturing out in the Autumn for most Japanese is to partake in viewing the often stunning changing leaves on the trees that adorn the many national parks, recreational gardens and historical sites dotted around the country.
In April, people gather to view the blossoming Sakura cherry blossom trees, Autumn is kind of the inverse of this occasion, as the leaves turn varying shades of red, yellow, brown and sometimes even gold. But it is no less beautiful, in fact, if you ask me, in certain places it is even more beautiful than similar sites in the sakura season.
So, where are the best places to view such stunning sites in the Autumn in Kansai?
Here for you today, dear readers, I present Kansai’s finest, and most romantic, venues for viewing the Autumn leaves.
Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
Already established as one of Kansai’s most prominent tourist sites, Kiyomizu Temple is also a great place to view both the April Sakura blooms and the Autumn falling leaves.
Autumn foliage at Kiyomizu Temple
Photo: Laika ac on Flickr
One of the reasons why it is such a stunning venue is not simply because of the abundance and diversity of trees on show, but also the high elevation.
The view from below is equally mesmerizing
Photo: ORAZ Studio on Flickr
As it towers above the rest of Kyoto city from its relatively high point, Kiyomizu Temple offers panoramic views of the entire cityscape and the assortment of different coloured trees therein.
Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto
If you head to the outskirts of Kyoto, going in the direction of Osaka, you will find Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Photo: Ari Helminen on Flickr
I should say from the outset, if you’re not the type of person who enjoys walking or hiking up hills, then this may not be the one for you. It only takes about an hour or so to go from the bottom to the top. And even more so than Kiyomizu Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine is surrounded by beautiful forests, and has a far higher elevation over the city of Kyoto. Being located outside the city centre also affords a wider, sweeping viewpoint from which to enjoy the full beauty of the autumn trees.
The name may translate to “mountain of the storm” but in truth I’ve seen very few places in Japan more tranquil and picturesque than Arashiyama. In the autumn context, Arashiyama holds a special place in my own memory. It was the highlight of my first ever trip within Japan shortly after I moved here. My then girlfriend and I went there for my birthday in November of 2006. It was and remains one of the most romantic experiences of my entire time here in Japan.
Arashiyama during Autumn
Photo: Moyan Brenn on Flickr
I have been to many places and seen many different Autumn tree formations in those days, but none have captured my heart quite so strongly as the stunning beauty and romance of sailing along the river in a small wooden boat towards Arashiyama. If you go to just one place with your loved ones this Autumn, make sure it is Arashiyama in November.
Mount Yoshino, Nara
We head southeast from Kyoto now, towards Nara, and the scintillating surroudnings of Mount Yoshino. Whilst this famous hiking trail is perhaps better known as a place to enjoy Sakura in early April. However, again simple geography and the joys of biodiversity dictate that this is also a prime location for viewing autumn leaves as well.
Additionally, autumn, with its cool, but not too cold, climate and the seemingly ever present gentle mountain breeze make this the perfect time to undertake the two or three hour mountainous hike through the tree-adorned hiking trail, taking in a number of small temples and shrines along the way. Mount Yoshino offers a great blend of splendid views, culture and just a touch of spirituality too.
Osaka Castle Park, Osaka
Last but certainly not least by any means is the world famous Osaka-Jo Koen, otherwise known in English as Osaka Castle Park.
A tourist’s dream photo-op, there a few better opportunities for taking photos that fully capture the atmosphere and picturesque beauty of Japan in the Autumn than Osaka Castle Park.
Autumn colours at the Osaka Castle Park
Photo: Jeff Boyd On Flickr
The sight of the various red, brown and yellow hues of the trees with the stunning castle sitting high above the park is one of the most iconic images in Japan. Autumn and Spring are equally enjoyable in Osaka Castle Park, but autumn, with its vivid colours and watercolour sunsets seems somehow just that little bit more romantic.
There are few places in Japan that capture that romantic spirit of Autumn better than Osaka Castle Park.
So, there you have it, five of the best places to see the Autumn leaves in Kansai. Of course there were quite a few other close contenders that didn’t quite make the list. The likes of Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Suminoe Park in southern Osaka and Hamadera Koen, in Hagoromo near Osaka are all worthy of a mention too. Wherever you go, and whoever you are with, I hope your Autumn in Kansai will be as memorable, as romantic and as beautiful as mine have been. Here’s to many, many more!