Poetic Autumn foliage in Japan

Tiếng Việt

Over my 10 years of travelling, I have visited Japan the most, with 4 trips. Even so, each trip with the same streets, the same scenes but in different color streaks depending on the season leaves me with unique feelings. If the spring with the pure pink of cherry blossoms brings positive energy and a sense of excitement, the autumn with the poetic foliage leaves peaceful and tranquil moments for self reflection.

The trip to Japan that year was a journey following autumn foliage across the regions, admiring the miraculous transformation of the orange-red shades. It also filled with private sobs during the moment I realized that opening my heart was not as difficult as I had once thought. 

Holding the hand of a new acquaintance, walking on a trail filled with autumn leaves in a drizzling emotional afternoon is the priceless moment of life that happens fortunately once in a while. And I had my luck in that autumn.

Autumn colors of maple leaves in Japan


Departing from Kyoto with ancient temples in early autumn, we came to the old villages in the West. Takayama Old Town, Hida Folk Village and Shirakawa-go Ancient Village appeared rustic and idyllic when the maple leaves had turned yellowish. Nothing can be more perfect than relaxing in the hot springs in Takaragawa while watching the yellow leaves falling, then straying into the red-leaf forest on a hill in traditional Yukata. Nikko was a bit of disappointing when the famous autumn road still filled with green leaves, but it then was offset by the stunning autumn foliage when walking around Lake Towada. We returned to Tokyo when autumn hadn’t come yet to be back to Saigon during the rainy season


  • Day 1-3: The ancient capital of Kyoto in early autumn
  • Day 4-5: Quiet autumn in vintage villages (Takayama, Hida & Shirakawa-go)
  • Day 6-7: Relax in hot sping at Takaragawa
  • Day 8-9: Có gì chơi khi thu chưa tới Nikko
  • Day 10-11: Trái tim lỗi nhịp cùng thu vàng ở Towada
  • Day 12-13: Tokyo

The ancient capital of Kyoto in early autumn

With breathtaking natural landscapes mixing of hills, rivers, poetic Japanese-style gardens and numerous impressive Buddhist temples and shrines, Kyoto has long been dubbed the paradise of the autumn foliage.

Although I couldn’t admire the splendor of the autumn’s peak (from mid-November to early December), the ancient capital of Kyoto in October still fascinated us by its early foliage. The dominant green color lightly interleaving with yellow and orange in chilled weather was appealing enough to all visitors. I took a small sip of my hot tea in that tranquil scenery and felt the autumn approaching.

Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Temple) in early autumn with scattered yellow leaves


The reflection of Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Temple) in autumn afternoon

It was a poetic afternoon when walking on the Philosopher’s Path, the stone pavement stretching along a small canal. Although the autumn colors were not glorious, the yellowish green canopies interweaving on the canal and lovely tea shops along the way created a stunning scenery. It was totally worth to spend sometimes wandering in this place.

The Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto

We were fortunate to witness the impressive parade of the Jidai Matsuri Festival in Kyoto, a traditional festival celebrating the founding of Kyoto, which takes place on October 22 every year. Thousands of people in costumes of most historical periods of Japan marched on the streets of Kyoto, from the Royal Palace to the Heian Temple.

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Quiet autumn in vintage villages

Saying goodbye to the ancient Kyoto, we continued our journey finding autumn colors in the ancient villages, dubbed “primitive Japan”. After 4 hours on the train, we arrived in Takayama city, famous for its morning markets, its old town with the well-preserved hundred years old wooden houses and the picturesque Hida folk village. An hour bus ride west of Takayama is the Ancient Shikarawa-go Village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Old town Takayama

As soon as I walked into the old town of Takayama, I was amazed by the rustic, ancient look of the wooden houses from Edo period (1600-1868). Each house has now become a restaurant, tea shop or souvenir shop in a distinct decorative style, though still retaining the vintage traditional appearance for the whole neighborhood.

Takayama Old Town in the early morning, quiet and peaceful


The longer I wondered around, the more I was fascinated by the charm of these wooden houses. Welcoming front entrances with flower arrangement, beckoning stone cats, creaking wooden doors, exquisite handmade souvenirs and countless varieties of aromatic sake, created the rare uniqueness of this old town.

Hida folk village

Hida folk village, not far from Takayama old town, is indeed a picturesque village when it appears magnificently in brilliant autumn colors. Old wooden houses juxtaposing against colorful trees sparkled down on the lake with white swans swimming freely created a dreamlike scenery.  

Poetic scenery of Hida folk village

This place is also known as an open museum with dozens of historical houses built in the early Japanese traditional architectural style. The sloped roofs that form a shape reminiscent of two hands in prayer were made from many layers of grass, ensuring air tightness and heat retention needed to withstand the harsh winter climate. All objects in these houses are well preserved and displayed as they were in the past, helping visitors to visualize the daily life of the ancient Japanese.


All of autumn’s extraordinarily gorgeous colors seemed to gather here, from yellow, orange to crimson, maroon and violet. Strolling around Hida village, admiring the splendid autumn on the backdrop of rustic countryside scenery was one of the most memorable moments of my trip.

