October 2021 is the start of fall in Kyoto, Japan. The leaves begin to change color, the weather improves, and big festivals celebrate the season. October is a great month to visit to enjoy lower crowds and a good calendar of special events & night illuminations, with lots of things to do in the city and its temples & shrines.
This guide to October in Kyoto, Japan offers a rundown of what to expect and things to do. Note that calendar of events is subject to change and based upon historical precedent. Depending upon the circumstances, October 2021 might end up having some or many of these
Before we get too excited about Kyoto’s October 2021 highlights, there’s the threshold question: When Will Japan Reopen for Travel in 2021? All of this meaningless until that happens. If you can’t enter Japan, you can’t visit Kyoto…and thus this guide to October 2021 crowds, weather, and events is pretty useless…
Additionally, if you’re still debating on the timing of your trip, see our guide: When to Visit Kyoto, Japan: Best & Worst Times in 2021 & 2022. That’ll give you a range of recommendations–this post is better suited to those who have already narrowed down their range of dates and want more info specifically about October in Kyoto.
With that said, let’s start by taking a look at the early-autumn weather in Kyoto…
October Weather in Kyoto
It’s hard to beat October’s weather. Kyoto’s summer heat gives way to cooler fall temperatures, rainy season lets up, and the autumn leaves start changing.
By the numbers, Kyoto weather in October is objectively good. The average low temperature is 55º F (as compared to 67º in September) and the high temperature is 73º (v. 84º in September). October only sees 4.8 inches of rainfall, versus 8.3 inches in September. There’s also plenty of daylight–11.5 hours per day.
While October is arguably one of the best weather months in Kyoto, it is worth noting that–as a month of transition–there are significant differences between the beginning, middle, and end of the month. Early on, October can feel more like summer, whereas later it starts resembling early winter on some evenings.
Most notably, October is the tail end of typhoon season in Japan. Although these storms are less likely than in August or September, there have been some bad typhoons in the last few years, and that can cause festivals and events to be cancelled, often at the very last minute. As such, it’s always a good practice to double check and confirm things before you visit. Speaking of which, let’s turn to the calendar of events in Kyoto during October…
October Events in Kyoto
If you want to make your visit to Japan special, there’s undoubtedly an event occurring in Kyoto, regardless of your travel dates. Kyotoites pride themselves in seasonality, and there is truly something unique occurring every week of the year–usually several things.
While we’d encourage pre-planning and incorporating special events into your itinerary, it’s also worth mentioning that special events are prominently advertised on posters throughout Kyoto. You’ll see these in train stations, on the exterior of shops and restaurants…pretty much everywhere!
Additionally, you can find more info at the Kyoto Tourist Information Centers (there are convenient locations in Kyoto Station, Higashiyama, and downtown–find them via Google Maps) and inquiring. Reps there are fluent in English and incredibly knowledgeable. These Tourist Info Centers also often have free posters, making for fun souvenirs!
In addition to past dates, when possible are also including links to the website of Kyoto special event. Those links will be helpful if you want to monitor 2021 dates. While English resources like this site are great, most temples regularly update their websites. We would suggest double-checking those sites to ensure that the seasonal events or festivals are still occurring a day or two before you go.
October 22 – Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) – This is one of the biggest days of the year in Kyoto, Japan. The day begins with the Jidai Matsuri, which features a parade from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to Heian Shrine. Unlike some of the other entries on this list, this parade is substantial–it’s a five-hour long processional with hundreds of volunteers dressed in historical garb, representing Japanese cultural history from between the Enryaku and Meiji eras. See the processional early on the route and then immediately walk over to Demachiyanagi Station to catch the Eizan Main Line north to Kurama. Highly recommended.
October 22 – Kurama-no-himatsuri (Kurama Fire Festival) – This event is bonkers–absolutely wild in the best possible way. This is one of the most famous festivals in all of Japan, and it features teams of shouting men carrying huge flaming torches, while wearing warrior’s garb as they parade down the streets of the mountain village of Kurama. Many festivals in Japan can feel a bit tedious as they perform rituals solemnly and methodically. Not the case here. This has rituals and the like, but they’re downright barbaric by comparison. It’s an absolute hoot that is not to be missed. Be mindful that the trains and and from Kurama will be packed, so arrive early and plan to stay late. Official website.
October 1 to 5 – Zuiki Matsuri – This festival is held at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine and features omikoshi, or portable shrines, decorated with vegetables to pay thanks for the year’s crops. Zuiki is a stem of taro and the ritual is to offer vegetables and fruits before the altar.
October 1 to December 10 – Rurikoin Temple Fall Opening – Relatively unknown to people outside of Japan, Rurikoin is incredibly popular with Japanese tourists. Famed for the way its foliage reflects and colors the interior of the temple, expect long lines at this temple in Northern Kyoto–and a steep 2,000 yen admission fee. Recommended. Official website.
