Lots of people claim that Tōfuku-ji is the best destination for fall colors in Kyoto. It is a popular autumn attraction for not just foreigners but Japanese as well.
Tōfuku-ji (東福寺, とうふくじ) is a Buddhist temple in the Higashiyama District of Kyoto. A temple was founded here in 924 AD. It was expanded into Tōfuku-ji in 1236 and completed in 1255.
During this period of time, political power was controlled by warlords in the form of feudal military dictatorship. The royal family and elites who centralized power for a few centuries no longer ran the show. Warlords “shōgun” and their private military “samuris” dominated the political and economic scenes. The first feudal military government was the Kamakura shogunate (鎌倉幕府) which ruled Japan from 1192 to 1333.
Interesting enough, this new class that rose to power decided to copy the symbol of power from the previous era and built a superfluous temple just like those in Nara that were founded in the 7th-8th centuries. Back then, the emperor, elite ruling class, and clergy were tight, and gigantic temples in Nara held substantial political, economic, and military power. The two most powerful temples were Tōdai-ji (東大寺) and Kohfukuji (興福寺). (Read more about the fascinating history of Nara’s Tōdai-ji and Kohfukuji)
When the Kamakura shogunate decided they wanted a gimongous temple too, they built this temple Tōfuku-ji and named it after the two most powerful temples in Nara.
A travel guide that I counted on when I planned this Kyoto trip had a funny and ironic story about this temple. (This great travel guide is written in Mandarin Chinese, so it probably would not be helpful for you.) Not sure how much of this is true, but legend has it that a monk made the case that they should not plant cherry trees at this temple because cherry blossoms would attract lots of tourists and disturb the tranquillity they wanted for their practices. Instead of cherry trees, they should plant maple trees. Little did they know, hundreds of years later, fall colors of the maple trees attract some 35,000 people a day to this temple.
It’s been getting so busy that in 2016 the temple banned photography on the main bridge that overlooks maple trees in the valley.
Visiting Tōfuku-ji is not free. The admission for the fall color area is ¥400. Door opens at 8:30 am during the fall. It gets very crowded so you want to get here early.
In additional to fall colors, Tōfuku-ji is also famous for very zen Japanese landscape. A Japanese landscape architect Mirei Shigemori designed the gardens here in 1939. With the ¥400 admission fee to the Tsuten Bridge (通天橋), you can keep walking up the hill to the Kaizan-dō (開山堂) where you get a feel of what Japanese garden landscape looks like. Paying another ¥400 will get you access to other classic gardens such as the Abbots’ Quarters’ iconic checkerboard moss garden.
When to Visit Tōfuku-ji for Fall Colors 東福寺楓紅
Fall color season here is from mid November to early December. In 2017 at this temple, the leaves started turning around November 10 and starting falling around December 3. The photos were taken on November 21. We were lucky. The leaves turned red a while ago. There were some rainy days, but it didn’t get too windy or stormy. The fall colors were still in full force when we visited.
How to Get Here
Tōfuku-ji is very accessible. You can take Keihan Main Line or JR to the Tōfukuji Station. It takes about 10 minutes to walk here from the train station. You can also take Kyoto City Bus routes 202, 206 or 207.
Build in at least an hour to walk around the temple. We spent about an hour 40 minutes here.
I would recommend going to Tōfuku-ji in the fall, but you do need to weigh your fall color destination options carefully. Lots of people crown this temple as the number one fall color spot in Kyoto, and it is easy to get to. However, this temple is indeed very popular and gets really crowded.
東福寺交通很方便，可以搭京阪本線或JR到東福寺站再走十分鐘，或者搭京都市巴士202, 206 或 207。
Tōfuku-ji 東福寺, とうふくじ
Nov – early Dec: 8:30 am – 4:00 pm
April to Oct: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Early Dec – March: 9:00 am – 3:30 pm
Admission: ¥400 for Tsuten Bridge (通天橋) and Kaizan-dō (開山堂); ¥400 for Japanese garden landscape