Autumn has become a popular time for tourists to visit Japan. The months of good weather, scenic views of the autumn foliage and seasonal festivals make for a great vacation. Here are a few things to keep in mind while planning a trip to Japan in autumn.
1. What’s the weather like in Tokyo in autumn
The season starts out warm, with temperatures in September ranging from 21 to 27 degrees (Celsius). You should expect at least a few days of rain, particularly in September. In October the temperatures drop a little bit, to between 15 and 22 degrees (Celsius). And finally, before winter temperatures hit, November becomes cooler, about 9 – 17 degrees. It is the ideal time to come visit, the weather is perfect for hiking and outdoor activities are plentiful.
However, it’s important to note that from the start of July till October Japan experiences typhoon season. Typhoons are tropical storms characterized by high speed winds and heavy rains, basically hurricanes of the pacific. Usually these storms are most frequent and stronger when they pass through the South Island of Okinawa, Shikoku and the Kansai region, slowing down and losing intensity as they travel north.
Keeping a watchful eye on these typhoons, Japan has a well-developed weather prediction system, and is most often close to accurate. They can track the course of a typhoon days before the storm hits, warning locals and travelers alike of predicted date of landfall, wind speeds and weather conditions of the storm. Updates can be checked online at the Japan Meteorological Agency’s website (http://www.jma.go.jp/en/typh/).
In the Tokyo area, the rains and highspeed winds usually are more of a hindrance than an actual danger, one can often find a ditched inverted umbrella or two around the streets of the city the next day. Still, the safest option is to stay indoors and wait for the bad weather to pass. On occasion in the past there have been severe typhoons that have resulted in flooding and structural damage. As a protocol centric society, Japan is well-equipped to handle these situations and a city usually gets back on its feet in a couple of days.
Nevertheless, try to account for this season in your plans – be flexible with reservations and anticipate that if a typhoon comes, trains, planes and other modes of transport may be delayed.
If you plan to visit during these months, it always best to check the weather forecast at least two weeks before you come. Just remember there is a small upside to a typhoon – the next couple of days generally have beautiful weather!
2. What to pack for Japan in autumn
When packing for any trip its best to cover your bases and to be prepared all occasions - fancy dinners, night outs, treks or just regular days in the city. For footwear, just a general tip would be to wear socks or carry them, there are quite a few places where you leave your shoes by the door and layer of socks helps avoid direct contact with the cold floor.
If you plan on visiting in September, the weather is still warm enough to wear half sleeve tops, dresses and shorts. Since it does rain a few days in the month and early mornings or late nights can get a little cooler, carrying a sweater or light jacket is recommended. As for footwear, in September one can get away with wearing sandals on the warmer days. Still, carrying a pair of either closed toed-sandals or shoes and a pair of rain boots is suggested.
By October it becomes time to put on long sleeve t-shirts, wear full pants and for women stockings. Once the sun sets, the evening breeze warrants wearing a jacket. In October there are quite a few windy days, and along with the standard pair of shoes, boots that go over the ankle are great at keeping your feet nice and toasty.
November is just at the door of winter and it’s when long coats, thick jackets and scarves come back into fashion. November is when sandals become impractical unless paired with tights or stocking, we suggest bringing shoes and boots instead.
Also, since autumn tends to be a great time to go hiking, a pair of outdoor hiking shoes can come in handy.
3. Where to stay in Tokyo in autumn
A wonderful way to experience Japanese culture is by staying at ryokan - a traditional Japanese hot-spring inn. Ryokan exemplify what Japanese call ‘omotenashi’ or the spirit of hospitality, which is a core value of the culture. The rooms have tatami (bamboo mats), on which later in the evening soft futon laid down for you to sleep on. Dinner and breakfast are generally part of the package and shouldn’t be missed since ryokan are famous for their delicious food that feature local and seasonal vegetables, fruits and fish. Most ryokan have either private hot-spring baths in each room or shared hot-spring baths divided by gender. Looking out at the scenic autumn colors while sitting is a hot-spring bath is truly a memorable experience.