October 8 to 13 – Kotobukikai at Kamishichiken Kaburenjo Theatre – If you’re interested in the world of Kyoto’s geisha, then don’t miss one of these four performances of geisha dance and song held at the Kamishichiken Kaburenjo Theatre. Concierges at Kyoto’s better hotels can help with tickets, as can the staff at high-end ryokan. You can also ask at the tourist information offices for help with tickets. Official website.
October 11 to 15 – Awata Festival – This annual series of events is held at Awata Shrine, a small shrine in northern Higashiyama near Shōrenin and Chionin Temples. Awata Festival consists of five Shinto ritual and events that are vibrant and eye-catching. There’s a different ritual and parade each day, culminating in Shinkosai Festival the final day.
October 18 – Kasagake Shinji – Held at Kamigamo Shrine, this event involves Kasagake Archery, which is a style of archery performed for the entertainment of shrine deities in Japan.
October 15 – Hyakumanben Handmade Market – Chionji Temple hosts the Hyakumanben handmade market on the 15th of every month and has since 1987. The Hyakumanben handmade market is a very popular event, and is a great opportunity to purchase locally-made souvenirs to remember your trip to Kyoto. You’ll also meet a cast of colorful characters, students, and expats. Note that Chionji Temple is in nothern Kyoto–we’d recommend a visit to the Shimogamo & Kamigamo Shrines while you’re in the area.October 21 – Kobo-san Flea Market – This flea market at Toji Temple features a range of antiques and used items, and draws big crowds. If you’re in town mostly to see the towering pagoda here, choose another day.
October 25 – Tenjin-san Flea Market – Held on the 25th of every month, this large flea market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is incredibly popular and has a wide variety of antiques, used items, and food for sale.
October 19 to December 9 – Kodaiji Lightscape – As we note in our full post about Kodaiji Temple, this is our #1 nighttime illumination in all of Kyoto (we have lots of photos of the event in that post, for what it’s worth). It’s also the longest-running nighttime illumination, which is in large part because it’s less about fall colors and more about a high-tech projection mapping show, illuminated bamboo forest, and more. Highly recommended. Official website.
September 25 to December 12 – Shokouji Temple Special Views – Shokokuji is the second of the five leading Rinzai Zen temples in Kyoto that were built during the medieval Muromachi Period, and is a ‘living temple’ that is generally not open to the public. During this extended timeframe, several of its buildings are open to the public. Due to its location, we would not recommend this to most tourists. Official website.
October 1 to November 25 – Ninnaji Treasure Hall Opening – Located adjacent to Ryoanji and a modest walk from the Golden Pavilion, Ninnaji is a stunning temple on sprawling grounds. Its Sacred Treasure Hall is not normally open to the general public. Official website.
October 26 to December 2 – Shorenin Temple Light Up – The ethereal blue lighting on the ground is the highlight of this experience, with fall colors being secondary (more like “third-ary” after the bamboo grove). We like Shorenin because it’s nestled between Chionin and Kodaiji, making it an easy stop on a nighttime tour of Higashiyama illuminations. Recommended. Official website.
Late October to Late November – Toji Temple Illumination – We aren’t normally huge fans of Kyoto’s iconic pagoda, but during its spring and fall evening illuminations, it’s a different story. Not only are the reflected views spectacular, but you also get rare access to certain temple halls. Even considering the relatively steep 1,000 yen fee (as compared to other illuminations), it’s worth the money. Recommended. Official website.
October Crowds in Kyoto
In almost every conceivable way, October is one of the sweet spots for visiting Kyoto–and that extends to crowds. Regardless of when you visit in October, you’re arriving after the onslaught of summer vacation travel and before peak insanity of fall colors season, which is one of the busiest times of the year in Japan.
This is not to say that the entirety of October is the off-season in Kyoto and will have low crowd levels as a result. The first two weeks of the month absolutely are quiet and among the least busy of the year in Japan.
Visitor volume starts picking up in the second half of the month, with crowds growing progressively in the end of October. Despite this, the end of the month is our top recommendation for when to visit Kyoto in October. Crowds are higher as compared to the beginning of the month, but they’re still low to moderate as compared to the rest of the year.
More importantly, the weather and seasonal event lineup both improve later in the month to a far greater degree than crowds worsen. Both the Festival of the Ages and Kurama Fire Festival are not to be missed, and leaves will begin turning at the end of the month at higher elevations, resulting in a sneak peek at fall colors season. All in all, October in general–but particularly later in the month–is a great time to visit Kyoto, Japan!
If you’re planning a trip to Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you visited Japan during October? What did you think of the weather and crowds? Attend any October special events in Kyoto? Done the famous Kurama Fire Fesival? What did you think of the experience? Shopped the handcraft markets? Would you recommend any of these events to a first-timer visiting Japan? Anything you’re looking forward to this month in Kyoto? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? 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!