The ancient city of Nara rivals Kyoto in its number of famous autumn foliage attractions. In 2021, Nara will see its fall leaves - known as momiji in Japanese - begin changing color from early December.
As a result, you can enjoy the spectacular Nara momiji at the many historic shrines and temples, at Nara Park, or at Mount Yoshino (also well-known for its cherry blossoms).
Plus, during Nara's foliage season, many places have various events, special viewing admissions, and events at night where the momiji are lit up.
While there are many places to see autumn leaves in Nara, this article will introduce five of our most recommended spots.
- Table of Contents
- 1. Nara Park: Enjoy autumn leaves together with deer
- 2. Isuien Garden: Appreciate the autumn foliage and views in two Nara gardens
- 3. Tanzan Jinja: One of Nara's Leading Momiji Viewing Spots
- 4. Hasedera: The rich coloring of Nara in autumn
- 5. Mt. Yoshino: Famous sakura viewing spot is also gorgeous during momiji season
- How is the weather in Nara in autumn?
1. Nara Park: Enjoy autumn leaves together with deer
Nara Park is a nature park that spans the eastern side of Nara City, for a total of 4 km east to west and 2 km north to south.
Deer frolic in the grass, and within the park are several shrines and temples, including Kasuga Grand Shrine, Kofuku-ji Temple, and <@Todai-ji Temple|a=article:a2000163>.
The park is also the site of Nara National Museum's "Shoso-in Treasures Exhibition," open from late October through early November.
The autumn foliage and views in Nara Park are especially vibrant, contrasting the green evergreen trees against the red leaves. While the exhibition is running, the number of visitors to Nara hoping to see both the exhibition and the momiji surges even more.
Recommended Especially for Photography Lovers
The autumn foliage of Todai-ji Temple is awe-inspiring. You can see beautiful autumn leaves in every part of the expansive temple grounds. The contrast of the Daibutsuden pagoda against the foliage as viewed from across Daibutsu Lake is a special view that can only be seen in Nara in Autumn.
The ability to enjoy seeing deer and maple trees while you gaze at the temples through the trees is also unique to the park. If you want to get a shot of the deer underneath red and yellow maple and ginkgo trees, try going to Tobihino or Kasuga Grand Shrine.
Popular among photography lovers is the park's hexagonal Ukimi-do Hall in the middle of Sagi Lake. Ukimi-do Hall is lit up every day from sunset until 10:00 PM.
2. Isuien Garden: Appreciate the autumn foliage and views in two Nara gardens
Isuien Garden is a famous scenic spot found between Nara's two most famous large temples, Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji. The garden has two sections, the front garden created in the early Edo period and the rear garden constructed in the Meiji period, both in the style of a path surrounding a pond.
Enjoying the changes as you walk around the large, circuit-style garden is extremely popular amongst international tourists, who make up over half of the park's visitors. Tourists from over 60 countries visit every year.
Looking out at the lake from the Sanshutei restaurant provides a spectacular view, but for photography, standing in front of the lake with Sanshutei in the background is even more highly recommended.
The "Rear Garden" Created in the Meiji Period is Also Beautiful
The rear garden is beautiful with natural scenery, like the Misaka-yama, Kasugaoku-yama, and Wakakusa-yama mountains stretching from the right all the way to the Great South Gate of Todai-ji Temple.
Dodantsutsuji shrubs and maple trees adorn the park, and if you walk alongside the lake, stop at spots along the way - like the Hyoshintei tea house, Yoritsuki tea house, watermill, and Yagyu-do structure - and enjoy the scenery at each location.
The adjacent Neiraku Museum of Art opens exhibitions twice a year, in the spring and fall, so be sure to stop by. On display are an expansive variety of items, such as collections of ancient Chinese bronze artifacts and ink rubbings, old seals and mirrors, as well as ceramics from the Goryeo Korean dynasty and Japanese tea utensils.
3. Tanzan Jinja: One of Nara's Leading Momiji Viewing Spots
Tanzan Shrine, located in Tonomine and dedicated to Fujiwara no Katamari, is Nara's most famous site for seeing momiji and one of the most prominent in all of Kansai as well.
The shrine's name is said to come from the way the word "tanzan" contains the characters for "discussion" and "mountain," as it is the place where Nakatomi no Katamari (later Fujiwara no Katamari) and Naka-no-Oe no Oji (later Emperor Tenji) discussed reform in the Taika era.
The shrine premises include 17 gorgeous structures designated as important cultural properties, including its main shrine, which is said to have been the model for the Nikko Tosho-gu shrine and World Heritage Site in Ibaraki Prefecture, and the only wooden 13-story pagoda remaining in present-day Japan.
Beautiful West Nikko and Illumination Events
Brightly colored trees number more than 3000 cover the entire mountainside, creating beauty just like something out of a storybook.
The scenery of the world's only wooden 13-story pagoda, the worship hall, and the main shrine peeking out from between the trees creates a glorious landscape that can only be seen in the incredible western Nikko area.
The best time for viewing autumn leaves is between mid-November through early December. From the middle to the end of November, decorative lighting events highlight the fall colors at night.
Don't Forget to Pay a Visit to the "Love Shrine"
Enshrined in the higashi-tono is Kagami-no-Okimi, said to be the elder sister of Manyoshu poet Nukata-no-Okimi. Kagami-no-Okimi, who left behind passionate love songs, was beloved by Emperor Tenji.
