Fall is fast approaching and now that the heat of summer is dying down, it’s time to start thinking about autumn leaves and outdoor pursuits.
In addition to the classics such as hot springs and autumn leaves, we have included a few alternative Tokyo day trips off the beaten track. How about riding the SL Paleo Express or checking out the other autumn foliage?
1. Admire Autumn Leaves from Your Private Onsen
Undeniably, the most relaxing way to admire the autumnal colors is by heading to a hot spring. Close to Tokyo lie the hot spring towns of Hakone, Atami and more.
Guests from across Japan descend upon the towns to relax in the outdoor baths and gaze out upon rustic autumn leaves. Many baths are built to enhance the proximity of their natural surroundings. Come fall time, as leaves begin to change color, the hot springs really come into their own.
Take your pick from one of the hot spring towns that are located close to Tokyo — there are many and all are beautiful.
2. Check Out the Fall Illuminations
In Japan where the days are notoriously short, come foliage season many areas host special illuminations where visitors can make the most of fall leaves in the evenings. Stroll around pre-assigned courses, where leaves in fantastic colors line the pathways illuminated with fairytale lights.
One surprising contender among top autumn-leaf spots is Ibaraki, the oft-overlooked prefecture next to the Tokyo Metropolis. It is quieter than many of its counterparts, meaning that visitors can enjoy autumn leaves in relative tranquility. Other areas to check out are Yamanashi and Gunma prefectures.
3. Wander to Kiyotsu Gorge‘s Art Tunnel
Named one of the top three gorges across the whole of Japan, the Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel in Niigata attracts many visitors each year.
In 2018, the “Tunnel of Light” installation by MAD architects was created for the Echigo Triennale. The permanent installation features a multitude of spotlights running along the 750-meter-long tunnel. It features three viewing points at which walkers can look out over the Kiyotsu Gorge.
In fall, this becomes arguably more impressive as the leaves change color along with the landscape. The tunnel is suitable for wheelchairs and strollers, with a souvenir shop, free footbath and hot spring nearby making it the perfect place to spend a day.
4. Admire Kochia Around Oishi Park
Autumn leaves in Japan are famous, but there are many other varieties of plant that reach their peak in the fall. One such type is kochia, a fluffy bush, which looks like cotton candy. Kochia turns from green to a beautiful, soft red come fall time, its ground location lighting up the landscape with gentle crimson smudges. The kochia in Oishi Park dot the front of any picture, with the majestic Mount Fuji in the background.
5. Attend a Cosmos Festival
Another alternative to traditional autumn leaves are cosmos, the cheerful pink, white and purple flowers. From the end of September to the end of October, many parks and nature reserves hold Cosmos Festivals. There are often food stalls and special activities for visitors to make a day out of seeing the flowers.
Top picks include the Showa Memorial Park in Tachikawa, with over five million flowers across the park. There are around one million at Kurihama Flower Park in Yokosuka, Kanagawa and 400,000 at Hanadaka Flower Hill in Gunma.
6. Make Herb Tea and Foilage Ornaments at Kujukuri Herb Garden
Enjoy fall herbs by making your own herb tea or beautiful herb ornament at Chiba’s most famous herb garden.
Kujukuri Herb Garden is popular among young and old alike, with chances to make various herb-related arts and crafts at its craft center. From herb tea through to herb candles, the herb garden has something for everyone to make, all while looking out over the herbs.
Located close to the beach, visitors to the Kujukuri Restaurant are treated to herb and flower garnished creations and fresh seafood. After a morning crafting, relax with a meal made using fresh local produce at the garden restaurant.
7. Help with Harvest at Urban Farm Hatakenbo
Hatakenbo is a small urban farm, with a rice field and vegetable patch that grows 50 types of vegetables each year. There are also chickens and two horses, in order for visitors to learn ‘the cycle of life’ while there.
A nonprofit organization, the farm is welcoming to visitors, offering experiences each week. Family and adult-friendly, it is adjoined by a traditional Japanese house which has been turned into a restaurant and community center. Visitors to the farm can eat the produce they helped to harvest while looking out over the large garden across from the building.
The farm is located in Kunitachi, only one hour away from Shinjuku by train.
8. Head Out on a Fall Train Ride: SL Paleo Express
Nagatoro is a tiny town located just 20 minutes from Chichibu Railway Station in Saitama. Known for its water rafting experiences, Nagatoro is also home to one of Japan’s last remaining active steam trains.
Admire the picturesque scenery from the train carriages over the journey, which lasts around 2.5 hours from the first to the last station. The steam train passes sites including the Arakawa River Gorge, the Chichibu Mountain Range and glistening rice paddies. Snacks and souvenirs are available on the train.