The ancient capital of Nara is packed with spots to enjoy Japan’s renowned fall foliage! From around mid-October, Nara’s leaves will gradually change color, transforming Nara Park, Mt. Yoshino, and dozens of other historical shrines, temples, and mountains into the ultimate locations to experience the dazzling spectacle of autumn in 2020!
- Table of Contents
- 1. Nara Park – Spot Hundreds of Local Deer Amongst the Foliage!
- 2. Isui-en – Fall in Love with the Foliage at Two Different Gardens!
- 3. Tanzan Shrine – Nara’s Most Celebrated Autumn Spot!
- 4. Hasedera Temple – A Breathtaking Amalgamation of Autumn Color!
- 5. Mount Yoshino – Just as Beautiful in Autumn as Spring!
- 6. Shoryaku-ji – The ‘Village of Brocade’
- 7. Muro-ji Temple – Stunning Fall Colors in an Ancient Monastery
- 8. Chogaku-ji Temple – One of Japan’s Top 100 Foliage Spots!
- 9. Chogosonshi-ji Temple – Vivid Reds Transform This Deeply Historic Mountain
- 10. Mitarai Valley – The Most Beautiful in Nara!
1. Nara Park – Spot Hundreds of Local Deer Amongst the Foliage!
Nara Park can be found on the east side of Nara City. Spanning a whopping four kilometers east-west and two kilometers north-south, this natural park is home to hundreds of deer and several shrines and temples - including Kasuga-taisha shrine, Kofuku-ji temple, and Todai-ji temple. It also holds the Shoso-in storehouse, where the numerous treasures held inside are exhibited every year from the end of October to the beginning of November.
The park’s stunning fall foliage provides a captivating contrast between its numerous evergreen trees. As autumn lines up with Shoso-in’s treasure exhibition, the area becomes absolutely packed with sightseers, so do plan ahead!
The best photo spots in Nara Park are here!
If you’re after a winning autumn photo, the spacious grounds of Todai-ji temple are packed with extremely photogenic fall leaves! The scene is best captured from across the Obutsu Lake, where the burning red colors can be contrasted against the muted hues of the Great Buddha Hall.
Of course, you’ll also want to get a photo of the deer framed by autumn leaves! For this, we recommend heading to Tobihino or Kasuga-taisha shrine. Passionate photographers should also check out Sagi-ike pond and the eye-catching hexagonal Ukimi-do hall standing in its water.
2. Isui-en – Fall in Love with the Foliage at Two Different Gardens!
Nestled in between two of Nara’s most important temples; Todai-ji temple and Kofuku-ji temple, is the glorious Isui-en Park. The front section of the park, constructed in the early Edo period, and the inner park, added during the Meiji Restoration, both feature tranquil ponds encircled by a path perfect for relaxing strolls. For the keen eye their subtle differences in construction brilliantly highlight the trends of their respective eras.
With over half of the visitors being from overseas, the park has become an international hit! Within a year, visitors from more than 60 different countries made their way to Isui-en. While standard photos of the area frame the park’s glorious autumn colors from the traditional Sanshu-tei restaurant, our recommended angle is from the front of the pond with Sanshu-tei as the background.
Best photo spot: The ‘kouen’ inner park, constructed during the Meiji period
From the right side of the inner park are sweeping views Mt. Mikasa, Mt. Kasuga Okuyama, Mt. Wakakusa, and Todai-ji’s Nandai Gate. During mid to late November, the park is decorated by spectacular red foliage from native trees that elevate the beauty to astonishing levels!
- Address 74 Suimon-cho, Nara City, Nara 633-8208
Access: 12-minute walk from Kintetsu-Nara Station on the Kintetsu-Nara Line, or a 25-minute walk from Nara Station on the Yamatoji Line
- Phone Number 0742-25-0781
Opening Hours: 9:30am - 4:30pm (Admission until 4:00pm)
*April/May until 5:00pm (Admission until 4:30pm)
Admission: 1,200 yen (includes museum) *tax-included
Holiday: Tuesdays (open during Tuesdays on public holidays, next weekday is off), park maintenance period (end of December to mid-January or during late September)
3. Tanzan Shrine – Nara’s Most Celebrated Autumn Spot!
Tanzan Shrine, which deifies the founder of the Fujiwara Clan, Fujiwara no Kamatari, is in a lavishly forested area renowned across Kansai for its autumn foliage. Here the legendary Fujiwara discussed and planned the Taika Reformation with the man who would become Emperor Tenji. The shrine was thus nicknamed ‘Katarai Yama,’ meaning ‘the mountain of discussion,’ which evolved into its current name written using the characters for ‘discuss’ and ‘mountain.’
