Red leaves season in Japan is a celebration of when the leaves change from green to vibrant red, orange, yellow, and brown, and Nara is one of the best places to see fall foliage. Spend some time at Nara’s historic temples, shrines, parks and gardens and discover why koyo hunting (looking for fall foliage) is such a popular pastime during autumn in Nara!
Autumn in Nara City | When to Visit for Red Leaves Season
Generally, the best time to see the leaves change during autumn in Nara is between October to late November (sometimes early December), just before winter sets in. The exact timing for when leaves change color varies from year to year, so visitors should check the Nara foliage forecast for news about the autumn season. Regardless of whether tourists arrive early in the season or later, autumn in Nara is a time to celebrate.
Nara Park is a must-see attraction for visitors to Japan and one of the main draws of Nara. Located in the center of Nara City and only minutes away from Kintetsu-Nara Station, Nara Park is home to Nara’s famous and friendly sika deer. Animal and nature lovers should plan a visit to this park and experience both the friendly animals and the beautiful colors of autumn.
While walking through Nara Park, visitors can see and feed the deer and also take in two temples, Todaiji and Kofukuji, or visit Kasuga-taisha Shrine. Another great site in Nara Park is the wooden pavilion (called Ukimido Pavilion) located in the middle of Sagichi (Sagiike) Pond. This beautiful pavilion looks as if it is floating on the pond’s water and is a tranquil place to visit. The pavilion usually is lit up at night, and if travelers stop by Nara Park between August 5 and 14, they may be lucky enough to witness the Nara Tokae Lantern Festival and enjoy the elegant and visionary atmosphere.
Tips for Feeding Deer in Nara Park
While seeing the deer, visitors may find that some deer have learned to bow for food when they are waiting to be fed. Visitors can purchase deer crackers (shika senbei), which are on sale at the park for 150 yen, and enjoy feeding deer while taking in the autumn views of Nara Park. Be advised, the deer are quite used to people but are wild animals, so travelers are asked not to pack extra food with them.
There is no admission fee to enter Nara Park, and since it spans more than 500 hectares, visitors should plan an overnight stay in Nara to explore the park and the many things to see during Autumn in Nara.
Popular Things to Do in Nara Park
- Todaiji Temple
- Kofukuji Temple
- Kasuga-taisha Shrine
- Nara National Museum
- Isuien Garden
- Yoshikien Garden
Check In to Onyado Nono Nara Natural Hot Springs, Step Out to Nara Park
Experience Autumn in Nara – The Best Temples
While there are many locations where visitors can appreciate autumn in Nara, there are some temples and shrines in particular that offer pristine viewing opportunities for visitors. As these temples and shrines are places of worship, it is good to remember that photography may be permitted outdoors on the temple grounds, but rarely are visitors able to take photographs inside the buildings. However, there should be signs indicating where and when photography is permitted.
Muroji Temple is a Buddhist temple located inside the city of Uda, which is within Nara Prefecture. Muroji Temple, sometimes spelled Murouji or Muro-ji, is both historical and a great place to experience autumn in Nara. Unlike Koyasan (Mount Koya) in Wakayama, which in ancient days prohibited women from entering, Muroji Temple is famous for allowing female worshipers, earning it the nickname “Mount Koya for Women.”
Visitors can enjoy the beautiful colors of the changing seasons as they pay homage at this tranquil historical site, which is surrounded by lush forests and is home to the smallest, open-air, five-story pagoda in Japan.
Muroji Temple has a 600-yen admission fee for adults and a 400-yen admission fee for children. The temple is open between 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from April 1 to November 30, and from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. from December 1 to March 31.
Traveling to Muroji Temple During Autumn in Nara
From JR Nara Station, visitors can travel on the JR Mahoroba line to Sakurai Station where they can change to the Kintetsu Osaka line and take the train to Muroguchiono Station. Then, travelers can take a Nara Kotsu bus to the final stop to reach the temple.
Tanzan Shrine (Tanzan-Jinja Shrine)
Tanzan Shrine, in the mountains of Tonomine, is famous for being an excellent location to appreciate autumn in Nara. This Shinto shrine is in Sakurai, within Nara Prefecture, and features a 13-story wooden pagoda. The historic landmark was built in 1532 and is the only one like it in the world.
Generally, the shrine experiences its autumn peak from mid-November to early December, and it is the best season to enjoy watching more than 3,000 maple leaf trees change colors.
There is an admission fee to the shrine of 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for children. The shrine is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. year-round, and the final admission for the day is at 4:30 p.m.
