Summer is finally starting to come to a close in Japan, and autumn has just begun. Many will be happy to know that the soaring temperatures and smothering humidity will soon drop, but there is a lot more to experience in autumn than just the simple break from the heat. From festivals, to holidays, and not to mention a wide range of new foods you can only find in these three months, there is a lot to explore and enjoy in Autumn in Japan. So in order to make sure you know exactly what to expect this season, we have put together this ultimate guide to fulfil all your questions and help you plan your next trip to Japan in the fall.
Time for September
A Japanese September is truly a unique month. Early on in the month temperatures can still be quite high and many people still consider it to be summer, with autumn only officially beginning in the later part of the month. The temperatures usually range from lows of 20℃ to highs of 27-29℃ in the Honshu and Kyushu areas. Travelling north, Hokkaido is renowned for being significantly cooler than the southern islands, with temperatures ranging from 14 to 22℃. Okinawa, on the other hand, usually remains hot for the entirety of September as the temperature generally ranges from 25 to 30℃.
September is also known as Typhoon season, nasty and heavy storms that can easily bring any plans and everyday life to a standstill. The strong winds, which are a key characteristic of Typhoons, are generally at their worst in Okinawa, Kyushu, and Shikoku, so it is best to be prepared if you have made any plans to visit them during your autumn travels. The winds, if strong enough, can also cause the bullet trains to be cancelled. With all this in mind, if you find yourself facing a Typhoon during your trip to Japan, it is highly suggested that you wait it out by staying at your accommodation. Fortunately, most typhoons will pass in a couple of days. However, they can last longer if they are incredibly strong.
So, what should you bring to prepare for this unusual start to autumn? Well, to start with you should definitely pack a mix of short and long-sleeved shirts and tees, as well as long but lightweight pants. To pair with it, you will need a light sweater or jacket since the nights can get quite cool in many areas throughout the country. As for shoes, sandals or canvas are highly recommended for the warmer weather, but it won’t hurt to pack some warmer shoes, especially some that are good for rainy weather.
Events and Things to Do
Whilst not always prime climbing time, September is still considered Fuji-climbing season. Not to mention that later in the month with the skies finally losing the haze and humidity of summer, it is much easier to bask in the full glory of Japan’s iconic mountain. The climb itself is not a wild and rugged one, due to the climb being extremely popular among locals and tourists, but it is rather physically challenging. However, if you do make the trek the views are absolutely incredible and well worth the trip!
As mentioned earlier, a mix of indoor and outdoor activities is the best option when visiting Japan in September. This way you will be less likely to be left with nothing to do if the weather takes a turn for the worse. Fortunately, there are just as many fantastic indoor places to visit across Japan as there are outdoors. You should definitely make sure to add all the fabulous museums, galleries, restaurants, temples, and many other great indoor attractions that can be found in all major Japanese cities to your travel itinerary. They are all a great experience that shouldn’t be missed after all, and what better time to do it than when the weather is prime for some inside time?
September is also home to the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri festival, held every year in Osaka. Considered the most famous of the Danjiri Matsuri festivals, large wooden floats are paraded throughout the streets of Kishiwada. The streets are lined with stalls to fulfill all your eating and drinking needs, and yes you bet they have some alcoholic beverages too. Finally, there’s also plenty of dancing for everyone’s entertainment and to truly bring the experience of the festival to a whole new level. Make sure you don’t miss it!
Time for October
October can be considered one of the best months to visit Japan (although, if you ask me, there are no “bad” months to visit). The weather is still warm, but not nearly as hot as the summer months and early September. The major cities of Honshu and Kyushu usually enjoy temperature highs in the low 20s, and nighttime is known to be quite cool with temperatures dropping to around 15℃. On a similar end, the subtropical and tropical Okinawa remains hot, although still not as hot as the summer, experiencing average highs of 28℃ and lows of 23℃. Hokkaido, on the other hand, is known for being much cooler, with highs of around 16℃ and lows of 7℃.
So now that we know all the temperatures you can expect this month in Japan, the question now is what should you pack? Well, for this month you will definitely need to increase the number of warm clothes from what you had for September. It’ll be a good idea to start with some long-sleeved tops and a pullover sweater for when you need a little extra warmth. A medium-weight jacket is also never a bad idea, especially when taking into account those cold autumn nights. In the way of shoes, closed shoes are definitely the way to go with ankle boots being the best option.
Events and Things to Do
October is a great time to go hiking in Japan, and there are so many excellent options to choose from. To start with there are some multi-day treks, particularly the Nakasendo Trail, for those looking for a bit of a physical challenge. When looking for an easier time, there are plenty of day hikes that can be found across the country, such as the Nikko area and the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. October, as we all know, is also the month for spooks, and Japan is certainly not one for turning down a chance to dress up, have fun, and create new unique holiday foods. Halloween in Japan is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience that should not be missed, especially for those who are fans of the holiday.
