Autumn Tours 2017

Nukui Dam and Lake Ryuki

Autumn is a brilliant time to visit Japan, with cooler temperatures than summer, stunning autumn foliage, and gorgeous traditional Japanese gardens tempting you to explore.

The pink, frothy waves of cherry blossom-laden trees that take over Japan in the springtime steal much of the limelight - but Japan is equally beautiful in autumn, when the legions of maple and gingko trees the length and breadth of the country burst out into a profusion of fiery autumn colours.

The autumn months of October and November are the ideal time to take a tour of Japan, not just because you’ll have plenty of opportunity to witness the full glory of the trees resplendent in their autumn finery, but also because of the comfortable weather. Autumn in Japan brings a welcome dose of lower humidity and more moderate temperatures than summer, but it still supplies the clear weather, sunny skies and balmy warmth that Brits crave from their holiday destination. 

Lower temperatures and humidity also mean that it is easier to be active and explore outdoors, making it an ideal time to visit for those who like it warm but not too hot. Autumn is a popular season for outside and nature activities such as sightseeing, walking and hiking, and is the ideal time to visit for fans of Japanese gardens, as you’ll get to see them looking their best.


Inside Japan Tours - Autumn Splendour / From £2,790pp / 13 nights

Ginkgo trees, Showa Kinen Park

This special seasonal itinerary has been designed to showcase the best of Honshu (Japan's main island) during autumn. Whether you take an earlier or a later departure you are bound to encounter stunning colours wherever you go; Nikko and Kamikochi are decked out in gorgeous autumn foliage in October, while the leaves in Tokyo and Kyoto's temples reach their best in mid-November.

In Tokyo and Kyoto, private guides will assist you in tracking down some of the best autumn foliage. In Tokyo, Gingko Avenue offers lines of striking yellow trees, while the city's parks and traditional Japanese gardens, such as Rikugien and Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens, are also excellent places to see a variety of autumn colours. In Kyoto, opportunities for leaf-viewing continue after dark; Tofuku-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Yoshimine-dera and Eikando are best visited in the evening, when the trees are lit up to their advantage. 

Elsewhere too you will have plenty of time to hunt down camera-worthy displays of autumn leaves. From Tokyo, take a side-trip to Nikko, lying in the midst of a beautiful national park and home to an elaborate temple complex and the final resting place of one of Japan's most important shoguns. The highlight of your visit will be the hair-raising bus ride up Iroha-zaka, a mountain road with an impressive 48 hairpin bends, to see the waterfalls of Lake Chuzenji - of which dramatic 100-metre Kegon Falls is the tallest - decked out in their autumn finery.

And your return route from Kyoto to Tokyo takes you right through the heart of the magnificent Japanese Alps, passing through mercantile Takayama, castle-topped Matsumoto, and unspoiled, nature-filled Kamikochi National Park. In autumn, this area of protected natural beauty is ablaze with colour, providing a gorgeous backdrop to a couple of days' hiking, the perfect memory of your trip.

Learn more on Inside Japan Tours' website:

Japan Experience - Japanese Gardens / From £1,241 / 15 days

MomijidaniPark, Hiroshima

Why not give yourself a full two weeks to discover Japan’s most beautiful gardens? Flying into Tokyo and out from Osaka, this tour encompasses an impressive fifteen stops in seven cities. While also including must-sees Tokyo and Kyoto, however, it focuses on three other areas: Kanazawa and Okayama, home to two of the finest Japanese gardens, and the sacred island of Miyajima near Hiroshima, one of Japan’s three most beautiful landscapes. 

Four days in Tokyo will give you ample time to explore peaceful havens and green areas in the heart of bustling Tokyo such as Yoyogi Park, the tranquil grounds of Meiji Jingu Shrine, and  traditional gardens Hamarikyu Teien and Rikugien, the latter famed for its clusters of brilliant maple trees in autumn. There’s even time for a daytrip to see the Zen stone garden of Zuisenji Temple in nearby Kamakura, ingeniously carved from the natural rock face behind the garden.

In Kyoto, you’ll have three full days to soak up the charms of the former Imperial capital, strewn with countless temples and shrines. Roam spacious Maruyama Park, admire Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji temples’ carefully manicured temple gardens, and meditate in the Zen gardens of Ryoanji and Daitokuji temples. En route to Kyoto you’ll also pass through Kanazawa, home to Kenrokuen, one of the three great landscape gardens of Japan.

