It’s hard to think of a more magical place to spend a crisp autumn afternoon than in some of the old cities of Japan. While Japanese maples burst into flame-like hues of red and royal purple, gingko trees turn a lustrous gold, and Japanese people like to take in the vivid colors with a sip of sake al fresco in what they like to call momijimi, or “maple viewing.”
There are countless prime places to experience momijimi, but one of the most famous is Momijidani Park (or “maple lane” park) on the island of Miyajima (also known as Itsukushima). There is hardly a more poetic sight than the clouds of scarlet leaves hanging above a red bridge spanning a still pond. A day of trekking in Miyajima also affords splendid views of Japanese maples out in nature. Miyajima, just a 1-hours journey from Hiroshima, is also famous for its giant torii gate that seems to rise up out of the ocean at high tide.
Kyoto, of course, is another famous destination to experience autumn in Japan, due to the quintessentially Japanese architecture, the backdrop of temples, and the meticulously kept gardens, which are breathtaking in autumn. However, both domestic and international visitors rush to Kyoto in autumn, and visits need to be timed well to avoid the madding crowds.
Slightly off the beaten track is Mount Koya, also known as Koyasan, on the pilgrimage route of the Kii Mountain Range. The crowds here are not as intense as Kyoto, and we think this is one of the best places for momiji. Koyasan is a sacred site, home to the headquarters of the Koyasan Shingon sect of Buddhism. For the ultimate Koyasan experience, we love to do a one-night temple stay at Koyasan, where the temple lodgings offer accommodations akin to ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn.