Autumn Leaves in Kyoto

May 7, 2016

by Hikari Yanagihara, Kazuki Nakamoto, and Haruna Masuzaki

Every year in the late autumn, the leaves in Kyoto turn beautiful colors of red, yellow, orange, and brown. This colorful display is called kouyou. At this time of the year, the leaves change with the drop in temperature from autumn to winter, showing the power of nature. Every year the leaves turn different colors. The beauty of kouyou is amazing in some years, but less spectacular in other years. For example, some leaves turn red, while other leaves turn yellow. The resulting color depends on a variety of conditions, such as the species of tree and the conditions in the environment, such as temperature, sunlight, and water. The most important factor is the temperature. When the change in temperature is larger, the leaves become more beautiful. In addition, the quality of color in kouyou can be effected by typhoons from the summer or early fall. Therefore some leaves turn red early, while others later in the season.

The leaves in Kyouto turn beautiful colors of many colors.


Kouyou Charm in Kyoto

Japanese kouyou is famous for its beauty, not only amongst Japanese people, but also foreigners. And one of the most famous places to see the beautiful kouyou in Japan is Kyoto. One reason is because there are so many temples and shrines with gardens in Kyoto. These places are an important part of traditional Japanese culture, so they are protected carefully and taken care of well. Therefore, people love to visit Kyoto in the fall to see the autumn colors and to experience Japanese tradition. When kouyou and Japanese tradition are combined in this way, it makes the experience of visitors much more special. This is something very hard to experience outside of Japan.

There are many places to view kouyou in Kyoto.

Japanese Kouyou

There are many places to view kouyou in Kyoto. For example, visitors can see the beautiful red leaves of trees at the famous Kiyomizu temple at night because they are lit up. It is a special experience. Also, they can enjoy riding a well-known kouyou viewing trolley in the well-known Arashiyama district on the west side of the city. The most appealing points of kouyou are both the variety of tree species, and the way the view is different each year. Much of the beauty of the leaves is difficult to capture in a photo, so you should come to Kyoto to see it with your own eyes.

Autumn Leaf Types

In Japan, there are two different words used to refer to the trees that produce the most beautiful colors in the fall: momiji and kaede, both of which refer to species of the maple tree family. Typically their leaf color is a deep red in the fall.

Momiji (Japanese maple tree)

There are many species of maple in Japan, but one particular species is native to Japan: the momiji (Acer palmatum). Japan is like a treasure house of momiji. In fact, the kanji for kouyou (紅葉) can be read as ‘momiji’ or ‘kouyou’, so momiji are symbolic of the kouyou experience in Japan.

There are many species of maple in Japan

Japanese Momiji

One of the best places to see momiji in the fall is in Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavillion). The best time to see momiji there is generally from mid-November through the first ten days of December, a peak window of about one week. That window depends entirely on environmental factors as discussed previously. If you go to see kouyou too early, they are still green. But the deep red color begins to emerge in November.


Kaede is a more general term for ‘maple tree’ in Japanese language. It can refer to all maple trees, including the momiji. However, the term ‘momiji’ typically refers to maple leaves that are small, sharp, and 5-pointed. On the other hand, ‘kaede’ often is used to describe maple leaves that are larger and 3-pointed, like a frog’s hands. In fact, the origin of the word ‘kaede’ means ‘frog’s forlegs’.

Kaede is a more general term for maple tree.

Japanese Kaede

There are a lot of kaede – along with a few momiji – in the world famous Kiyomizu Temple complex. The scale is huge, with more than 1,000 trees. The best time of the year to see kaede at Kiyomizu Temple is from the middle ten days of November to the first ten days of December. What is special about this collection of maple tree is that visitors can view them at night because they are lit up from November 15th to December 8th. However, because Kiyomizu Temple is such a popular destination for tourists, it is very crowded during kouyou season.

Best Places to View Kouyou

There are many temples and shrines in Kyoto, but some in particular are better for viewing the autumn leaves than others. Below are 3 places we recommend for experiencing the beauty of kouyou.


Hosenin is a small temple complex outside of Kyoto in the hills north of the city. Because of its distance from the city center, not many people know about this temple. There is also lot of nature in Hosenin, making it a great place to see the momiji in the fall. The kouyou at Hosenin is really beautiful. In the garden, sightseers can see bright kouyou, and can view them while drinking powdered green tea and eating cakes. The fresh green bamboo of the garden and the contrast of the red autumn maples are very beautiful. Moreover, the place is lit up in the night, so it’s just too good to pass up. Visitors can see the green bamboo and kouyou, which seem to float in darkness. Also visitors can be healed by the sound of a water harp. Visitors find it hard to take their eyes off of the view of kouyou reflected on the surface of water in the pond. It is mesmerizing.

This is a small temple complex outside of Kyoto.


From Kyoto station, you should the train bound for kokusaikaikan and get off kuramaguchi station.Then, walk about 6 minutes straight.


For tourists interested in taking photos, we recommend Enkouji Temple. Enkouji reflects the changes of each season well. The kouyou colors in the autumn are especially beautiful in the gardens of the temple. In fact, the gardens there match well with the outside scenery, so we can take beautiful photos. Many gardens of Kyoto are too crowded with people, so it is difficult to take good pictures. However, at Enkoji, monks keep certain areas of the garden clear of people, so visitors can take beautiful pictures. Moreover, the kouyou at Enkoji are varied, so people can see many different bright colors, making for a fantastic view. One of the gardens is named “Garden of Ten Cows” and had particularly bright kouyou. Also, Enkoji is known for its fallen kouyou. Even after the leaves have fallen onto the ground, it is still very beautiful. For this reason, many people visit Enkoji een after the kouyou have fallen.

For tourists interested in taking pictures.


From Kyoto station, you should take the bus of the five section.


Kiyomizu-dera temple is perhaps one of the most famous temples in Kyoto and in Japan. It was originally constructed in 798 by Sakanoueno Tamuramaro, and is known for its large wooden balcony. The main hall of the Buddhist temple, which stands up upon a cliff in the hills east of the city, was rebuilt in 1633 by Iemitsu Tokugawa. From this location, visitors can get a magnificent view of the whole city of Kyoto. Kiyomizumeans “pure water.” The water at the temple is said to have the power to heal the soul and also to make the dreams come true of those who drink it. The kouyou at Kiyomizu-dera temple are very beautiful. Every year lots of people visit during the autumn season. The foilage is also lit up at night during the kouyou season, which is beautiful, like a dream. So, not only can visitors get a nice view of the city from the great balcony, but also we can see the temple surrounded by kouyou in full color from a different view. It is a scene right out of a painting.

This is perhaps one of the most famous temple in Kyoto.

Kiyomizu temple

From Kyoto station, you should take the No,206 city buses bound for higashi-dori-kitaoji bus terminal.

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