As autumn in Japan rolls around, the temperature starts to drop, people turn to warm comfort foods, and from the north to the south the leaves start to change color. Autumn leaves (koyo in Japanese) viewing is a popular Japanese pastime, and a must when visiting Japan during the autumn months of October–November, when the landscape is covered with beautiful autumn foliage. Lake Kawaguchi, situated in Yamanashi prefecture, west of Tokyo, is one of the best spots for viewing autumn leaves as the majestic Mt. Fuji acts as a stunning backdrop for the fall colors.
To celebrate this beautiful time of year the annual, free-entry Autumn Festival is held at Lake Kawaguchi around the Maple Corridor, which is lined on both sides with maple (momiji in Japanese) trees. This year the Lake Kawaguchi Autumn Festival runs from 1 – 23 November.
A sign pointing to the Momiji CorridorAt the Momiji Corridor visitors can take a stroll alongside red, brown, orange, and yellow maple trees in full bloom, while taking in the fresh, crisp cool air. Beautiful pictures can be taken of the trees from both sides connected by a bridge.
Trees in the Momiji Corridor in full bloom in early NovemberOnce making the complete loop, visitors are directed to stalls selling handmade Japanese ceramics, woodcrafts and traditional Japanese street food. Here, I picked up a momij manju for 100 yen, a small leaf-shaped cake filled with delicious sweet bean paste.
Handmade Glass Wind chimesAlong the main road were more stores selling everything from handcrafted glass jewelry, to intricate woodcarvings and weaved lamps. Food stalls sold a mixture of common Japanese street food, such as yakisoba, baked squid and chocolate covered bananas, and more autumnal offerings such as roasted chestnuts, seasonable fish on sticks, and a range of snacks made with satsumaimo (reddish sweet potato) such a sweet potato fries, and baked sweet potato.
Long potato fries, dango, and fish on sticks
Sweet potato fries and takoyakiI enjoyed a fish-shaped taiyaki cake filled with sweet potato paste, and dango–soft dumplings smothered in sweet sticky sauce–year-round Japanese food festival favourites. There was even a slight international presence this year with a Turkish stall selling kebabs, long potato fries, and elastic ice cream to the delight of children.
Dango with sweet sticky sauce
Fish-shaped taiyaki cake with sweet potato fillingLuckily I visited on a clear, sunny autumn day and across the road from the Maple Corridor I could see Mt. Fuji. Walking along the waterfront excellent photos of the mountain, the autumn leaves, and the clear waters can be taken. I strongly suggest taking some time to walk along the water enjoying the view of the lines of trees, Mt. Fuji, fishing boats and birds on the lake. I took pictures in the morning and just before sunset and was blown away by the natural beauty of each scene.
The lake waterfront lined with autumn trees
A beautiful view of Mt. Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi with autumn foliage.If you have time and are keen to make your koyo viewing of Mt. Fuji complete I suggest that you visit the Momiji Tunnel. Visitors often get the Momiji Corridor and the Tunnel mixed up, and I was actually confused about the difference before consulting a helpful clerk at the information desk at Kawaguchi station. The Momiji Tunnel refers to a road lined with several beautiful broad-leaf maple trees, with great views of Mt. Fuji.
There are no buses that can be taken directly to the spot but after investigation I found out that the spot could be reached in 20 minutes by foot from bus stop number 22, the last stop on the red line. From the Natural Living Centre I walked along the road to the tunnel, if you decide to take this route take care as the road is narrow at points and cars pass closely by. On the way I saw some persimmons on the side of the road, a fruit synonymous with the autumn season in Japan.
Persimmons on the side of the roadWhen I reached the road lined with trees I could already see enthusiastic photographers taking pictures of Mt. Fuji and the autumn leaves. There was a small parking lot where people had left their cars to take pictures. It is no wonder that many guidebooks about Japan have used professional photographs taken from the spot in their pages. I enjoyed taking pictures of Mt. Fuji perfectly framed by the maple trees.
Breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji from the Momiji TunnelAs the sun started to set I took the bus back to stop 19 to view the Maple Corridor at night. The trees are beautifully lit up with spotlights and lanterns from sunset to 10pm. The trees are beautiful both in the natural sunlight and when illuminated at night. It can get very busy at night with people taking pictures, so if you’re not comfortable with crowds I recommend going in the day time. Also keep in mind that as the season comes to a close the leaves start to fall into the centre and create a beautiful gradient of yellow, red and orange. I went last year nearer to the tail end of the festival so I got to see this first hand.
Mt. Fuji seen from the Maple Corridor as the sun goes down
The Momiji Corridor illuminated at nightLake Kawaguchi is a popular spot in every season with cherry blossoms in full bloom in spring, lush greenery in summer, and calm waters in winter where Mt. Fuji is reflected perfectly in the lake. If you’re looking to take the quintessential shot of Mt. Fuji among the fall coloured foliage I strongly recommend visiting Lake Kawaguchi this season!
Getting to Lake Kawaguchi
Lake Kawaguchi is easily accessible from Shinjuku station via train or bus. Fujikyu and Keoi buses go directly from Shinjuku Bus Terminal to Kawaguchiko Station. It takes two hours and costs 1,750 yen. Buses also depart from Tokyo Station (Yaesu South Exit) and Shibuya (Mark City).
By train, from Shinjuku station take the JR Chuo Line to Otsuki Station (70 minutes, 2,500 yen on express train or 100 minutes, 1,320 yen by local train). Take the Fujikyu Railway Line to Kawaguchiko Station (55 minutes, 1,140 yen) from Otsuki station.
For a cheaper and quicker journey I recommend taking the bus there. However, taking trains can be a novel experience if you go on the quirky old style train and want an absolutely breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji as you pull into the station. The JR Tokyo Wide Pass also covers the journey.
Getting to the Festival
To reach the Autumn Festival from Lake Kawaguchi you can take one of the sightseeing buses. The red line buses tour the Lake Kawaguchi area, and the yellow buses tour the Lake Saiko area. Take the red line to stop number 19, the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum, this will bring you directly to the Maple Corridor where the festival takes place. The bus rides costs 380 yen one way. You can buy a pass for 1,300 yen which gives you unlimited travel for the day on both lines, but only get this if you’re planning on taking the bus to many places in the Kawaguchi and Saiko area.