Afterward, due to increasing belief in her as Fujiwara-no-Katamari's wife, the higashi-tono became known as the "love shrine." To this day, the shrine is increasing in popularity as a spot for couples to visit.
After saying a prayer to the "musubi no iwakura" enshrined beside the love shrine, buying a fortune or good luck charm is said to bring good fortune.
4. Hasedera: The rich coloring of Nara in autumn
Mt. Hase overlooks the Hase-kaido road connecting Yamato and Ise. Hasedera Temple is a sacred place for the worship of the bodhisattva Kannon. It is even said to be the origin of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage and the head temple of the Shingon sect Buzan school of Buddhism.
The 11-faced Kannon, the temple's principal object of worship, is Japan's largest wooden Buddha statue at 10 meters tall. The way the goddess is depicted holding a staff in her right hand and a water jar in her left and stands on a pedestal is known as the "Hasedera style" of statue.
Hasedera is famous for enjoying multicolored flowers and autumn leaves, so much so that since ancient times, it has been called the "temple of flowers."
The momiji scenery is beautiful from wherever you look, but the view from the outer stage of the main hall (a national treasure) comes particularly highly recommended. There you can gaze at the splendid contrast and combination of the five-storied pagoda and the colorful autumn leaves of the temple. The best season for viewing is mid-November.
You Can't Miss the Special Viewing of Kannon
From mid-October through early December, the Hasedera Momiji Matsuri (maple tree festival) is held. The festival is packed with various events, including a maple tea party, concerts, and special fall temple exhibitions.
Most of all, you won't want to miss the special autumn viewing of the large Kannon statue held twice a year, in the spring and autumn. There you can enter into the national treasure Main Hall, normally off-limits to the general public, and touch the statue of the goddess Kannon's feet with your own hands.
You'll feel like you receive a special blessing and benefit by enjoying both the beautiful fall colors and the goddess Kannon.
5. Mt. Yoshino: Famous sakura viewing spot is also gorgeous during momiji season
Mt. Yoshino is highly reputed as a place to view cherry blossom trees. Mt. Yoshino is not a single mountain but actually refers to a 7-kilometer mountain ridge that stretches from Mt. Aogamine (approximately 860 meters in elevation) of the Omine Mountain Range running through the Kii Peninsula down to the Yoshino riverbed.
In contrast to the view in cherry blossom season, during the autumn foliage season, you can enjoy the splendid scenery of the entire mountain covered in red, yellow, and orange. The mountain is divided into four areas - Oku-senbon, Kami-senbon, Naka-senbon, and Shimo-senbon - and the view from each of them is absolutely breathtaking as the fall colors gradually spread from the peak to the base of the mountain.
During the autumn foliage viewing season, several spots, including the areas around the Mt. Yoshino Tourist Parking Lot and the Kinpusen-ji Temple Niomon gates, and the Naka-senbon Ogino Valley, are lit up with decorative lighting to allow for viewing the fall colors even at night.
Check Out Recommending Nara Foliage Viewing Spots in Each Area
In Shimo-senbon, taking a stroll down the winding hill road is one recommended activity. Also, at Yoshimizu Shine, which is reputed to have been designated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi as the official cherry blossom viewing lodging for rulers and aristocrats, there are observation platforms from which you can enjoy the upper, middle, and lower fall colors.
From Emperor Go-Daigo's Chokugan-ji and Nyoirin-ji Temples, you can look out over all of Mt. Yoshino. From the Kami-senbon Hanayagura observation deck, the setting of the famous kabuki play Yoshitsune and the Three Thousand Cherry Trees, you can see the entire Mt. Yoshino townscape.
Saigyoan, where the poet Saigyo is said to have secluded himself for three years, is yet another cherry blossom and autumn foliage viewing spot deep inside Mt. Yoshino. You'll want to enjoy the colors of the autumn leaves from all of these incredible viewing spots.
Enjoy Touring the Shrines and Temples and Monuments of Nara
Mt. Yoshino itself is designated a world heritage site. One attraction of the mountain is the ability to walk around several other world heritage site shrines and temples, which are the symbols of Mt. Yoshino.
A few such spots include the head temple of the Shugendo sect, Kinpusen-ji Temple, Yoshino Mikumari Shrine with its beautiful Sanzan period construction, Kinpu Shrine where statesman Fujiwara no Michinaga is said to have gone to worship, and Yoshimizu Shrine with its collection of some of Japan's oldest "shoin" writing hall.
Located periodically around the mountainside are monuments and stone slabs inscribed with poetry from Japan's most major poets, including Matsuo Basho and Yosano Akiko.
Why not take a tour of the ancient and noble shrines and temples and appreciate the poetry left by "superstars" of yore while you enjoy the autumn foliage?
How is the weather in Nara in autumn?
Autumn is a beautiful season in Nara, with pleasantly cool weather. September sees temperatures averaging around 23.4°C, but expect some rain due to typhoons.
October is a perfect autumn month in Nara, with an average temperature of around 17.7°C and less rain than September. From November onward, the temperatures decline, with an average of a cool 11.8°C for November and a crisp 6.6°C for December.
As autumn evenings in Nara can be chilly, be sure to dress in layers and bring a fleece or sweater and a warm hat as well.
*Text in this article is originally from 2019.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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