Momiji (紅葉) is the word Japanese use for autumn leaves, and mid November is when the trees in Kyoto start to peak in brightness and variety. So far, 2016 is one of the best years for momiji in recent memory, so visitors to Kyoto this autumn are in for a real treat Here's an look at some of the early momiji from a few spots around the city...
This isolated Zen temple in south Kyoto prefecture is known for its wonderful momiji, but not many visitors make it out of the city to see this great spot. I visited at 9:00am on a weekend morning, and we had the whole place to ourselves!
Ikkyuji has several beautiful Zen rock gardens, a vibrant moss garden, and a peaceful pond surrounded by green forest. Another big draw here are the sweets served with matcha tea in the main hall. They have the consistency of cookies, but are flavored with natto, dry fermented soybeans. Let's just say it's an acquired taste. I definitely enjoyed looking at the trees over trying the cookies.
This spot blew me away with its vibrant trees that were all hitting their peak colors at the same time. It's rare to find a spot like this that doesn't have at least a few green maple trees that still haven't changed, so this was quite special.
This park features a carefully planned "momiji valley" area that is planted with nothing but Japanese maples. This might be the most impressive display of autumn colors that I've ever seen! Seeing the trees from the elevated walkway above the canopy was almost as nice as walking through them at ground level.
One of the top destiantions for momiji in Kyoto is Arashiyama over on the western edge of the city. It's a beautiful spot to visit year round on our Arashiyama Backroads Tour, but autumn is the season to see it at its best.
I snapped the picture above at Tenryuji Zen temple, one of the finest examples of a fixed-view garden in the country. The landscape continues up out of the garden and into the mountains behind the temple in a seamless transition using a design technique known as borrowed scenery. Truly one of the best views in Kyoto made even more impressive by the colorful momiji.
Another excellent viewing spot for Arashiyama momiji is Okochi Sanso villa and garden near the bamboo forest. It's a bit pricey to get in there, but you'll be treated to the best selection of early momiji in Kyoto. Some of the leaves start turning here as early as Halloween!