Autumn At Matsudo Hondoji Temple

One of my favorite destinations for autumn colors in Japan happens to be in the town where I live here – Matsudo Hondoji Temple. Although it is a temple (founded in the 13th century, in fact!), it’s really more a mixture of a temple and garden, with careful landscaping and gardening work done throughout the year. In the spring, cherry blossoms take the stage, followed by a large display of hydrangeas in late spring to early summer. But in my opinion autumn is the main show, with numerous Japanese maple trees spread throughout the grounds.

A variety of autumn Japanese maple trees covering a staircase at the entrance of Matsudo Hondoji Temple

I generally prefer to visit the temple grounds in the late afternoon for the lighting. Especially with the sun so far down in the sky, you can get lots of beautiful light in the trees (and thus lots of backlighting), as well as long shadows in all the right places. The peak colors are usually around late November to early December when the sun goes down around 4:30, so I find arriving around 2pm gives me enough to explore and enjoy the best light of the day. I also find this time of day is one of the least crowded times of a day to go.

A set of four red Japanese maple leaves on a branch in Japan

Along with exploring the light around the gardens, I also enjoy finding the small scenes of the temple. I used to be very focused on the big picture always breaking the wide angle lens. I still enjoy using that lens in some situations, but I find at a place like Hondoji, the little scenes share the experience more than the big picture. It’s the little things that I notice more than everything all at once. Between the leaves and the unique architecture, there’s always something small to examine in detail.

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I’ve visited Hondoji a number of times over the year, but I think this year’s autumn colors are possibly the best I’ve ever seen. Maybe I just went at the right time this year, or maybe the weather helped out, or maybe both! Either way, I’ve never been at a time that I thought it the colors were bad, and if you’re looking for a good place to explore a uniquely Japanese autumn, Hondoji is the place to go. Usually the entrance fee is 500 yen, although this past year when I’ve gone the entrance has been free, perhaps because of the pandemic. The entrance area alone is amazing and that part is always free, but it’s worth the 500 yen to explore the beautiful gardens which no doubt take a lot of work to manage throughout the year.

Orange Japanese maple leaves that look similar to flames on a tree in Japan
Star-like leaves hang on a branch of a Japanese maple tree in autumn

Thanks for taking the time to read and take a look at my photos. If you’d like to see more images from here and around Chiba Prefecture, check out my gallery here: Chiba Prefecture Gallery From Les Taylor Photography.

And if you’d like to watch a Youtube Short from behind the scenes doing some photography around Hondoji, check that out below!

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