Within the grounds is a shrine said to be the original model for the World Heritage Nikko Tosho-gu shrine in Tochigi, along with the one-and-only existing wooden thirteen-story pagoda and 17 other impressive buildings all designated important cultural properties.
During autumn, over 3000 trees bury the mountains in a red blaze, making it appear like a scene from a painting. Seeing the famous pagoda and shrine buildings rising out of the sea of red illuminated by the western sunlight is breathtaking. The peak of this spectacle is generally from mid-November to the beginning of December.
4. Hasedera Temple – A Breathtaking Amalgamation of Autumn Color!
Mt. Hase presents sweeping views of the Hase highway, an ancient vein that once connected the Yamato and Ise Provinces. It is also home to Hasedera Temple, one of the 33 sacred centers on the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage and the head temple of the Buzan-ha Buddhist sect. This temple holds the largest wooden 11-faced Kannon statue in Japan - which is a whopping 10-meters tall! This sacred representation of Kannon has her standing on a pedestal while holding a staff in her right hand and a jug of water in her left, which has since become known as ‘Hasedera-style.’
Hasedera Temple has long been called ‘The Temple of Flowers’ due to its stunning floral surroundings that includes elegant foliage in autumn. While the area’s beauty is boundless, we recommend viewing the scene from the outside decking of the main temple building, which is a designated national treasure. From here you can see spectacular views of 5-story pagodas in an ocean of red leaves. Peak time is mid-November.
5. Mount Yoshino – Just as Beautiful in Autumn as Spring!
Mt. Yoshino is known as a contender for Japan’s most beautiful cherry blossom hotspot. However, this impressive region, which is not just a single mountain but a roughly 7-kilometer range running from the Aonegamine mountain to the bank of the Yoshino River, also puts on a fantastic autumn display! Contrasting from the colors of spring, autumn covers the region with stark reds, yellows, and oranges. From late October to late November, these colors will slowly creep down the mountain, starting from the very top and finishing at the bottom, creating breathtaking views.
6. Shoryaku-ji – The ‘Village of Brocade’
The construction of Shoryaku-ji temple was ordered by Emperor Ichijo and carried out by high Buddhist priest Kenjun, who was himself the child of famed Japanese politician Fujiwara no Kaneie. The temple lies among the mountains in the suburbs of Nara City and is surrounded by more than 3000 maple trees that gradually change color from the beginning of November. The treetops are a mix of green, yellow, and red, creating an enchanting blend said to be reminiscent of intricately woven brocade fabric - thus earning the nickname ‘Village of Brocade.’ From around the same time until the end of winter, over 1000 shrubs of nandina lining the shrine path bear red berries, adding extra brightness to the fiery display!
The main temple holds a special public event from the beginning of November, where a statue of the normally concealed ‘Medicine Buddha’ is unveiled to the public. The autumn views overlooking the garden from nearby Fukujuin are also spectacular.
- Address 157 Bodaisencho, Nara, 630-8413
Access: 20-minutes via taxi from Tenri Station on the JR Sakarai Line or the Kintetsu Tenri Line. (During peak autumn a temporary bus runs direct from Nara Station on the JR Yamatoji Line and Kintetsu Nara Station on the Kintetsu Nara Line).
- Phone Number 0742-62-9569
Opening Hours: 9:00am - 5:00pm (4:00pm with admission until 3:30pm for the foreseeable future)
Admission: 500 yen
7. Muro-ji Temple – Stunning Fall Colors in an Ancient Monastery
Muro-ji is a mountain monastery of Shingon Buddhism originally established during the Nara era by monk Kenkyou of Kofuku-ji before being rebuilt by Kukai. Even long ago, the monastery was welcoming to female worshipers, with women from all over the area congregating to pray. It thus earnt the nickname ‘The Mt. Koya for Women.’
Besides being the home of numerous cultural heritage items, this historic monastery’s lavish surroundings beget stunning views throughout the seasons. Its amazing autumn colors, which peak from mid-November to the beginning of December, can be appreciated from dozens of viewing points. Most prominent is the shrine road, which begins with an arched bridge at the entrance and finishes at a 5-story pagoda, along with the steep steps of the magical Yoroizaka.