You’ll get to see another of Japan’s top three gardens, Korakuen, in Okayama en route from Kyoto to Hiroshima, where you’ll spend your time on Miyajima Island. Enjoy splendid views of Itsukushima Shrine and its ‘floating’ torii shrine gate, the Inland Sea and its islets from atop Mt. Misen, and thousands of maple trees in Momiji-dani, the ‘valley of the autumn leaves’.

See Japan Experience's website to learn more:

Japan Journeys - Gardens of Japan / From £3,425 / 12 days

Shinjuku Gyoen

Timed to coincide with Japan’s spectacular maple leaf season, this tour moves west to east, flying into Osaka and out from Tokyo, taking in a wealth of beautiful shrines, temples and gardens on its way. 

See Japan burst into colour with a guided sightseeing tour of Kyoto by private coach, stopping off at well-known autumn leaf spotting spots, such as hillside temple Kiyomizu-dera with breathtaking views over the city, the serene temple complex of Daitoku-ji with its fifteen sub-temples and gardens, and Tofukuji Temple, famous for its striking tunnel of fiery-hued maple trees viewed from an elevated bridge.

Overnighting on idyllic Miyajima, whose valley of radiant maple trees is a renowned autumn sight throughout Japan, your stay is perfectly timed to coincide with the thrilling fire-walking ceremony at the island’s Daisho-in Temple! Looping round rural western Japan, admire two of Japan’s most celebrated gardens; Adachi Museum is equally famed for its traditional garden as for its collection of contemporary Japanese art. Meanwhile, Korakuen in Okayama, an exceptional Edo period stroll garden, is at its most magnificent during autumn.

The tour concludes in Tokyo, where you can dip your toe into modern Japan while you continue to enjoy the eye-catching autumn reds and golds at the many gardens and pockets of greenery tucked away all over in the city, such as Shinjuku Gyoen and Koishikawa Korakuen.

Visit Japan Journeys' website to find out more:

Intrepid Travel - Japan Express / From £1,164 / 9 days

Mt Gassan, Yamagata


Choose from many autumn departures on this short and sweet tour of Japan that lets you see the best of Japan without busting your budget. Spend three days in Tokyo, two days in Nikko, and a whopping four days in Kyoto. Soak up the neon nightlife of Tokyo, discover age-old culture and history in Nikko, and relax in the manicured temple gardens of Kyoto.

The trip includes very few scheduled activities but oodles of free time to spend how you want, making it an ideal choice for travellers who like to set their own pace and itinerary. However, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be left all at sea when it comes to sniffing out the best of what to see, do, and eat - your group leader will always be on hand with recommendations for activities, restaurants, and transport options.

In Nikko, marvel as autumn’s flamboyant colours compete with the opulent gold leaf and lacquer work of Toshogu temple’s heavily decorated shrine buildings. Then relax by Lake Chuzenji, or take a bus higher up to the Senjogahara Plateau, where mountain gods are said to have battled for possession of the lake, for hiking tours on the elevated wooden walkways criss-crossing the wetlands. Whatever you do, it will against the backdrop of the tawny autumn hues of Nikko’s forests, lakes and marshes.

In Tokyo, explore the city’s green spaces such as Yoyogi Park, Meiji Jingu Shrine, and Shinjuku Gyoen Garden, temporarily transformed into a sea of red, orange and gold by the arrival of autumn. And in Kyoto, you’ll be able to engineer four days of full-on leaf-hunting at the city’s myriad temples and shrines, including spacious Nanzen-ji Temple and its many sub-temples, Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, and Toji Temple, home to Japan’s tallest pagoda.

Visit Intrepid Travel's website to find out more:


Jaltour - Gardens & Landscapes / 11 days / poa

Matsue Castle

Get acquainted with some of Japan’s best gardens and landscapes while they are at their most attractive on this small group guided tour, which offers a well-rounded introduction to the world of Japanese gardens and landscapes. During your initial three nights in Tokyo you’ll pay a visit to Hamarikyu Teien Garden, the Imperial Palace Garden, and Shunkaen Bonsai Museum. You’ll also enjoy an out-of-town day trip to Hakone, stopping at Hakone Botanical Wetland Garden and Onshi Park, from where you can enjoy spectacular views of Lake Ashi and Mt. Fuji on clear weather days.
From there, fly to Matsue, a hidden gem tucked away in Shimane prefecture on the western coast of mainland Japan. Shimane’s capital, little-known Matsue is artistically sandwiched between several lakes and the Sea of Japan off Japan’s northern coast. Here, visit the Adachi Museum, known for its beautiful Japanese gardens and landscapes, and Matsue Castle, one of Japan’s few remaining original castle structures. 

