Autumn in Iwate is a sight to behold: stunning mountain ranges, peaceful villages and ancient temples are shrouded in the golden hues of fall. While many visitors to Japan head to Kyoto, Hokkaido or Kanazawa, there’s plenty to enjoy in the quieter region of Iwate.
When to see Autumn Leaves in Iwate
The best time to visit Iwate is from mid-October to mid-November, as this is when the majority of areas have their peak season. As the prefecture is in north-eastern Japan, the cooler weather sets in sooner than in Tokyo, but is later than Hokkaido. There are of course localised differences depending on altitude and the tree varieties present, so visitors should always check site-specific information for particular spots.
In Hiraizumi in southern Iwate, Chusonji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with stunning autumn colours. Surrounded by trees, the temple is the head of the Tendai sect of Buddhism for the Tohoku region. There are a number of different buildings, with the wooden former-covering of Konjikido being the most famous for its autumn views. The gold-leaf-covered Konjikido is now housed nearby in a more modern construction, but cannot be photographed.
The peak season for viewing is from mid-October to mid-November.
- Name: Chuzonji Temple (中尊寺)
- Address: Chuzonji Temple, Sakashita Hiraizumi, Nishiiwai, Iwate.
- Location: The temple is in the south of Iwate, close to Ichinoseki.
- Access: Chusonji is a short bus ride from Hiraizumi Station on the JR Tohoku Line, which is just under 90 minutes from Morioka Station,
A manmade lake surrounded by glowing autumnal trees, Lake Kinshuko is a peaceful and picturesque spot. Created by the Yuda Dam, the lake has a reputation as a great fishing spot as well as being beside the specially designed Garden of Creation. While the dam isn’t necessarily a beautiful sight, the nearby arched bridges look spectacular when surrounded by autumn leaves.
- Name: Lake Kinshuko (錦秋湖)
- Address: Kinshuko, Nishiwaga, Waga, Iwate
- Location: The lake is west Iwate, located between Kitakami and Yokote cities.
- Access: The lake is beside Hottoyuda Station on the JR Kitakami Line.
The Towada-Hachimantai National Park combines the volcanic plateau of Hachimantai and the area of Lake Towada. The area is known for breath-taking views, beautiful autumn leaves and steaming hot springs. Whether it’s a weekend of hiking or a scenic drive, visitors can enjoy the vistas as the peak in the cooler months. The most famous driving route is the Hachimantai Jukai Line which stretches between Matsukawa Hot Springs and Toshichi Hot Springs. There is a city nearby called Hachimantai as well as Mt. Hachimantai.
The peak season for viewing is from late September to mid-October.
- Name: Hachimantai (八幡平)
- Address: Hosono, Hachimantai, Iwate
- Location: The Hachimantai area is located on the north-western border of Iwate and Akita.
- Access: The Morioka-Hachimantai Bu slime runs until November from Morioka Station, with many driving routes available for those with their own vehicles.
Morioka Castle Ruins Park
A park located on the former site of Morioka Castle; this is a fantastic destination for the bright autumn joy of maple trees. While there is little left of the once Hirayama-style castle, the park is a popular hanami (blossom-viewing) spot, which also means it’s great for autumn colours. Tsurugaike pond is a highlight, with maple and ginkgo leaves adorning the park alongside the cherry trees. The castle walls do remain, along with the city’s History and Culture Museum and the impressive Eboshi-Iwa rock.
The peak season for viewing is from late October to mid-November.
- Name: Morioka Castle Site Park (盛岡城跡公園)
- Address: 1-1-37 Uchimaru, Morioka, Iwate
- Location: The park is located in the heart of Morioka city in western Iwate prefecture.
- Access: The castle park is a 15-minute walk from Morioka Station, accessible on the JR Akita and Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen as well as the JR Tazawako, Yamada and Tohoku Lines.
Genbikei and Geibikei Gorges
On either side of Ichinoseki city, these two gorges offer gorgeous autumnal views.
The 100m tall cliffs of Geibikei Gorge make for a stunning backdrop to the autumn leaves, with a peaceful ‘funakudari’ boat ride offering the perfect viewpoint. Maple trees and zelkovas line the water, with leaves floating on the calm surface of the Satetsu River.
Nearby, Genbikei Gorge is a 2km stretch of the Iwai River known for striking boulder formations and walking trails that run along either side of the river. It is a designated national place of scenic beauty, with boat rides, horse carriage rides and a real sense of being in nature.
The peak season for viewing is from mid-October to early November.
- Name: Genbikei Gorge (厳美渓)
- Address: Takinoue, Genbicho, Ichinoseki, Iwate
- Location: The gorge is just west of Hiraizumi City, in the southwestern corner of Iwate.
- Access: Genbikei is a 20-minute bus ride from Ichnoseki Station which is on the JR Akita and Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen lines as well as the JR Tohoku and Ofunato Lines.
- Name: Geibikei Gorge (猊鼻渓舟下り)
- Address: Machi-467, Higashiyamacho Nagasaka, Ichinoseki, Iwate
- Location: The gorge is just east of Hiraizumi City, in the southwestern corner of Iwate.
- Access: Geibikei is a 40-minute train ride from Ichnoseki Station on the JR Ofunato Line, costing 510 yen. Ichinoseki Station is on the JR Akita and Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen lines as well as the JR Tohoku and Ofunato Lines.