With its great weather and the promise of seeing autumn foliage, the months of September, October and November draw in many tourists from around the world. Even though Tokyo has plenty of hotels to stay at, with the rising number of tourists each year these hotels get fully booked out months in advance. It’s always advisable to make reservations at least three months in advance for an autumn trip, and even earlier if you are trying to get a hotel in areas like Ginza, Shibuya and Shinjuku. This applies to ryokan as well, with most properties having only a few rooms it’s always better to make reservations as soon as possible.
4. What to see in Japan in autumn
Leaves! The autumn foliage is everywhere in Tokyo, gingko trees turn a beautiful golden and momiji maple leaves become crimson red. Parks and gardens are ideal for a picturesque view of the foliage. Mt. Takao is a great place get some fresh air and hike in the city. The view from the top is stunning with shades or red, orange and yellow coloring the canopy below.
For day trips out of the city you could travel to Nikko which is filled with beautiful temples, hiking trails and a cascading waterfall. Hakone has a cable car that carries you above the trees and Lake Kawaguchiko is surrounded by red momiji. All three-day trips can be combined with an overnight stay at a ryokan.
Festivals are a great insight into any country’s culture, and autumn has many! Below are a selected few.
・Starting the season off in early September a festival of grilled mackerel pike fish (the “Sanma Matsuri”) takes place in Meguro, Tokyo.
・The Shuki Taisai Grand Autumn Festival in Nikko that has a procession of samurai warriors and a demonstration of Japanese horseback, it is celebrated on October 16th and 17th and is said to commemorate the funeral procession for the first Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa.
・Shichi-go-san translated as seven-five-three is a festival for girls ages three and seven and boys who are three and five as a kind for celebration of their growth and well-being. It is on November 15th and although not a national holiday, you will see many little girls and boys dressed up in traditional outfits at shrines through the day.
・Another event to attend is the autumnal illumination that happens after dark at Rikugien Gardens from mid-November to early December. The garden stays open till 9pm and the path that trails around it has food stall set up so you can enjoy a few snacks as you take in the spectacular nighttime view of the foliage.
Seasonal flowers are always worth seeing, cosmos flowers are often associated with autumn. They come in shades of pink and white and can be seen in the fields of Showa Kinen park from mid-September till about mid-November. Millions of crimson red spider lilies also bloom during this time, creating a sea of red in the Kinchakuda fields in Hidaka, Saitama. Around Tokyo, you’ll get to see some beautiful roses and chrysanthemums.
5. What to do in Japan in autumn
Seasonal specialties include Sanma fish often eaten simply grilled with some grated radish and lemon – it’s delicious and affordable. Sweet potatoes appear in every corner usually roasted on hot coal and sold from the back of trucks. They have a warm earthy sweet flavor and can be great to eat as night fall and air becomes a little cooler. Matsutake mushrooms make their appearance during these months and so do autumn fruits include apples, mandarin oranges, pears, grapes and persimmons.
Have a kimono photo shoot!
The autumn foliage is the perfect backdrop. There are rental stores all around Tokyo, where you can pick out the perfect kimono, get your hair and make up done before hitting the streets and gardens to take some Instagram worth photos.
Explore the city!
With the weather in the low 20s (Celsius) its great to explore the city with out a plan. Walk through Kappabashi neighborhood filled with stores that sell kitchen knives, cutlery and even Japans famous plastic food samples or pick up some funky clothes while you stroll through Harajuku. Turn a corner and find a cute lunch spot—the city is yours to discover!
In conclusion, autumn is a fantastic time to visit Japan and to ensure you get the experience you want make sure to book hotels and activities as early as possible while keeping an eye on the weather forecast. Pack to the best of your ability, but if you forget anything you can always pick up some great autumn fashion from the streets of Tokyo!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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