Autumn-Leaf Hunting in Tohoku - Japanspecialist

Autumn-Leaf Hunting in Tohoku

29 Nov 2022

We swear it – every season in Japan is magnificent as it can be, and there is a special place for the Japanese autumn deep in our hearts. Hanami season is the most popular time of the year for a trip to Japan, but we think you should try the Japanese autumn experience as well. We guarantee you will fall in love with Japan when trying out momijigari, aka going on the hunt for autumn leaves.

Ok, now: you've decided! It’s time to sketch out your itinerary to enjoy the red and gold foliage as much as you can while in Japan and experience some awesomeness along the way. Don’t you worry, Japanspecialist has got your back with some essential advice! Keep reading to be perfectly ready for your Japanese autumn-leaf hunt in Northeast Japan.

Don’t Forget to Check the Forecast

If your idea of a forecast is a simple weather and temperature check, you will be surprised as Japan brings the forecast to a new level. Weeks in advance, the red leaves or cherry blossoms forecast will appear on the national forecast website – and while we are waiting for the next one you can still bookmark the page to check it when needed! It also includes when to put out your laundry and whether or not you should take an umbrella with you even if the sky seems clear, but let’s keep the focus on hunting autumn leaves here.

Weather is a tricky thing and forecasts can change from day to day but the Japanese one will give you an estimation of when to visit a location to catch its autumn foliage peak. The closer we get to the season, the more precise the forecast will be – and picking your destination will get easier. However, you can still use it in advance to select the regions you will be exploring and today, we are putting our spotlight on the Tohoku region.

Autumn Colors of Naruko Gorge in Japan

Explore the Many Colours of the Autumn Season in Japan

Do you like red leaves? We do too, but don’t you forget the gold and brown ones! The Japanese autumn leaves come in many colours, not all at the same time but still creating beautiful camaieus of autumnal colours. Some locations have their specialty – as usual, and some offer a wide range of different shades while these trees are preparing to sleep for the winter season.

Now for our selection of trees to hunt for! For red foliage, your preferred tree would be a Japanese maple tree of course! The most famous symbol of Japanese autumn. It is so renowned that you can even eat snacks made from or in the shape of a maple tree leaf. Another red leaf treasure is the Japanese sumac, with its singular long and thin leaf.

As for gold, ginkgo trees have the most beautiful type of leaf – you can also try and have a look at poplar trees. For brown leaves, look out for oaks and chestnut trees in your neighbourhood. The last ones are not the most popular, but they are still worth contemplating, especially combined with other types of autumn leaves.  

Yamadera Temple during Autumn in Yamagata, Japan

Book the Perfect Ryokan

– and be flexible The best advice we could give you before your trip is to stay flexible on where to visit! If you schedule a trip outside of Japan trying to follow the peak foliage, you won’t get a precise forecast until a few days in advance, and, of course, you won’t know where the best spots will be when drafting your trip. Keeping an open mind and scheduling your excursions only when you get peak date confirmations is your best bet to enjoy as many autumn leaves as you can during your trip. Try booking accommodation with easy access to all of the sightseeing you wish to see and be patient to perfect your trip roadmap.

When deciding on where to go, make sure to book at least one ryokan with a forest or mountain view. This way, you will be certain to enjoy at least one morning surrounded by beautiful autumnal colours in a traditional Japanese setting. If you’d like to book the best ryokan possible in advance, you could also get in touch with one of our consultants to pick one in a location offering a longer autumn-leaf season.  

Smoky Outdoor Onsen (Hot Spring) in a Ryokan of Nyutou Forest, Akita, Japan

Create an Itinerary to Make the Best of It

The autumn season is similar to the hanami season in many ways. As we said earlier in this article, the schedule is crucial – but a bit random. One certain thing is the track leaves will follow: from up north to down south of Japan. This track usually starts in mid-September in Hokkaido, and goes down to Tohoku and Chubu around November, to Kanto, Kansai, and Chugoku from mid to the end of November, Shikoku, and Kyushu being the last in December. Keep in mind that those are estimates but they still give you a rough schedule and how to organize your trip.

Let’s say that you wish to tour Tohoku during the autumn season (who would’ve given you that idea?!) since the estimate is telling us that autumn colours can be seen around November, booking a trip for November in the area would get you closer to your goal. Now, if you stay flexible on your exact trip excursions, you would be able to jump on a train and get to a perfect location any day during your trip.

Another similarity with hanami season is that accommodation in popular locations tends to get very full very quickly – some people book months in advance to be sure to get the perfect hotel or ryokan, even if that means they might miss the red and gold leaves. That’s why our best piece of advice is to pick a convenient place to stay while being flexible on your excursion schedule.

Towada lake in autumn

Why Tohoku?

Because it deserves so much more love! First, and if you’re not already a Tohoku lover, check out our special Tokyo and Tohoku itinerary to discover all the wonders that await you in Northeast Japan.

Tohoku is composed of Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, and Yamagata Prefectures. The region is well known as much for its luscious and refreshing nature than its impressive historical heritage and the many traditions that you can experience there. Needless to say, since the region is less coveted than, let’s say, Kyoto for example, you will find it less touristy and with way more original activities and locations to explore.

The Tohoku area is vast, and you can't visit everything in only one trip – but the autumn season is a good start as it will reveal a beautiful facet of this mountainous region of Japan.

There are many incredible places to see in Tohoku during autumn, and many gorges offer mystical views of autumn leaves. Our first advice would be to go to the Naruko and Geibi gorges (also known as Geibikei). Located in Miyagi Prefecture, Naruko gorges are reputed as the most beautiful autumn view of Tohoku. So, you'd be right if you think it will get crowded, but they are worth seeing – another attractive point: all leaf shades will be represented there. Geibikei can be enjoyed on a calm and soothing 90 min boat ride to give you even more room to enjoy the autumn colours of the gorges.

Our last recommendation is huge, in every sense of the word. Welcome to Hachimantai National Park, a park that covers no less than 3 prefectures of Tohoku, offering many distinct locations to enjoy the autumn-leaf season and treks to remember for life. Onsen, Japan’s deepest lake, incredible trek trails, and of course – many red, gold, or brown leaves to admire along the way. A trip of the mind as much as of the body.

And that wraps up our autumn-leaf hunt advice for the day, we do hope you are now tempted to go and explore the Tohoku region as it is truly a wonder of Japanese nature and culture. Don’t wait another minute, book your autumn-leaf hunting itinerary with us and create your very own magical trip to Japan.

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A traditional red Japanese gate torii with black writing in Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan