All cultures have their unique seasonal events. Japan is no exception. They love to celebrate each individual season. Autumn in Japan, with relatively pleasant weather after the severe summer heat, offers different activities and events; colorful trees flourish everywhere, as do festive Halloween parties, and special food dishes are offered up for the season. In Japan, the autumn season flows from September to November. If you visit Japan in autumn, you can check these ideas below for some fun activities to enrich your travel experience.
- 1. Picnic at the park to enjoy autumn foliage
- 2. Warm up yourself with Oden
- 3. Try chestnuts and sweet potato sweets that are everywhere
- 4. Relax at onsen (hot spring)
- 5. Hiking at colorful mountains
- 6. Be a part of unique Halloween celebration in Japan
- 7. Practice an autumn tradition, Tsukimi (moon-viewing)
- 8. Kanpai (cheers!) at Oktoberfest
- 9. Go glamping
- 10. Join popular tours in autumn
- 11. Watch pink sakura leaves and autumn foliage
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1. Picnic at the park to enjoy autumn foliage
Everyone one knows hanami in the sakura season, but as the weather is generally comfortable in autumn too, relaxing at a park is a lovely experience in autumn! Almost all parks in Japan have some autumn leaves turning bright red, orange, and yellow. Most of the Japanese historical sites include a garden area where visitors can enjoy the autumn foliage. But it’s great fun sometimes just to go out to a neighborhood park and relax on the grass. These parks are popular and usually have vendors offering seasonal foods. You can easily grab a basket and enjoy your next meal at one of your favorite picnic spots.
If you are around Tokyo, you can try Yoyogi Park or Shinjuku-Goen Park, and in either case, you’ll soon forget you are in a huge downtown. If you don’t want to prepare the food for the day, just stop by one of the many local convenience stores, where you can find shelves lined with everything from nuts to elaborate lunch boxes. It is also fun to take a look at some cute small cafes which offer you some fresh coffee and sandwich or light meal to take out.
2. Warm up yourself with Oden
Autumn is also Japan’s harvest season. With winter approaching and the temperature going down, oden wagons start to appear on the streets in the late evening. You can try one of those or even pick up an Oden snack at a Seven Eleven. You can easily feel the change of season when you see oden banners flapping outside of the convenience stores. As soon as you step inside, you’ll find the unique scent of the oden broth very tempting. Oden is a Japanese winter comfort food, and comes in a steaming pot with an assortment of pieces; usually daikon radish, egg, tofu, and fish cakes. These ingredients remain simmering for hours in hot dashi broth, soaking up the flavorful stock, made with seaweed and a fish base. You’ll find that Japanese mustard goes well with oden, too. You can choose from many different combinations, so pick your favorite one. Take away packets are available in case you want to take your favorite selection home.
3. Try chestnuts and sweet potato sweets that are everywhere
There are also some sweets derived from autumn produce. Especially liked by the locals are sweets made from chestnuts, or kuri in Japanese; some use the French term, marron. The most traditional and popular one is Mont Blanc cake (monburan in Japanese), which is pureed chestnuts laid out in stringy layers over sponge cake and whipped cream and topped with a glazed chestnut. A real delight. Another joy from the autumn harvest is the delicious sweet potato. There are many different sweets made from these potatoes, but the simplest one is yakiimo, a basic steamed sweet potato. You may find a person pulling a wooden cart or driving a small truck along a small street in the residential area, chanting song-like, Ishi-Yakiimo… These stone-baked sweet potatoes, classically heated on hot pebbles, are an essential and nostalgic aspect of the autumn season. Recently, purple sweet potatoes have become popular and processed to make an array of sweets, from cakes and chocolate to ice cream!
4. Relax at onsen (hot spring)
Autumn is an excellent season to enjoy the unique hot spring culture in Japan. Usually, hot springs are located in the countryside and often in the middle of the mountain. You can enjoy the vibrant colors of the autumn leaves while bathing, and let your mind and spirit join in with the beautiful surroundings. You will never run out of hot spring options to choose from in Japan. You can enjoy a few hours’ visit, just for the bathing, or better yet, stay in a traditional onsen inn and sleep on a futon, laid out on a clean tatami floor. The perfect method of relaxing from a day of activity in the chilly weather.