On the second Monday of October Japan holds its Taiiku-No-Hi, meaning Health and Sports Day, commemorating the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Celebrating sports and healthy, active lifestyles, there are various events being held throughout the day across the country. It is a great experience and a great chance to learn how to combine health and activity for fun.
After the Taiiku-no-Hi comes the Nada no Kenka Matsuri, also known as the Fighting Festival, celebrated in Himeji at the Omiya Hachiman Shrine every year on October 14th and 15th. The most notable feature of the festival would have to be the men carrying portable shrines on their shoulders, knocking them together in a traditional display of dominance. Visitors also have the opportunity to view Shinto rituals held at many various shrines. To top it all off are copious amounts of vendors that are more than happy to fill you up on specialty local foods, or provide you with souvenirs of crafts, charms, and other regional specialties only available at the festival. All of this adds up to a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience you shouldn’t miss when visiting Japan in October.
Time for November
Come November, Autumn is finally in full swing, the leaves are turning red and gold, and the temperatures are showing signs of winter’s approach. Reflecting this, Honshu and Kyushu can be found with mild temperatures throughout the month, with highs of 17℃ and lows of 10℃. Being greeted by an earlier winter, Hokkaido is more than not a lot cooler than the rest of the country, with highs just reaching 8℃ and lows of a very chilly 1℃. On the other hand, following its pattern of the previous two months, Okinawa still remains quite warm, enjoying average high temperatures of 24℃ and lows of 20℃.
And so now, for the last time in this post and for this season, we once again ask the question, what do you need to pack when travelling to Japan in November? Well, for most parts of the country, I can tell you it is definitely going to be cold, so make sure you have enough to rug up. A lot of the clothing that we suggested for October will also work here, but make sure to throw in a few extra layers just in case you need them come these cold nights. Ankle boots are a great choice for shoes as well as any other similar enclosed shoe.
Events and Things to Do
Fall Foliage Hunting (or Momijigari) is almost as popular as Hanami in the spring, but, like the blooming of the Sakura trees, the exact dates for the colour turn of the leaves can vary throughout the country. However, it is most common in November. Viewing parties are popular among many Japanese people, and it’s hard to miss the beautiful red and gold foliage that now dots the country’s landscape. In Kyoto and Nara, the fall leaves are particularly beautiful, pairing nicely with the cities’ traditional and ancient architecture and landscapes.
On November 3rd every year, various events dot the country, celebrating the art, culture, and traditions of Japanese culture in the Bunkano-hi (Culture Day). There are great festivities to be experienced at all of these events, with art exhibits and parades and many local markets celebrating the handmade crafts of the vendors. It is a great time to learn and embrace the artistic, cultural, and traditional history that Japan has to offer, and is most certainly not a day to miss.
Next up on your list of must-see November events is the Shichi-Go-San, a traditional Japanese festival for 3 and 7-year-old girls and 3 and 5-year-old boys on November the 15th. Although more of an important family event, and not a national holiday, families take the day to celebrate with their children of these ages, which are considered lucky in East Asian Numerology and pray for the child’s healthy growth. You would not be surprised to see children buying chitose-ame (long stick candies), which are not only made from rare sugarcane but also represent longevity. Children also dress up in their nicest clothes, wearing their kimonos, dresses, and suits. It’s a great day to celebrate family, and if you also happen to have a child around these ages I would definitely suggest you make sure to book this day in your planner.
Our last November event is the Labour Thanksgiving Day held on November 23rd or the following Monday if the 23rd happens to be a Sunday. Also known as Niinamesai (harvest festival), this holiday is marked by the emperor making Autumn’s first offering of harvested rice to the gods. However, as a public holiday, it is also celebrated to represent both human and workers’ rights. Being a public holiday may mean that many places are closed across Japan, but it is still a great day that celebrates Japanese culture and history.
9 Seasonal Fall Foods
Matsutake Mushrooms, or “pine mushrooms”, have a very distinctive pine scent when cooked, consisting of a hearty, quite meaty, texture. Usually cooked with rice, and sometimes to create a beautiful autumn soup made out of a clear dashi broth, these mushrooms are incredibly popular among the Japanese people and can be found in both restaurants and homes alike. However, whilst they can be found reasonably priced, their popularity can cause the price of the Matsutake Mushrooms to reach hundreds of thousands of yen. One of the reasons behind the soaring rise in price may be attributed to the fact that these seasonal mushrooms have been placed on the threatened list by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2020. This does not mean they are completely inaccessible though so you should definitely make sure to try these beautiful autumn mushrooms.
Chestnuts are a highly popular autumn food, found in both sweet and savoury dishes across Japan. Interestingly enough, the Japanese word used for the chestnuts can actually change depending on which kind of dish it is used in. The French word, Marron, is commonly used for sweet dishes and can be most often found topping delicious cream-filled desserts. On the other hand, Kuri is the Japanese word for chestnuts, and they are commonly found roasted or served in rice. Another popular dish is the kuri-manju, a sweet pastry containing a whole steamed chestnut. You can commonly find many chestnut themed treats at any great bakery or cake shop around Japan, but if you’re aiming for the kuri-manju, we suggest trying traditional sweet shops, supermarkets, and festival stores.
