Japan in November – a guide to the best autumn destination

Japan in November
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Close your eyes! I mean it! Do it! Now, think about Japan. What do you see?

You see Mount Fuji, right? And probably a geisha, a few temples, maybe some sushi. Or maybe you can see a samurai, or some Japanese castles, or even delicate ladies with their fans. Now, try to see all of these surrounded by fall foliage, and you’ll understand why I’m saying that Japan in November is the best choice you can make.

Each season in Japan has its pros and cons. The decision wasn’t easy for us either, and we had other aspects to take into account as well, it was not only the season. I won’t get you through all the seasons here, but I will get you through the basics so that you know what you have to work with.

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Seasons in Japan – the basics

Firstly, when I say “Japan”, I mean the island of Honshu. This is the main island, the one where Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are located. Most first-timers will start their trip here, and this is also what we did. These weather patterns will change if you choose to go North, or really in the South.

Summer in Japan (June to mid-July), is described best by these two words: hot and humid. It is called the rainy season for a reason, with around 45% chance of rain every day. You can still enjoy it if you don’t mind getting wet.

Typhoon season in Japan is a different story. This is considered to be from June to October, with a peak in August and September. Now, I’m not the one to go somewhere if I don’t feel safe, and I won’t ever advise anyone to do so, but I’m also not the most anxious person out there.

But right before we went, like two weeks earlier, there was a typhoon in Japan. We know this because we wanted to see the flight situation two weeks before (as we went there with staff travel tickets), and we noticed no flights were landing in Japan that weekend.

Now, this country is amazing, and we said that if we have to be in an emergency ever in our lifetime, we would want that to happen while in Japan because they’re so well-prepared for everything. But still, a typhoon will ruin your trip. You’ll have canceled trains, events, trips, you’ll have to stay inside because of the heavy rain and huge winds.

November is the perfect option right between the typhoon season and the holidays when all hell breaks loose from a traveler point of view. Everything gets expensive and crowded, so I wouldn’t choose December if I could avoid it.

Winter in Japan can be milder than what most people expect, so it may be a good option for some. After the holidays, most prices tend to go down, so that’s a good point here. Also, Japan is a good ski destination, especially in the North, and the views can be spectacular as well. You can read a great resource about Japan in the wintertime here.

Spring in Japan is the most popular season for tourists. And I mean it, the crowds you’ll encounter during springtime, and the prices, are something to remember. And I don’t mean only the international travelers, but also the local people will have a vacation week (called the Golden Week), right at the end of April and beginning of May.

Now that you have the overview, let’s get to the cool stuff.

What is the weather like in Japan in November?

I must say, from the beginning, that I’d rather feel too hot than too cold. This is just how I’m built, and I am probably the product of many years of education in an Eastern European country. For me, the weather was a bit too cold sometimes, especially in the mornings. But with proper clothing I was OK. I just couldn’t wear my skirts and dresses as much as I wanted to.

The average temperature in November in Japan is between 50°F and 60°F (9-15°C). The average rainfall is under 100 mm, which is a pretty good value, considering that November is right after the typhoon season. We saw just a few drops of rain in the two weeks we spent there.

Autumn view of the Golden Temple in Kyoto

What to wear in Japan in November?

If you dress up in layers, wear warm shoes and have an umbrella with you all the time, or a waterproof jacket that you like, you can handle this weather. For most people, this is the best temperature to have while visiting, and it was the best option for us as well.

If you also want to look pretty, something I tried but didn’t quite succeed there, you can enjoy wearing your skirts and dresses with some cool stockings. I even bought some in there because they were that cute (and they had other colors, not only black as they have in Switzerland).

What I advise you to take at any time is a backpack. Not only that you can use it for your bottle of water and snacks, but you can also deposit your clothes here when it gets too warm for you, or take them with you in case it gets cooler when it’s getting dark.

Of course, you should never neglect wearing sunglasses and sunscreen. The temperatures may be mild, but the sun is not mild at all. Try to always take care of your eyes and skin, and I don’t mean this only in Japan.

What are the best things to do in Japan in November

There are so many things to do in Japan in general, that I find it hard to compile just a short list of cool stuff to do just in November. Still, I would try to give you just a few ideas, to get you started with your wanderlust.

  • Hiking – there are plenty of amazing trails you can enjoy, from the obvious Mt. Fuji to the Alpine route, to the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail (a UNESCO World Heritage Site);
  • View Mt. Fuji – from any lake around it, you can catch a great glimpse of this world-known view;
  • See fall foliage – like, literally everywhere. You don’t even need to go searching for it that much, the country is full of trees that will get to have the nice, cozy colors of autumn at one point or another;
  • See a geisha and maiko show in Kyoto – there are a few official festivals where you can see geishas and maikos performing, and one of them is in November. You can read more about this in my detailed guide about enjoying the geisha culture in Japan.
  • Enjoy a hot spring (onsen) and a cozy night in a traditional inn (ryokan) – if you like cuddling under a blanket in a cozy inn after you have soaked in a hot, natural spring, you’ll love Japan in November.

