November brings the best out of Japan weather-wise. The typhoon season is long gone, but it’s still warm enough in the south to enjoy a day on the beach in Okinawa. At the same time, you can see Japan’s famous powder snow in the northern reaches of Hokkaido and topping Mount Fuji. Not to mention, autumn leaves finally hit sub-tropical Tokyo, and you can enjoy a brisk autumn walk through large swaths of the city in places like Yoyogi Park and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. November offers seemingly boundless and unique opportunities for visitors during this time of year.
Here are our top-recommended things to do in Japan in November.
Cherry blossoms are to spring as autumn leaves (kōyō) are to fall. Locals and international travelers set off to Japan’s countryside to gaze at the trees that burst into color down the mountainside. Autumn leaves can start appearing as early as September in the most northern regions of Hokkaido, and in November, southern Japan finally sees its share of golds, reds, and oranges.
One of the best places to view the autumn leaves in southern Japan is Ritsurin Koen Park in Shikoku. Visitors stroll through the 750,000 square meters to take in one of Japan’s loveliest landscape gardens. You can spend 2 hours walking the entire park, or you can ride a traditional Japanese boat on one of 6 ponds. In the past, only the social elite could delight in such glamor, but now everyone has the chance to revel in regality!
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Meiji Shrine in Tokyo is the final resting place of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Throughout their lives, they came here to draw spiritual strength from the Kiyomasa Well. Upon their deaths, Meiji Shrine was erected in their honor, and you can still see Kiyomasa Well in the inner garden of the shrine today. You can also see some of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken’s possessions in the Meiji Jingu Treasure House. You’ll even forget that you’re near the busy Harajuku district as you amble through the hundreds of Gingko trees.
Mid-November marks the start of the Meiji Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Festival (Itchou Matsuri), which takes place in the outer area of Meiji Shrine. The festival attracts about 1.8 million people annually. The gingko trees seem to glitter in the sunlight, and they linger for around two weeks until winter starts settling in.
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On November 15th, (or the closest weekend to this date) Japanese parents and children celebrate Shichi-go-san—the seven-five-three festival. On this day, girls aged 3 and 7 and boys aged 3 and 5 dress in kimono—some for the first time in their lives—and head to their local shrine for prayers and blessings. Parents delight in this rite of passage and often hire professional photographers to capture the moment.
If you have a child of appropriate age traveling with you, try getting involved in the festivities, such as getting blessed by a priest to drive out evil spirits or eating chitose ame (thousand-year candy). If not, Shichi-go-san is still a delightful festival to watch as the little ones bounce around the shrine’s grounds in their tiny kimono.
Even in November, you can experience one of Japan’s iconic festivals! Tori-no-Ichi (rooster market) festivals take place on the three “Days of the Rooster” according to the Chinese zodiac. The exact dates change every year, but generally happen in the first week, last week, and middle of November. The most notable festivals occur at the Juzaisan Chokoku-ji Temple in Asakusa and the Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku.
During Tori-no-Ichi, many company employees pray for good fortune in business. In addition, they buy decorative bamboo rakes called kumade to “rake in the riches” at the open-air markets that pop up around the temples and shrines. Small rakes might cost as little as 1,000 JPY (US $10), but large ones might cost around 50,000 JPY (US $500)! The bigger the rake, the bigger your potential fortune.
Japanese farmers have cultivated persimmons for thousands of years. Many countries in Asia believe persimmons (kaki in Japanese) possess healing properties that cure ailments from stomachaches to fever. November is peak persimmon season, and you can enjoy this time by buying them on sale at a local supermarket or picking your own!
Kaki farms populate several places in Japan, but Nara Prefecture is the largest producer of the fruit. Orchards often offer “tabehodai” plans where you pay a flat fee, and (for a limited amount of time) pick and eat as many persimmons as you like! After you finish, pick up some dried persimmons (hoshigaki in Japanese), which make for a great traditional snack to bring home and share with your friends and family.
With warm weather in the south, coolish temperatures in central Japan, and the beginnings of winter hitting the north, what more could you want? A little time for skiing, perhaps? Extend your stay from November to December!