Traveling to Tanzan Shrine during Autumn in Nara
From JR Nara Station, visitors can travel on the JR Mahoroba line to Sakurai Station where they can exit at the station’s southern exit and take one of the hourly buses to the bus stop near Tanzan-Jinja.
Hasedera Temple also is located in Sakurai and is famous for its year-round lush vegetation, though it is particularly stunning during red leaves season. Throughout the year, the temple is known for its beautiful flowers, earning it the nickname “temple of flowers.” From mid-October to early December, Hasedera Temple features the Momiji Festival, which celebrates the leaves changing colors for the season.
The most symbolic place at Hasedera Temple is the Nobori-rou, or the 399 steps that lead to the Main Hall. These steps are said to help rid pilgrims of the 108 illusions that contribute to human suffering. Walking the steps of the temple offers visitors time for reflection as they travel to the Main Hall, where the Eleven-Faced Kannon resides. The famous statue is dedicated to the goddess of Mercy. The Main Hall, a National Treasure of Japan, juts out from the middle of Hatsuse mountain and offers outstanding views over the temple precinct.
The Hasedera Temple has a 500-yen admission fee for adults and a 250-yen admission fee for children. The temple’s opening and closing hours vary depending on the time of year. From April to September, the temple is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; during October, November, and March, the temple is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; and from December to February, the temple is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.
Traveling to Hasedera Temple during Autumn in Nara
From JR Nara Station, visitors can take a JR Manyo Mahoroba Line train to Sakurai Station where they can change to the Kintetsu Osaka Line Semi-Express train for Haibara, and then exit the train once they reach Hasedera Station.
Check In to Guest House Nanone, Step Out to Sakurai
Experience Autumn in Nara in Mitarai Valley
Travelers who love the outdoors and wish to experience some hiking in Japan should plan a visit to Mitarai Valley. With beautiful waterfalls, hiking trails, and a suspension bridge, Mitarai Valley is a great location to visit during autumn in Nara. Lush and green throughout much of the year, the Mitarai Valley changes colors during autumn and the vivid red leaves offer a stunning contrast to the flowing river below.
The valley is about three hours away from Nara City by train and bus, and many visitors choose to spend the night nearby in Dorogawa, an area in Tenkawa known for its onsen, or natural hot springs. Dorogawa is famous for its hot springs, so visitors who are looking for a relaxing trip may wish to extend their visit at Mitarai Valley.
There is no admission fee to enter Mitarai Valley, and visitors should plan on spending several hours in the area.
Traveling to Mitarai Valley During Autumn in Nara
From Kintetsu-Nara Station, travel to Yamato-Saidaiji Station on the Kintetsu Nara Line. From Yamato-Saidaiji Station, visitors can take the Kintetsu Kahihara Line to Kashiharajingu-Mae Station where they can change to the Kintetsu Yoshino Line and take the train to Shimoichiguchi Station. From Shimoichiguchi Station, travelers can take the Nara Kotsu bus to Tenkawa Kawaai bus stop near Mitarai Valley.
Check In to Saratoku Ryokan, Step Out to Tenkawa
Traveling from Tokyo & Osaka to enjoy Autumn in Nara
Visitors arriving from Tokyo can opt to fly via Narita International Airport to Kansai International Airport in Osaka, which takes about an hour and 30 minutes. Once in Osaka, travelers can then take a train from Kansai Airport Station to Nara.
Travelers touring Tokyo before heading to Nara will find that the train system in Japan is well connected and a convenient way to see the countryside. A train ride from Tokyo Station to JR Nara Station, which one change at Kyoto Station, takes about three hours and 30 minutes.
Check In to Super Hotel Lohas JR Nara Station Natural Hot Spring, Step Out to Nara
Where to Stay during Autumn in Nara
Autumn in Nara is a popular time to visit, so travelers should book a hotel, or for a more cultural experience, a ryokan, before red leaves season begins.
Ryokans are Japanese inns that feature tatami (rice straw) mats in rooms, and while these accommodations might provide a different experience for some visitors, ryokans offer an amazing night’s sleep on a futon, or Japanese-style bedding. Many ryokans also offer public baths and areas where visitors can chat with the owners and other guests. Oftentimes, yukata, or traditional Japanese robes that can be worn in public areas, are offered to guests during their stay so that visitors can fully enjoy the unique baths at each ryokan in the area.
The room rate for ryokans sometimes includes one or more meals (usually dinner), and many ryokans are popular for their beautiful gardens and relaxing vibe. A stay at a ryokan in Nara is a great way to experience an endearing piece of Japanese culture.