You can consider it the fruit of autumn, persimmons are a deliciously sweet and soft fruit that can best be described as looking like a tomato. They are a delectable, and not to mention sticky, fruit that you won’t have a hard time convincing your kids to try. Just make sure you have something to help wash up everyone’s hands when you’re done! You can actually find two primary types of persimmons at this time, the first being the hachiya, or “astringent” type, which is incredibly tart up until it is fully ripe. The other type is the fuyu, or “non-astringent” type, and is quite firm, so you can actually eat it like an apple. If you’re in the countryside, you could probably grab your persimmons straight from the tree, and locals will often give them away in roadside boxes. If you’re not in these areas, persimmons are still simple to find, just take a visit to any greengrocers and supermarkets, oh, and don’t forget your farmer markets too!
If there’s one thing that adults and kids alike can recall from their childhood, it’s chasing after ice cream trucks as they slowly drive down the street, playing a tune and selling ice cream to anyone they stop. Japan has many of these, too, and believe it or not, they’re not all for ice cream. In fact, this particular autumn food that travels the streets in a truck is a sweet potato or Yakiimo. These unique, creamy sweet potatoes are unlike any you will ever try anywhere else in the world, or in any other season as well. And not to mention the experience of flagging down these yakiimo trucks, watching as the driver hops out and begins cooking these beautiful potatoes in the stone oven on the back of the truck is a one-time experience you just can’t miss. They are great by themselves, but we also recommend adding a little butter, salt, and pepper to take this vegetable to a whole nother level! Of course, you won’t just find the yakiimo on these trucks, as you can easily grab one to cook for yourself at any local convenience store and supermarket.
With a name translating to “autumn swordfish”, the sanma are highly abundant in the Japanese oceans throughout autumn. The fish, which is also known as Pacific Saury, is said to have a flavour similar to herrings or sardines and is served at its best when just simply grilled whole. Add some salt, a side of daikon radish, and a slice of lemon and you’ve got yourself the perfect autumn fish dish for any time of the day, particularly, breakfast! It also makes a great addition to a teishoku, or lunch set, which is found throughout many traditional Japanese restaurants.
You may think of this as one of the more “plain” items on this list, but a kabocha korokke is certainly not a seasonal food you should ignore. Most popularly made into a deep-fried croquette, it is considered one of the best comfort foods you can find in Japan in autumn, and we would have to agree. Being slightly sweet, crispy, and just plain old delicious; you can’t go wrong with this pumpkin, and it is no surprise that it is a childhood favourite for many, so make sure to add it to your favourites. The kabocha karokke is commonly found fried or served as a mellow side dish to any good curry, which is unlike many other places and kinds of pumpkin which are more beloved in soups and stews. You can find these great treats at street vendors in the smaller areas, as well as many izakayas and convenience stores.
It’s the end of summer, and believe it or not, autumn is also home to the end of the rice season, meaning that the best time for you to grab the freshest bowl of rice is in these three months! In fact, that happens to be the meaning of Shinmai, fresh, or new, rice. Said to be softer and moister than “older” rice, you can only get this limited edition rice from September to December, after this time it loses its “new” status. Thus, it is required for the rice to be processed and packaged the same year it was harvested, and come December, it can no longer be sold. You can enjoy a bowl of shinmai rice by itself, but you can also add many other autumn foods, such as ginkgo nuts, chestnuts, or matsutake mushrooms to create the perfect seasonal meal.
The ginkgo nuts have long been considered the sign of Japanese autumn, only being harvested as the ginkgo trees’ leaves turn golden. These ginkgo nuts can be commonly found in izakayas as a snack, being plump in nature with a bitter flavour made all the better with a pinch of salt. Just like the leaves of the tree, the nut turns a yellow colour when they are cooked, and they gain that delicious umami flavour with just a tiny hint of sweetness. These factors make the ginkgo nut a perfect addition to any rice dishes, stir-fries, or simply just enjoyed as they are.
Truly the most well-known word you might come across on this list, the infamous Japanese alcohol, sake, is no stranger to seasonal turns. The sake is traditionally brewed in winter, moving on to pasteurization and aging over spring and summer before finally being ready by the time autumn comes around. This makes the Hiyaorashi and Akiagari the absolute perfect seasonal autumn drink for adults of all ages.
The seasons in Japan are truly distinct, and there’s never any shortage of things to see and do, something that Autumn is certainly no stranger to. With so many events, travelling to Japan in any of these three months can seem daunting. So with all that in mind, we hope that this ultimate autumn guide helps you plan your next autumn trip, choosing exactly what you want to go visit, see, and eat, as well as everything you need to bring.
Featured photo by Ashirani Murata on Unsplash