One of the great things about Japan is that it has 4 distinct seasons and they celebrated in their own special way. To be in Japan for a year is great because you can experience the full range of festivals, foods and activities. Moreover, Japan runs from north to south so even if you are only there for a short time, you can pick your activity and then find the right season. You can potentially ski and surf on the same day!
Spring and Autumn for many people are the best seasons in Japan. Spring has Cherry Blossom viewing and Autumn has the crimson foliage covering mountains throughout the country. The weather is great, having cooled after a sweltering Summer, and by Autumn the majority of the year’s typhoons will have been and gone. It is the perfect time to get out of the city and explore the countryside. In Spring, people can create almost a party atmosphere under the Cherry Blossom, with eating, drinking, singing and dancing. Autumn is much more subdued and it is a reflective time, as you walk along the mountain paths, admiring the natural - momiji or bright red maple leaves – as well as the man-made temples and shrines.
Pretty much anywhere is Japan will not be too far from Kouyou (the bright red leaves of Autumn) and some spectacular scenery.
In the Kanto area around Tokyo, Nikko is a beautiful place for viewing the Autumn leaves. It is a tourist attraction in its own right, as the national park there contains the temple Toushogu, one of the most ornate in Japan. Combining a visit to the temple with a view of Kouyou will make for a perfect day. It takes just a couple of hours from Tokyo by car or by train, which offers a frequent service even at weekends.
In the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe), you will be even nearer the action. Kyoto has beautiful Kouyou up at Kiyomizu temple within the city and Minou is also great area just a short train ride out of Osaka
Japan loves its festivals or ‘Matsuri’ in local parlance. Like many of its traditions, most Matsuri date back hundreds of years and are so prevalent that pretty much wherever you are in Japan there will be a local festival near you.
Matsuri big and small happen everywhere in Autumn, so it may be better to check out local Matsuri for a friendlier and more intimate experience. Details will be in your prefecture or ward’s English web pages or just ask around with neighbours, building concierge or someone in your local community.
Kansai is in many ways the region to catch the greatest in festivals at this time. One of the biggest and most frenetic is the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri. Danjiri or portable shrines are pulled at speed down the main street in Kishiwada, Osaka, and the fact that these Danjiri are several metres in height and extreme heavy makes for an incredible spectacle, but you have to make sure you are at a safe distance.