Photo by Sean Pavone / PIXTA

Autumn Leaf Illuminations in Kyoto

Kyoto is famous for the exceptional beauty of its autumn foliage. Certainly, viewing the bright tapestry of crimson and gold in such a gorgeous historical setting is an unforgettable experience. During this season many temples and shrines illuminate their grounds and gardens so that visitors can view the autumn leaves after the sun goes down. Lit-up and framed by the night the radiant leaves seem to float mysteriously in the darkness. Here is a carefully selected list of locations where you can view Kyoto’s autumn colors at night.


Founded in 1606 Kōdai-ji temple has extensive gardens and during the autumn light-up the sight of the illuminated maples reflected in the garden pond is quite otherworldly.
Period: mid-October – early December
Time: Sunset – 22.00 (Last entry: 21.30)


This 13th century temple has an exceptionally pretty stroll garden featuring a pond, giant camphor trees, a bamboo grove, and a teahouse. When the garden is illuminated, lights are scattered like stars on the moss garden for a particularly charming effect.
Period: late October – early December
Time: 18.00 – 22.00 (Last entry: 21.30)


This ancient temple with a history dating back 1,200 years is registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. When illuminated, the famous main hall of the temple with its great veranda jutting out from the hillside seems to float on magnificent clouds of red and gold.
Period: late November – early December
Time: 17.30 – 21.00

Kitano Tenmangu

This shrine dates from 947 and is dedicated to the Shinto god of learning.The maple garden at Kitano Tenmangu has hundreds of trees, some up to 400 years old, which line the bank of a stream and their rich colors are beautifully illuminated at night.
Period: mid-November – early December
Time: Sunset to 20.00
Special entry fee (includes tea and a sweet): 700 yen for adults, 350 yen for children

Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji

Eikan-dō is one of Kyoto’s most legendary locations for viewing fall foliage. Founded in 853 the many buildings of this temple complex are scattered over a mountainside with wooden walkways passing through extensive gardens. The temple grounds feature streams, ponds, and a sea of glorious maple foliage. When illuminated the view is breathtaking.
Period: early November – early December
Time: 17.30 – 21.00 (Last entry: 20.30)


This temple dates from 1234 and its vast grounds feature many historic structures and gardens. The Showa-era garden of Yūzen-en is particularly famous, and during the autumn light-up season the maples here, together with the gigantic Sanmon Gate (a National Treasure), are lit up to dramatic effect.
Period: November 1st to December 1st
Time: 17.30 – 21.30 (Last entry: 21.00)
Special entry fee: 800 yen for adults, 400 yen for children

Kifune Jinja

Kifune Jinja is a shrine in the village of Kibune located in the rural outskirts of Kyoto. In peak season this mountain village is gaily painted with autumn colors, and the way through the village to the shrine is softly lit with roadside lanterns. This is one of the major autumn attractions in Kyoto.
Period: November
Time:  17.30 – 22.30


A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tō-ji was founded in 796 and is the only temple in Kyoto which dates from the Heian era (794 to 1185). During the autumn illuminations the temple’s famous five-story pagoda and the surrounding maples are beautifully reflected in the crystal surface of the temple pond.
Period: late October – early December
Time: 18.30 – 21.30 (Last entry: 21.00)
Special entry fee: 1,000 yen for adults, 500 yen for children


The gardens of Hōsen-in are best viewed from inside the temple where they appear exactly like a living picture framed by the building’s pillars. A bamboo forest provides a brilliant green contrast with the vivid red of the maples.

Autumn Leaf Illuminations in Kyoto
Photo by moto / PIXTA

Period: early November –  early December
Time:  17.45 – 21.00 (Last entry: 22.40)
Special entry fee: 800 yen for adults, 700 yen for children


Founded in 874, Daigo-ji is a large temple complex, but it is the Benten-dō Hall that attracts the most photographers. This picturesque structure is surrounded by maple trees and reached by a vermilion bridge over a reflective pond that is particularly magical when lit up at night.
Period:  mid-November – early December
Time: 18.00 –  22.50 (Last entry: 22.10)
Special entry fee: 1,000 yen
Special reserved tickets: 1,300 yen (includes gift and early entry at 17.45), 1600 yen(includes gift, sweet sake or sweet anko soup, early entry at 17.45)

Michael Lambe