Which places should you visit in Japan in November?

OMG, there are so many places to go to! We had two weeks, with a very tight itinerary, and we didn’t manage to do everything we wanted to. Here’s a short list that I’ll discuss in more detail in a separate post.

  • Kyoto – Trust me, you have to do it. You can see the Japan that you’re waiting for if you stay here for a few days. You can see beautiful, old pagodas surrounded by amazing fall views. You can see delicate geishas and maikos, and you can visit the Royal palace that has a great interior garden. After all, this used to be the capital of Japan;
  • Nara – Another former capital of Japan. This is a smaller town, that you can visit in just a day, but it is mostly a nice forest with UNESCO World Heritage deers running around. It also has some pretty important temples and a nice Japanese garden to pack the nice and cozy feeling you’ll have;
  • Hiroshima – This city has the most interesting history there is, and I’m not referring only to the well-known event from the WW2. This city has not only a haunted building from before the war but also a beautiful castle, a peaceful Japanese garden and a great view of the best sunset you can see;
  • Hakone – This is the place where most people go to enjoy an onsen in a ryokan. We choose Gero for this particular activity, and we loved the mountain views we got to see, but Hakone also provides some pretty views of Mt. Fuji, and you can even enjoy this view from your private onsen if you can afford it;
  • Nikko – This is a tiny little town with a huge temple and shrine ensemble that is full of trees and great views. You’ll feel like in a fairytale little town here, and you’ll enjoy the quietness of the temples and the smaller crowds;
  • Tokyo – because I cannot finish this list without it. Nature may not be Tokyo’s strongest suit (although it has some pretty nice parks and gardens), but you can do so many things here: you can visit the awesome museum of digital arts, you can view Mt. Fuji from one of the tallest buildings in Japan and you can enjoy a steaming bowl of ramen.

Is November a good time to visit Japan?

As you can see from everything mentioned above, I think November is the best time to visit Japan! And if you still need more reasons laid out to you, of course, I will also provide you with just a few, to feed your travel bug.

  1. The weather is just right. It’s not too hot, not too cold and it doesn’t rain that much.
  2. It’s just out of typhoon season. So you can feel safe wherever you go. And even if there was a typhoon around one or two weeks before you arrived, everything will be shiny clean by the time you get there. Just look at our pictures and remember they were taken two weeks after one of the worse typhoons Japan had int he last century.
  3. You will encounter fewer crowds. Since November is out of the well-known sakura season, and out of usual vacation times for most people (who go on vacations only during summertime), you will have more of Japan only for you.
  4. The prices are lower than you might think. And you don’t have to plan everything well in advance. We found available accommodation in Japan one week before leaving, and even on the day of our departure (the joys of traveling standby).
  5. Fall foliage. There, I said it! You can enjoy the beautiful scenery created by mother nature herself. And you will do so in a very Japanese way, as Koyo is an activity well known in Japan for centuries, similar to Sakura. And your Instagram feed will look amazing if that’s your thing.
  6. Fall foliage lasts longer than sakura, which lasts just for a week. Now, most people plan their trips months ahead, and the chances of being there for that particular week are quite slim. But fall foliage can be observed for the whole month of November, and even if you’re there before it starts, the views are still beautiful.
  7. Traditionally, fall foliage is a more melancholic activity, not a party like the cherry blossoms festivities. As it celebrates nature’s going to sleep, this activity is more on the silent side of things. I enjoyed it more, it just matches my personality better. But, you know, maybe I’m just old.
  8. You don’t have to look that much for red leaves in Japan. Trees are everywhere, even in huge and crowded cities. So even if you don’t have the time to go specifically hunting Japanese maple trees, you can just do your thing, and will just bump into beautiful scenery without even trying.
  9. You can see an official representation given by geisha and maiko in Kyoto. This show is an amazing view of the traditional arts in Japan. The main theme is the way yearly seasons pass, no matter what happens. You don’t have to speak the language to enjoy it, and it gives you great energy.
  10. Hot springs and steaming ramen are better received when it’s a bit cold outside. Just imagine putting your whole body in a hot water tub while it’s summer outside. Or eating a bowl of soup when you would stay outside in the sun. Believe me, it’s much better in autumn.
  11. Statistically, you have a better chance of spotting Mt. Fuji in November. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, and it depends greatly on the weather that day, but you can find more ideas here.

Key takeaway

So, should you visit Japan in November? In all honesty, if I would do it again, I would choose November as well. I’m not that fond of winter, otherwise, I would go in the wintertime to see all that snow-covered beauty. And I’m not fond of crowds either (read “I mostly try to avoid people, and probably they avoid me as well”), so I won’t spend spring in Japan either. And you can imagine my opinion about typhoons…

So, what’s left there? I told you, November is the best time to visit Japan!

If you have’t already, order your JR Pass here!

If you’re getting ready for your trip to Japan, you might find this printable PDF quite useful. It has entry fees to all the important landmarks in Japan for first-timers. Get it now!

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