Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities to visit in Japan for autumn foliage (also known as koyo in Japanese). The city is filled with popular spots to view koyo, but the most popular ones can get REALLY crowded during koyo season.
When we visited Kyoto’s top attraction, Kiyomizudera, in autumn, the crowd was absolutely insane. So to be honest, I didn’t really enjoy my visit to Kiyomizudera in autumn. On the other hand, we had a very pleasant visit to another koyo hot spot – Tofukuji.
That is not to say Tofukuji was not crowded. It was also very crowded, but much more manageable than at Kiyomizudera.
We were driving in Kyoto and had keyed in Tofukuji as our destination on the GPS. However when we neared the temple, traffic wardens did not allow us to drive up into the narrower alleys leading to the temple. So we found a public carpark along the main road (click here for Google map location of the carpark) and we made the rest of the way to the temple on foot. Since we were driving, I didn’t exactly have a city map with me. But when you are here in autumn, you really do not need a map. Just follow the human traffic.
You don’t actually need a car to visit Tofukuji. Tofukuji station is just one stop from Kyoto station along the JR Nara Line. The carpark we parked at was like just beside Tofukuji station, from which it was about 10 minutes walk to Tofukiji. That is if you walk non-stop.
But chances are you will not be walking non-stop, because the autumn foliage along the way was so gorgeous, you would keep stopping to take photos!
The way everyone walked on the road towards the temple, you would think that the road has been closed off for pedestrains only. But actually there were still vehicles passing by occassionally, so you still have to look out for traffic.
It is very easy to forget to look out for traffic when you are surrounded by all those beautiful maple trees and you are perpetually looking up rather than straight ahead.
We must have walked for at least 20 minutes before arriving at Tofukuji, with all our photo stops along the way.
We had to purchase tickets to enter the garden where all the maple trees were. Tickets cost 400yen per adult and 300 yen per child, but our pre-school children could enter for free.
Note that the ticket is for a single entry. Also, strollers were not allowed into the garden. We had to park our stroller outside before we could enter the ticketed area.
Once we got past the gate, it was just WOW. Everyone was just taking photos NON-STOP.
Even MF was like, “Pass me the camera! I want to take photo!” So we lent him the phone and he went around to snap snap snap with the phone.
There was only one path to take – along a wooden bridge called Tsutenkyo Bridge, where everyone was trying to lean to the side to get a nice photo with the koyo. So make sure you allocate ample time for the visit, to hang around to wait for your turn to squeeze into an empty spot to get your photo.
The scenery from the bridge was just crazy awesome. When you are on the bridge, you are kind of above or at the same height of the maple trees, so you can look across the whole garden full of maple trees in various shades of red and orange.
As you cross the bridge, you will be flanked by maple leaves on both sides.
At the end of the bridge was Kaisando Hall, where the locals queued up to make their prayers.
As we walked towards the prayer hall, there was a green garden with a pond on our right, and a dry rock garden on our left.
The dry rock garden was like super cool. It was raked into uniform square patches – the precision was mind-boggling. Even the boys were impressed by the rock garden.
After we exited Kaisando Hall, we made our way down the steps to the valley below. Along the way, we found a relatively quiet spot and took a short break while MF admired the photos he had taken with the phone.
After that, we continued our tour of Tofukuji from the bottom of the valley of maple trees and I thought it was super cool to see the maple trees from a different angle.
When we reached the bottom of the valley, it was evident that the koyo was way past its peak during our visit in early December.
But in a way, I thought it was gorgeous to see the ground covered with fallen maple leaves.
The garden was pretty big, so despite the crowd we experienced earlier on the bridge and in the hall, once we were in the garden, everyone was spread out and it didn’t feel so crowded anymore.
Everyone got their chances to take photos with the autumn leaves without being photo-bombed.
And at the end of the garden, we followed the crowd back towards the main road where we had parked. Yup, no map required. Just follow the crowd.
If you are in Kyoto during autumn foliage season, I highly recommend visiting Tofukuji. The koyo was breath-taking, the crowd was manageable, and it was a comfortable walking distance from the train station.
Tips for visiting Tofukuji in Autumn:
- The best way to get to Tofukuji is by train (Tofukuji station).
- If you do drive, the public carpark along the main road (near the train station) cost 300yen per 30 minutes.
- If you are visiting with young children, it is possible to bring a stroller to cover the distance from the train station to the temple – which was a very stroller-friendly walk. However, once you reach the ticketed area, you need to leave your stroller outside.
- Do carry young children or hold on right to them when crossing the Tsutenkyo Bridge. It is pretty crowded on the bridge and the gaps between the railings at the side are quite wide. It is possible for toddlers to fall through.
Information on Tofukuji:
Getting there: Tofukuji Station (JR Nara Line / Keihan Main Line), from which it is about 1km walk to the temple.
Admission Fee to Tsutenkyo Bridge area (for maple leaves viewing):
- 400 yen per adult
- 300 yen per child (elementary – middle school age)
Official Website: Homepage
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