5. Hiking at colorful mountains
Hiking is another way to enjoy the autumn season. Walking through forest allows for a true, close up relationship with this vivid season. The mountain slopes and valleys are packed with gorgeous fall foliage.
If you are staying in Tokyo, start from Mt Takao, Mt. Mitake, or Nikko. Any of these can make for a great one-day trip. There’s simply no shortage of spots across Japan to view the colorful displays of fall. Hiking and onsen visits can be packaged together for one day, if you wish.
6. Be a part of unique Halloween celebration in Japan
In recent years, Halloween has become popular in Japan. There are numerous Halloween events held in Japan, from simple school festivities to an exciting gala at Tokyo Disneyland. Increasingly, Halloween in Japan has become a day for young adults to party.
The giant Shibuya Halloween in downtown Tokyo is the most popular and exciting event of all. This unofficial outdoor event takes place in the center of the Shibuya district on Halloween weekend night. Around Shibuya Center Gai Street and Scramble Crossing, crowds of people gather in unique Halloween costumes until the morning. As can happen, the party has become more chaotic every year. As a result, some arrests were made in 2018, and the Shibuya district has since banned public drinking during Halloween night from 2019. You might be surprised by the actions since Japanese people are usually calm and humble, but you will see a chaotic situation in Shibuya and Roppongi in Japan only on the day of Halloween. It’s still pretty exciting, though, and with more police visible, a safer and fun event.
7. Practice an autumn tradition, Tsukimi (moon-viewing)
The tsukimi party is a long continuous tradition in Japan, dating back to the Heian period. Tsukimi can literally be translated as moon viewing. The aristocrats in the Heian period used to gather to listen to music and compose poetry by moonlight, sometimes fishing in an artificial pond at their residence, or as recreation at the court. By the 1600s, this custom merged with the rice harvest as more regular citizens began to enjoy the event. The tsukimi season must be translated from the traditional calendar to fit the dates of the modern, or western, calendar. The full moon celebration takes place on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunisolar month, as tsukimi is called Jugoya, or the 15th night. The date typically falls in the month of September or October, and in 2021 the date will be September 21st. The most traditional food associated with the tsukimi party is known as tsukimi dango, or small white dumplings made of rice. Along with their meal, the moon viewers offer a special grass, susuki, a cup of sake, and other seasonal items. You will see this sort of activity everywhere in Japan during this season, from shops to individual homes.
8. Kanpai (cheers!) at Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer festival held every year in Munich, Germany. But the Japanese love beer as much as Germans! There are many places where the Oktoberfest events are held for the beer fans. In the biggest one is in Odaiba, Tokyo, you can drink beer to the accompaniment of fresh sea breezes and live performances on stage. Yokohama also hosts an enormous event, with more than 130,000 people attending in 2018.
9. Go glamping
Autumn is the perfect season to go for glamping. Glamping stands for glamorous camping, people stay either just for a few hours or overnight at a luxury style of campsite. It’s not only for outdoor lovers, but people who have no experience of camping can enjoy it thanks to its photogenic aspect. Usually all the camping equipment is ready to use at the site, and some glamping sites include delicious food prepared by the chef on your plan, so you don’t have to bring anything! If you are looking for something special and super easy to do, glamping gives you quite a memorable time.
10. Join popular tours in autumn
If you are planning to travel around Japan in autumn, there’s nothing better than having a guide with you. Usually the popular autumn foliage viewing spots are packed with people, but with a local guide, they can take you to the best hidden spots without pushing you hard into the cramped area.
11. Watch pink sakura leaves and autumn foliage
Many people think spring is the best season to travel to Japan because of the super popular sakura that can be seen all around Japan that time of the year. But what if we told you that you can also see real sakura in full blossom in autumn?! The Obara region in Aichi Prefecture is famous for a special type of cherry tree known as Shikizakura that blossoms not once but twice every year! At Obara Fureai Park about 10,000 of the sakura trees and numerous maple trees create a spectacular view in autumn. The view is usually at its best from mid November through early December, but the peak period varies somewhat from year to year.
We hope you can make some enjoyable selections from the list above, and have a memorable time in Japan. The temperature, the culture, and the history of Japan all join together to make autumn an awesome season to visit the land of wonders.
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