If you want to see Japan’s famous fall colors, the Fuji Five Lakes region is an excellent destination. Here, you’ll not only get some of the best autumn foliage from late October through early December, but you’ll also have photogenic scenes with vibrant momiji in the foreground and Mount Fuji in the background.
In this post, we’ll share some of our favorite places for fall foliage viewing in the Fuji Five Lakes area, photos taken at various locations, and thoughts on our experience visiting this area of Japan in the fall. The first step is booking your visit, and for that we’d recommend at least two full days in the Fuji Five Lakes region, and would suggest aiming for weekdays just before mid-November.
The reason to do multiple days is because there are times when Mount Fuji is totally obscured by clouds–if you do a day trip from Tokyo, there’s the possibility you won’t see it at all. On the other hand, you really don’t want to spend too much time in the Fuji Five Lakes area, as once you go past 3 full days, you’re going to start running out of (worthwhile) things to do.
As for doing weekdays, that’s a matter of price and crowds. Mount Fuji is a revered travel destination for domestic tourists, and mid-November is the peak travel time for domestic tourism to Fuji Five Lakes. On some weekends, the Maple Corridor is literally shoulder to shoulder, and the free shuttles have lengthy lines at each stop because they’re so packed they can’t hold more people.
In terms of timing, mid-November is the normal peak, but that varies each year based upon weather and a variety of other factors. Since you have to book these hotels far in advance (or risk them selling out), you don’t know what the projections will be for your visit when you plan it. As such, it’s better to err on the side of too early than too late. Only some of the colors having changed is superior to half of the leaves already being on the ground.
The best area to stay is unquestionably going to be Lake Kawaguchi, which is the “main” lake that tourists visit, and has the best transportation options. There are resorts, ryokan, and rentals around the other lakes, and those are not bad options if you want to be away from the crowds.
For example, we stayed at the Fuji Marriott Hotel Lake Yamanaka, which was a lovely hotel surrounded by tranquil property. It would’ve been perfect if we lived in Japan and drove a car to visit Mount Fuji…but we didn’t. Taking public transportation from our hotel to Lake Kawaguchi required a combination of a bus and train.
It was time-consuming and arduous; something we wouldn’t recommend to others if they plan on doing a lot in the Fuji Five Lakes region. If you’re more concerned with a leisurely experience and a relaxing resort, it’d be perfect.
In terms of basic tips and info, that’s really what you need to know about the Fuji Five Lakes region. Now, for the things to do while you’re there…
Chureito Pagoda & Arakura Sengen Shrine – A sprawling mountainside temple complex with some pretty buildings and a large torii gate that faces Mount Fuji. It’s somewhat remote location is a downside, but it’s well worth the train ride here.
The view above Chureito Pagoda is the unequivocal highlight, but the hike up to this pagoda is also beautiful. Along the way, you’ll see plenty of photogenic trees that can be used to frame Mount Fuji, plus details and other temple buildings.
The scene from the Chureito Pagoda overlook (pictured above) is one of Japan’s most famous, and common in tourism marketing materials. It’s stunning, but the downside is that there’s a very short window of time when all of these trees are have peak colors simultaneously.
Lake Kawaguchi – All around the lakeshore, you’ll find pockets of fall colors. The best spot that I found was a location almost directly across from the Maple Corridor that I’ve seen referred to on Japanese blogs as “Rusugaiwa Rock.”
I have no idea whether that’s the official name of this location, but you’ll know it when you see the bright red tree framing Mount Fuji, and the crowd of people gathered to capture this same photo.
Maple Corridor – This was seriously impressive and stunning. It reminded me a lot of the Path of Philosophers during cherry blossom season both in terms of the beauty and the crowds.
As with Path of Philosophers, here you have a narrow pathway alongside a canal, which is surrounded by a stretch of large maple trees forming a canopy of color over visitors. The narrow walkway coupled with high crowds can create heavy congestion along the Maple Corridor, but it’s worth it.
Kawaguchi Autumn Leaves Festival – This annual event runs from November 1 until November 23, along the north shore of Lake Kawaguchiko. It occurs mostly near the maple corridor and koyo tunnel, and features vendors selling crafts and souvenirs, plus food stalls serving local specialties.
If you’re staying in the Lake Kawaguchiko area, return at night when the Maple Corridor is illuminated, crowds are lower, and there’s a lively atmosphere. (Note that the Momiji Tunnel is not illuminated.)
Momiji Tunnel – Note that the Momiji Tunnel is in a different location from the Maple Corridor. The difference is that this is a tunnel covering the road and pathways in this area, which is a bit farther along the bus route (4 stops later).
You’ll know when you’re here. Failing that, when you see a ton of photographers lined up with tripods.
Kubota Itchiku Art Museum – This is a quaint museum dedicated to Kubota Itchiku, the renowned kimono artist, and located in a forested area away from the main stretch of the Maple Corridor.
The museum itself is exceptional (and highly recommended); as for it making this fall colors list, that’s based upon the grounds of the Itchiku estate, which have some beautiful trees and views of Mount Fuji.
Lake Yamanaka Nighttime Illumination – Along the waterfront at Lake Yamanaka, the trees are illuminated in the evenings. There’s also a night market with vendors selling food, drinks, art, and souvenirs.
We found this to be really pleasant, and far less touristy than the Kawaguchi Autumn Leaves Festival. To be sure, it’s not as breathtaking as the Maple Corridor, but the lack of crowds help compensate for that.
Koyodai Observation Deck – Another more remote option. Perched above the tree-line at an altitude of over 3,800 feet, the Koyodai Observation Deck offers panoramic views of Lake Motosu, Saiko Lake, and three different mountains–including and Mount Fuji.
The name Koyodai literally translates to fall foliage observation deck, and that pretty much says it all.
Have you ever visited Mount Fuji? Have you visited any of the fall colors spots mentioned here? Anywhere else you’d recommend? Is visiting Mount Fuji–or Japan in the fall–on your bucket list? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!