The autumn leaves in Kyoto are said to be the most beautiful in Japan. The red maple leaves in the chilly weather have excited me every year for the past four years. There are so many places to see the leaves; gardens, temples, and in random streets I walk by. At this time of year, I really love going to different temples and gardens. I’m so enchanted by the changing colors! There is a real magic in the air that tells you the seasons are changing.
It is also important to note that not only do I find Kyoto magnificent in this season, about 18,472,894,062 other people do too (just exaggerating lol, but there are lots of people at this time). Hence why some of the most beautiful places are quite crowded during the peak season. My solution for this was to explore every corner until I found a quiet place with fewer people. That being said – some of the crowded places are still worth going to. Therefore, don’t let big crowds discourage you from going to a beautiful place.
The autumn leaves usually peak around November 20th, but it’s best to check before you go. Many hotels have big maps in their lobbies, indicating the degree of redness with a colored maple leaf. This is how you can find the most autumnal places to go when you’re in the city.
In this post, I will share with you my favorite temples to see the autumn leaves in Kyoto. Please remember – there are countless other places to see, so feel free to do your own research alongside this list. The places I write about were the most memorable to me, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same way too!
This small, beautiful temple is located in Ohara, which is a countryside area north to Kyoto city. It’s easily accessible by a 40 minute bus ride from Kyoto. During the autumn, it seems like the place comes to life; shops are open, here and there you can see the persimmon tree offering its fruit, and the trees smile at you with their shining red color. The road between the bus stop and Jikko-in Temple is filled with maple trees, so you’re really surrounded by this natural beauty. The addition of the rice fields in the background of all of this makes the scenery something really special.
Jikko-in Temple is not very big, but every corner of it is exquisite. When going in, you will be served with matcha green tea and a traditional Japanese sweet. Sipping a hot drink while looking at the autumn leaves falling off the trees is the most calming feeling. I can’t express how relaxing it is! After finishing the tea, you can walk around the garden and enjoy its delicate design. There are so many details to explore…
Jikko-in is just one of a few Temples in this area. There are others nearby, like Hosen-in Temple and Sanzen-in Temple, which are just a few steps away. Don’t be afraid to explore!
Daihikaku Senkoji Temple
Visiting this temple in Arashiyama is recommended in every season, not only autumn. Arashiyama can be quite crowded, especially if you’re traveling to the beautiful bamboo grove. Well, beautiful places attract more people… I guess that’s just how it works. So, if you’re tired of the crowded areas and searching for a quiet place to relax and have a beautiful view over the wide Katsura river – don’t miss this place. It’s only a 20 minute walk from Arashiyama Keihan station.
The route to the temple is quite simple. If you’re coming from Arashiyama Hankyu Station: When you reach the famous Moon Crossing Bridge – don’t cross it! Turn left and continue along the river. Once you see a steep staircase, climb up and enjoy the view all around you. When you finally arrive at the temple, you can ring the bell three times (as indicated in the sign) before continuing to climb a few more steps to the temple itself.
There’s actually nothing fancy about Senkoji Temple, and if you ask me, that’s the best representation of Zen. It was founded in the 16th century by a wealthy merchant at that time. It is said that the reason he built this temple is to commemorate those who died while working for him. At the top, you can experience a breaktaking view of Arashiyama from above. Although we visited the Temple in late November, which is the peak of autumn leaves in Kyoto, there was only ten people at the temple. Daihikaku Senkojiis the perfect place to feel at one with nature.
Just nearby the well-known Tōfuku-ji, there’s a little temple that attracts significantly less visitors (for no apparent reason). Sokushū-in was built in 1196 as a villa for the powerful Fujiwara Clan, and is now open to the public but only during autumn.
This temple belongs to Tōfuku-ji, a zen temple that was founded in 1236 for the same Fujiwara Clan. If you want to take some spectacular photos of autumn leaves, Tsutenkyo Bridge in Tōfuku-ji is the best spot. Please note that many, many other people think so too, so expect it to be packed with visitors.
Just behind Tōfuku-ji, lays Sokushū-in. This calming garden with its plants, pond, and seemingly-randomly-placed sculptures is really unique. I especially liked the contrast between the crowded Tōfuku-ji Temple, and this quieter, smaller garden. It does require a separate payment from Tōfuku-ji (although it belongs to it), but still – it’s really worth it. A great place to escape from the crowds and absorb the real spirit of autumn.
Just north of Nanzen-ji Temple complex in Kyoto (not very far from Gion district), lays the beautiful Eikan-do. Its official name is Zenrinji, but it’s more commonly called Eikan-do. Eikan was actually a popular head priest of the temple in the 11th century. The legend tells that Eikan was strolling in the garden one day, when suddenly the statue of Buddha Amida turned his head towards the priest and started talking to him. Whether you believe this or not – the statue is still there, with its head turned sideward.
What makes this temple so special is not only the garden, but also the wooden buildings, that have an amazing architecture and are home to impressive pieces of art. The temple and gardens are quite large, so you can easily stroll there for an hour or more. Although Eikan-do attracts many people, it’s definitely a place worth visiting.
I can’t wait to see the autumn leaves in Kyoto this year, and I hope many of you will join me too. Don’t forget to look all around you wherever you go. Beauty exists in the most unexpected places 😃