Last year’s list of foliage favorites touched on some of the more well-known autumn destinations. This year, I’m looking a bit further afield (while also looking a bit closer to home at the same time! 😛 ) to gather a list that might avoid some of the crazy crowds involved in the more popular locations. But go soon, if you’re going. This year’s leaves are peaking on average 1-2 weeks early, thanks to our cooler than normal summer.
1. Oirase Stream (Aomori) – My friend Felicity of Where Next Japan raved to me about the Oirase Stream so much, I had high hopes of visiting it over the summer on our Tohoku adventure. We didn’t make it as far north as Aomori, sadly, but perhaps autumn is a better season to appreciate the scenery along this picturesque artery leading to Lake Towada. An easy 9 kilometer hiking trail follows the banks of the stream and buses stop along the route. Aim for a weekday if possible – this IS one of Tohoku’s more popular autumn sites.
2. Oze Marshland (Fukushima/Gunma) – The leaves aren’t the only thing that changes color in this national park north of Nikko. In October, the grasslands go from green to golden to russet. Trails lead all through the park, ranging from flat boardwalks to more considerable climbs. There are multiple entrances to the park, so you can approach it from several different prefectures. The park can be reached by bus from various train stations, and even from Tokyo (a long four hour ride).
3. Miyajima (Hiroshima) – This small island a short train and ferry ride from Hiroshima is not exactly off the radar but the cluster of maple trees here – in an area fittingly called Maple Leaf Valley – produces some stunning displays in the month of November. The island also caters to tourists with fresh oysters, maple leaf shaped sweets and – let we forget – the UNESCO World Heritage Site Itsukushima Shrine with its “floating” torii gate.
4. Gokanosho (Kumamoto) – It is ridiculously difficult to get to Gokanosho, the collection of five hamlets hidden in the mountains of southern Kumamoto prefecture. The roads in this region are so narrow that on the first two Sundays of November – prime foliage time – a system of one-way travel only is implemented. It’s worth braving the roads for the changing maples – the fiery display of leaves is only heightened by numerous waterfalls, suspension bridges and a hidden folk park. Private transportation is a must.
5. Yabakei Gorge (Oita) – I’m hoping the promise of fine foliage in this out of the way natural park is as good as they say since this is our chosen leaf peeping destination this year. Temples with ancient Buddhist statues, odd rock formations and a 342 meter tunnel that was hollowed out of the earth by a very dedicated monk with a chisel. And from what I hear, the leaves aren’t half bad either. 🙂 I’ll let you know at the end of November!