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The cultural heritage Shirakawa-go after the harvest

The UNESCO cultural heritage Shirakawa-go is a popular tourist destination throughout the four seasons of Japan. In each season, the village paints a distinct picture: multihued spring with hundreds of blooming flowers, green summer with immense rice fields and clear blue skies, golden autumns with leaves changing color and ripe rice paddies, while white winters with snow covered roofs. We arrived after the rice had just been harvested, but that did not diminish the village’s seemingly idyllic appearance.


The ancient village of Shirakawa-go viewed from the road up to the hill

Bearing the same ancient architecture as Hida folk village, the houses here are not museums but the true habitat of indigenous people. Hundreds of houses with half a meter thick, steep thatched roofs nestle in the valley of Mount Hakusan in central Japan. We were fortunate enough to see people building a thatched roof for a new house. This type of sophisticated roof takes the effort of many people.


Walking on the village roads, whether in the early morning or late afternoon, the scenery appears oddly peaceful. The roofs intertwined between the rice fields and the maple trees with red turning leaves, in the distance, white clouds hovered over in the Hakusan mountain range. We only stayed in Shirakawa-go for a short time, and sadly regretting not being able to enjoy this peaceful village for longer.

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Relax in Takaragawa

We bid farewell to the peaceful villages as we entered the Takaragawa resort, located in the Minakami hot spring area, north of Gumma province. Considered as one of the most popular Onsen (hot spring resorts) in Japan, Takaragawa Onsen has large open-air hot pools, surrounded by spectacular natural scenery throughout the four seasons, cozy traditional rooms (Ryokan) and authentic Japanese cuisine. This was also the most luxurious experience of the whole journey, and it was really worth it.

1 of 4 open-air hot pools of Takaragawa Onsen

Nothing is more relaxing than immersing in hot 38-40owater in the chilly 8-10oC weather, listening to the murmuring stream and watching the yellow leaves drift whenever a breeze kicks up.

It was wonderful to be able to appreciate Takaragawa’s breathtaking natural landscape at the peak time of autumn. In traditional Yukata costumes, the group walked on the road plastered in yellow leaves falling under the drizzle, relentlessly admiring the rich autumn colors here.

The short trekking path to the top of the hill behind Takaragawa onsen
Charming yukata and lovely umbrellas

The higher we went, the more splendid the autumn scenery. The forest of yellow and red leaves on the hillside captivated us.

The autumn scene couldn’t be more gorgeous
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What to do when autumn has not reached Nikko

The most expected place of our trip was probably Nikko with the famous winding road of Irohazaka . However when we arrived, it seemed that the splendor of autumn had not yet passed this place. Trees were still in green all the way. Therefore, instead of wandering around to observe the autumn foliage, we had time to learn about ancient Japanese culture in Edo Wonderland cultural park and visit Toshogu temple complex.

Irohazaka winding road in Nikko is beautiful in yellow leaves – Photo from internet

Edo Wonderland Cultural Park

Edo Wonderland Cultural Park in Nikko city is a place to recreate the history, culture, life of Japanese people in the Edo period (17th century). The streets were built like the Edo period with tree-lined streets, wooden houses and elaborately and meticulously prepared daily appliances and costumes.

A typical historical street in Edo Cultural Park, Nikko, Japan

Plays on the large outdoor stage or in the theater also help visitors to learn about primitive Japanese history and culture. However, everything was in Japanese, hence limited the understanding of foreign visitors, including us. It was a really fun day to experience the traditional Japanese atmosphere, fought with the Samurai, watched the beautiful Geisha in a play and ran around Samurai matrices.

Wakamatsuya Cultural Theater at Edo Park, Nikko, Japan

Toshogu temple complex

Mentioned as the most magnificent temple of Japan and a UNESCO world cultural heritage site, the complex of  “two shrines and one temple”  Nikko Toshogu appears mysterious and solemn. The tall vertical cedar trees seem to prevent the lights to get through, the long staircase leading up with moss-covered handrails has contributed to the creation of this quiet and tranquil atmosphere.


The architecture of the temple is extremely magnificent with sophisticated ancient carvings, retaining the colors of several hundred years ago. Some of the sculptures here are the national treasures of Japan. The wishes were written on small wooden plaques and hang here and there in the temple.

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Skipping Heartbeats in golden Towada

I used to think that infatuation with someone or with a certain moment was only for naive youths… until I surprised myself. After 20 years of adulthood, I was shocked when I felt my heart fluttering for a stranger I just met in front of the romantic autumn scenery in Towada.


Without sharing too much details about that moment as a respect for this “stranger”, I can only say that I had a very special and memorable autumn day in my life. Perhaps the splendid natural scenery of that autumn lifted up my emotions.

Hand in hand, we strolled along a small stream. A light drizzle cooled the air every time the wind blew. As we quietly walking together, it felt as if we had some kind of magical connection that let us “hear” what the other person was thinking, even though neither of us spoke. 

I couldn’t remember the exact location of the road, perhaps it was near Lake Towada, but the autumn scenery couldn’t be more spectacular with murmuring streams, small waterfalls flowing along mossy hillside, red and yellow maple leaves everywhere.

Time and space seemed to be fleeting concepts that day. We just kept wandering together until it was getting dark and we got a little nervous to catch the last bus of the day. Even though that person is still “a stranger”, authentic emotional moments like that, at least to me, will last forever.

*Photo used in this article are contributed by all the members of the trip.

Traveled on Oct, 2014

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