Autumn is the most comfortable season in Japan, with average temperatures in
Tokyo hitting around a pleasant 22°C (71°F). Many cities hold charming festivals at
local shrines to give thanks to deities for plentiful harvests. The fall’s striking scenery
also distinguishes the season as the leaves begin to change colors.
Here, are suggestions for some of the best things to do in October during your visit to Japan.
The Takayama Hachiman Autumn Festival is regarded as one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan and is sister to the Sanno Spring Matsuri. Historically, this event would prompt locals to begin their winter preparations. Every year on October 9th and 10th, volunteers pull over 10 yatai (giant floats) through the streets in a procession straight out of the 15th century.
These yatai have all sorts of intricate decorations, including marionettes operated by an internal system of pulleys. The marionettes maneuver with such fluidity, it’s hard to believe this technology was developed during the Edo period! At night, each float is adorned with as many as 100 lit paper lanterns. It’s no wonder that this festival is the pride of the small mountain town of Takayama.
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In Japan, the kōyō (autumn leaves) season is almost as beloved as the cherry blossom season. Generally, cherry blossoms start growing in the southern regions first, then the blooms trickle up north. Autumn leaves, on the other hand, appear in the northern regions first (some places as early as September) before traveling down south. Central Japan starts to see autumn leaves in October.
In Kyoto, the brilliant golds and scarlet reds surround the city’s distinguished castles, temples, and shrines. Many well-known sightseeing spots like Kiyomizu Temple stay open past sunset and illuminate the trees with light displays. For the best views-from-afar, head to the Arashiyama district where several species of maples blanket the mountains in a patchwork of color.
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Mt. Koya (Koyasan) is a profoundly significant religious site in Japan. It serves as the center of Shingon Buddhism, which is a blend of Japan’s major religions: Shintoism and Buddhism. It’s a sought-after destination for pilgrims all over the world. In October, the already breathtaking forests turn vibrant orange and crimson. Travelers to Koyasan find it hard to leave and many stay overnight.
Several temples in Mt. Koya offer overnight lodgings. Most temples house guests in Japanese-style tatami (rice straw floor) rooms and provide futons. During the day, UNESCO World Heritage Site Kongobuji Temple offers a place for patrons to enjoy tea and features the most extensive rock garden in Japan. At Okunoin Temple, you can see headstones of famous figures from history like Oda Nobunaga, Takeda Shingen, and Date Masamune.
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Japan didn’t celebrate Halloween until young people began to adopt the holiday around 10 years ago. Halloween’s popularity grows every year, but outside of Tokyo it’s not a mainstream tradition, and it’s not too family-friendly. Halloween in Japan is mostly a night for 20 to 30-year-olds to paint the town red. Theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland and some shopping malls hold trick-or-treating events for children, but these might be hard to get to without the right guide.
Young people celebrate Halloween by donning costumes and gathering in city centers—most famously Shibuya crossing in Tokyo—for impromptu street parties. For Japanese people, the thrill of Halloween is dressing up, not frights or scares. After strutting around town and taking pictures with friends and strangers, they move on to bars, Izakayas, and clubs. Large retail chains like Donki Hote and Daiso sell ready-to-wear costumes, so you don’t need to pack one if you want to join in the fun!
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The Shimanami Kaido toll road connects Japan’s main island, Honshu, to the smaller Shikoku. The 60-kilometer (37-mile) path begins in Onomichi City, passes over six little islands on the Seto Inland Sea, and ends in Imabari City. It also makes for a safe, scenic bike ride—the bike lanes safely diverge from the main highway. If you want to cycle, Kyushu’s temperatures are moderate and the weather is stably sunny in October. You can also take a cruise to see what resides on the sea.
Cruises usually take around 50 minutes. Along the way, guides direct the passengers’ attention to important sites on the islands, such as the remains of a fortress that was strategically used during the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905). The Seto Inland Sea is known for viewing whirlpools which, depending on the water’s conditions, can reach up to 40 meters (131 feet) across!
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Whether you prefer to see the autumn leaves as you hike through the mountains, or take a brisk stroll in the park, Japan has something for everyone during this season! If you plan to continue your vacation itinerary from October to November….