8. Chogaku-ji Temple – One of Japan’s Top 100 Foliage Spots!
Constructed at the wish of Emperor Junna by famed monk Kukai, Chogaku-ji is an ancient temple sitting on a mountain pass. The temple’s spacious 4 hectares hold Japan’s oldest bell tower gate and many other national treasures along with a pleasing array of year-round colorful flowers!
Chogaku-ji’s renowned fall colors finally earned the recognition it deserved through its inclusion in Japan’s official ‘Top 100 Foliage Spots.’ There’s nowhere better to appreciate its magnificence than from the main temple’s veranda, which overlooks the entire scene. During the fall season, the powerful ‘Painting of Hell’ (a designated ‘Cultural Property of Nara’) is exhibited, complimented by periodic explanations by the head priest. The peak autumn period is mid to late-November.
- Address 508 Yanagimotocho, Tenri-shi, Nara 632-0052
Access: A 20-minute walk from Yanagimoto Station on the JR Sakarai Line. You can also take a 14-minute bus ride (62-line Tenri – Sakarai) from Tenri Station on the Kintetsu Tenri Line or from Sakarai Station on the JR Sakarai Line or Kintetsu-Osaka Line. The temple is an 8-minute walk from the Yanagimoto or Uenagaoka bus stops.
- Phone Number 0743-66-1051
Opening Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Admission: 400 yen
9. Chogosonshi-ji Temple – Vivid Reds Transform This Deeply Historic Mountain
Halfway up Mt. Shigi (437m) is Chogosonshi-ji Temple. Named from Japanese phrases meaning ‘you must believe, you must respect,’ this mountain bears the legend of Bishamonten’s first appearance in Japan. One of the four heavenly kings and an important figure in Japanese Buddhism, Bishamonten is said to have appeared before Prince Shotoku and led him to the battlefield. This miracle occurred during the hour of the tiger, on the day of the tiger, in the year of the tiger. This resulted in the temple’s reverence of tigers, who are believed to be a god of protection. Now the shrine’s symbol, various paper-mâché ‘lucky tigers,’ not seen anywhere else in the world, can be spotted throughout the temple grounds!
Once autumn rolls around, gorgeous multicolored leaves dominate the temple grounds and surrounding mountains. To see over 1000 Japanese maple trees at their brightest, visit between early November to early December.
- Address 2280-1 Shigisan, Heguri, Ikoma-gun, Nara 636-0923
Access: Take a bus heading towards Shigisan-mon from Oji Station, which is on the JR Yamato Line or Kintetsu Ikoma Line. After around 22 minutes, get off at the Shigi Ohashi bus stop. From here the temple is a 5-minute walk.
- Phone Number 0745-72-2277
Opening Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm (admission until 4:30pm)
10. Mitarai Valley – The Most Beautiful in Nara!
The beauty of Mitarai Valley’s dozens of waterfalls and boulders is heightened by its transparent emerald-green water. This year-round beauty is only surpassed during autumn, whereby the depth and variety of color is multiplied by the various species of maple tree that slowly change color beginning from the valley’s peak. Everywhere you look, your vision will be dominated by the dynamic combination of brilliant autumn leaves, majestic waterfalls, and fascinating boulders! Definitely don’t miss out on crossing the suspension bridge in the Mitarai Valley Promenade, which provides the best views by far! Peak autumn colors are generally in mid-November.
- Address Kitozumi, Tenkawa, Yoshino-gun, Nara 638-0303
Access: Take the bus bound for Dorogawa Onsen or Nakaiosumi from Shimoichiguchi Station on the Kintetsu Yoshino Line. After an approximately 60-minute bus ride, get off at Tenkawa Kawai. The gorge is an approximately 45-minute walk from there.
TEL: 0747-63-0999 (Tenkawamura Information Center), 0747-63-0321 (Tenkawamura Local Administration)
Visitors are free to enter as they please
Now you know 10 places in Nara to see amazing autumn foliage - we hope we’ve given you enough inspiration to make your autumn Japan trip one to remember! This list is comprehensive, reaching from the streets of Nara City to the dense forests of Tenkawa, so you now know as much as the locals do! Topping it off, Nara’s deep history as the ancient capital of Japan means its temples have deep autumn traditions, providing even more reason to visit during this fantastic season! Don’t forget to check out online about light-up events and other fun activities held during this time!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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