After a tranquil stay in Matsue, head to Kyoto, stopping in Okayama to visit its famous castle, potter around Korakuen Garden, and take a boat ride down the Horikawa River. Your stay in Kyoto will be filled with cultural experiences and garden visits galore on two full-day tours. Contemplate the Zen rock garden at Ryoanji Temple, stroll through Sagano bamboo forest, and visit Tenryuji, one of Japan’s best-known Zen temples. Whenever possible, the tour also includes a visit and Buddhist calligraphy session at Saihoji Temple, famed for its amazing carpeted moss garden. 
That’s not all - you’ll also get to explore Kyoto Botanical Garden, gawp at the world-famous Golden Pavilion at Kinkakuji Temple, explore the inside of a machiya (a traditional townhouse), and partake in a traditional tea ceremony. The last day in Kyoto is free at your leisure - if you can still find anything left to do!

See Jaltours' website to learn more:

Unique Japan Tours - Gardens of Japan / From £3,960 / 12 days

Murasaki Shikibu Park, Fukui

Gardens of Japan promises to take you to the finest Japanese gardens you’ll ever see. The tour is fully escorted by an English-speaking Japanese garden expert, who will explain the concepts and execution of the different garden styles, allowing you to appreciate not only the gardens’ beauty but also the natural landscapes that inform their design. Departures are offered on 24th September and 12th November.

The tour covers visits to gardens that exemplify the three main styles of Japanese garden: tea gardens, promenade gardens, and sand and stone gardens. These include Adachi Art Museum garden, which has been crowned the best Japanese landscape garden for twelve years running, and Kenrokuen, which with roughly 8,750 trees and 183 species of plants, is every garden enthusiast’s dream.

Other highlights include a stroll through the moss garden at Zen Buddhist temple Saihoji Temple, where over 100 varieties of moss showcase every hue of green imaginable, and a ride on the quaint Torokko Sightseeing Train in Arashiyama district in Kyoto, whose rugged landscapes heavily influenced the design of Japanese gardens, which will deepen your appreciation of the gardens you see on the tour.

Further afield, in rural Shimane you will stop by Yushien Garden, a traditional walk-through garden with carp-filled ponds, streams, and waterfalls, whose trees are lit up at night to create luminous reflections of the autumnal trees in the surface of the ponds, and Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine, Japan’s oldest shrine and home to the tallest shrine building in Japan as well as the largest shimenawa (sacred straw rope), measuring 13.5 meters in length and weighing a staggering 5 tons!

To find out more, visit Unique Japan Tours' website:

Abercrombie & Kent - Colours of Japan / From £5,110pp / 10 nights

Daigoji Temple, Kyoto Credit: Abercrombie & Kent

This tour has been specially designed to allow you to enjoy the kaleidoscope of colours on show in Japan throughout the seasons; go in September to November if you want to see witness Japan’s famous stunning autumn foliage. Starting in Tokyo, check out the maple leaves in stately city park Shinjuku Gyoen and bayside Hamarikyu Teien, the former duck-hunting ground of an Edo Period lord, now a peaceful public park.

Tick off both cultural and natural sights on a daytrip to Nikko, as you explore UNESCO World Heritage listed Toshogu Shrine complex, set amongst the forested mountains of Nikko National Park. Then speed your way a few hours by bullet train to Kanazawa, an immaculately preserved castle town often known as “Little Kyoto” thanks to its wide array of cultural attractions, where your number one priority is Kenrokuen Garden, a living work of art painstakingly created over 150 years that is especially dazzling when clad in its autumn best.

However, the tour’s highlight is sure to be its generous final three nights in Kyoto, which allow ample time and opportunity for autumn leaf-spotting galore, whether it is from in front of the pond framing Kinkakuji Temple’s Golden Pavilion, the 13m high wooden veranda jutting out from Kiyomizudera Temple’s main hall, or on an enchanting rickshaw tour of Arashiyama's bamboo forest.

For more information, see Abercrombie & Kent's website:

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