Experiencing Fall in Kyoto

Fall is one of my favorite seasons in Japan, and although the weather is quickly transitioning to winter, I thought it would be fun to revisit this post I wrote in November 20, 2012 for my Japan blog:
Going to Kyoto to enjoy red leaves has become somewhat of a tradition. For the third year in a row, I visited Tofukuji, a Zen temple only one stop away from Kyoto on the Nara Line. The leaves were, as always, breathtaking. Because of the sheer volume of Japanese maples, the way the trees frame the temples, and the stunning view from the wooden footbridge, Tofukuji is quite a popular place to visit during the momiji, or red leaves, season.

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The day before, we had monsoon weather with torrential rain. But on the day of our visit to Kyoto, the weather was gorgeous. There were times when the sun would burst through the clouds and illuminate the leaves, making them look like they were ablaze.

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I like Tofukuji because you get the contrast of the red leaves against the moss. Another reason why I love visiting Tofukuji during fall is the different views you can get of the leaves. From the elevated footbridge, you get spectacular views of the canopy of maples that appear like fiery clouds below you. Walk down the sets of stone steps, and you’re now underneath that same canopy, with the sunlight projecting all of the colors of autumn onto you.

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And, of course, the classic view of temple buildings framed by maple trees.

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One bad thing about going to enjoy the leaves is that EVERYONE and their mother is also there, at the temple with you, also trying to enjoy the red leaves. And some people (ahem, old ladies) are not afraid to push and use their elbows.

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After Tofukuji, we stopped for lunch and then headed to Arashiyama to visit Tenryuji.

Tenryuji was a lot more open than Tofukuji and has a different view of the leaves. It’s less about volume and more about how the trees look reflected in the pond and also dotted in the surrounding mountains. You can also pay a small fee to tour the inside of the temple, which has many areas where you can rest on the tatami mats with a wonderful view of the tree-lined pond.

If you’re not deterred by crowds, I think the red leaves and mild weather make fall a perfect time to visit Japan. If you’re serious about catching the leaves at their peak, consider using this site. It gives color reports for each region, predicting when the leaves will reach their peak, and giving updates of their progress, with ample photographs from some of the most popular locations for viewing red leaves. The great thing about the fall season is that, unlike cherry blossom season, which at best usually only lasts two weeks and can be cut short by a passing storm, the red leaves are more sturdy and have a longer period of development. Your chances of catching the leaves as a tourist, even if they’re not at their absolute peak, are much higher. As a general rule, the leaves turn red in the colder, northern areas first and work their way down the island, so if the leaves are past their prime in say, Tokyo, you may have a chance of catching them at their peak in Kyoto.

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