With its many temple and shrine gardens, Kyoto is Japan’s most popular location to watch autumn foliage.
Spread out across the former Japanese capital are several hundred sacred sites, many of them featuring meticulously kept gardens. During fall, these places won’t fail to impress with some striking colors (see my favorites on Google Maps).
Depending on the weather and the situation, intensity and progress of the colors will vary greatly. The best time to go is the second half of November. You will get to see plenty of crimson-colored maple leaves (momiji) for sure then. For more details when planning your itinerary, just check out the comprehensive autumn color reports from japan-guide.com.
Small Town Feel
Kyoto would be worth a visit even off foliage season. The city, commonly looked upon as the nation’s cultural heart, boasts a multitude of historic structures. Many of them are acknowledged as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In its old quarters, Kyoto has a distinct small town feel, hiding the fact that it hosts a population of almost 1.5 million. I guess its low-rise skyline comes into play here. New development projects are subject to strict height limits, helping preserve the largely traditional appearance of the place.