Experience koyo, or the fall colors, in Japan and discover why the great weather and vibrant colors make this a great time to visit.
Autumn in Japan – Koyo
Japan is beautiful at any time of the year, but especially in the spring and autumn. Japan may be most famous for its spring cherry blossoms, but for some (including this author) the autumn is even more resplendent.
Koyo refers to the changing colors of autumn, and momijigari refers to hunting for the colorful foliage. For the Japanese it is a time of reflection, pondering and experiencing the joy of nature.
Matt and I talked about the leaves changing colors during koyo, and how they made us reflect on life, death and the passage of time. Autumn’s changing colors are a beautiful reminder to appreciate life at every stage. When the chill of winter sets in, our memories of bright moments can give us comfort and remind us that the cold, too, will one day pass.
It’s now been 1 year since my mom passed away from cancer. It’s been a hard year but as we spent hours traveling and admiring the beautiful colors, I had many happy moments of my mom and me to think about. Her favorite season was the fall. She loved the color red and I’m sure that she would have loved to enjoy the koyo we saw on our strolls and drives.
My thoughts were carried to the end of my mom’s life. While she could have turned bitter or angry because of the hand she was dealt, instead she had peace. She still wore the same smile on her face that she always had.
These leaves are dying, but they meet their end with shining, glorious colors; their fervent glow brings joy to all that see them.
To me, this is what koyo means. I understand better why the Japanese take time to ponder the beauty of nature; we know the beautiful colors won’t last, but instead of making us sad this thought makes us appreciate our time with them even more.
Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic and worldview that finds beauty in imperfection and accepts that nothing lasts forever. Completely defining wabi-sabi is impossible, but harmony with nature, the passage of time, and simplicity are themes woven within it.
Enjoying the fall colors is one way to experience wabi-sabi. You can spend your entire life trying to find the perfect maple leaf only to – with dissatisfaction – realize none of them is perfect; or you can find complete satisfaction understanding that they are all beautiful.
4 Areas to View Koyo
This sacred island is best known for the famous floating torii gate, the Itsukushima shrine, and its many deer (sika). It is also home to Momijidani Park. There are over 200 maple trees in this park. During November the red, yellow and orange colors are so vibrant – it is one of the best places to see the colors!
Famous for their Angel Road and Kankakei Gorge; during the fall, the gorge comes alive with brilliant hues that accentuate the rock structures and deep valleys. A bit out of the way for most tourists, but it is a beautiful, friendly island that we have fallen in love with! You must take the hike to experience the best of the colors! Check out why Shodoshima should be on your list of places to visit!
Takachiho Gorge, Kyushu:
Rock formations, foliage, and water will impress you as you take in the breathtaking cliffs, waterfalls and volcanic rock formations of this gorge. Beautiful at any time of year, the reds, yellows and oranges made this area absolutely stunning. The rock formations were formed by slow moving lava from an eruption of Mount Aso. The Gokase River has been carving this gorge ever since! The fall colors were just ending when we were here, so pay attention to the koyo calendar.
Hike along the river while enjoying the momiji around you! There are several hikes to choose from. Each bend in the river presents new vantage points of an increasingly beautiful hike. This is our favorite time of year to hike in Sandankyo! Check out our post about hiking in Sandankyo.
Plan your trip:
November is your prime month to travel! Northern Japan begins to experience the colors changing as early as September. The farther south you go the the later the colors can change. Each year a calendar is put out letting you know approximately when the best time to view the colors will be by the JR guide. We saw Miyajima, Shodoshima, Kyushu and Sandankyo in November, and they were perfect!