A Journey Through the Seasons – Japan’s best places for autumn colours. No. 3: The Chūbu Area
Every year in autumn, from the north to the south and from the mountains to the plains, a brightly coloured tapestry of reds, oranges and yellows ripples across the islands of Japan. All over the country, people are out and about making the most of the autumn scenery.
Lake Saiko and KōyōdaiNarusawa-mura, Yamanashi Prefecture
Panoramic views over Lake Saiko and the ‘Sea of Trees’
Kōyōdai is a smallish mountain to the south of Lake Saiko. The rest house at the top has an observation deck on the roof that offers magnificent panoramas of the surrounding landscape, including a wonderful view of Mt Fuji. The gradation of reds, yellows and greens of the Sea of Trees below is a sight to behold.
Observation deck fee: 150 yen (Kōyōdai Tembō Rest House)
◆ Best time for autumn colours: late October to mid-November
◎ By bus: Take the Fuji-kyū bus from Kawaguchiko Station and get off at Kōyōdai Iriguchi bus stop (about 25 minutes). The walk from here to the observation deck is around 25 minutes.
◎ By car: about 11 km from Kawaguchiko Interchange on the Chūō Expressway via Route 139. (The access road is unsealed in places.)
Togakushi and Kagami-ike Nagano City, Nagano Prefecture
The Togakushi Ranges mirrored in Lake Kagami-ike
The trees take on their autumn colours in the Togakushi Kōgen highlands just a little earlier than they do down on the plains. A popular spot for autumn leaves is Lake Kagami-ike, a little off the beaten track near Upper Togakushi Shrine. Early in the morning, or when the air is still, the mirror-like surface of this reservoir lake reflects the surrounding autumn trees, as well as the impressive craggy peaks of the Togakushi ranges beyond, with remarkable clarity.
◆ Best time for autumn colours: late September to mid-October
◎ By bus: About 1 hour from JR Nagano Station by regular bus. Get off at Kagami-ike Iriguchi bus stop and walk about 30 minutes.
◎ By car: About 1 hour from Suzaka Nagano-higashi Interchange, or 30 minutes from Shinanomachi Interchange, both on the Jōshin’etsu Expressway.
Komagatake and Senjōjiki CirqueKomagane City, Nagano Prefecture
Komagatake Ropeway – ascending to another world
A seven-and-a-half-minute ride on the Komagatake Ropeway takes passengers on an almost 1,000 metre leap in elevation up to Senjōshiki Terminal, sitting 2,612 metres up Mt Komagatake. This is one of the earliest places in Honshū that sightseers can enjoy the autumn colours. Senjōshiki Cirque is a basin-like landform carved out by an ancient glacier. A hiking track around the cirque takes about thirty minutes to walk. Surrounded by the brilliant autumn colours of Japanese rowan and Erman’s birch, it’s like a completely different world up here in the heavens.
◆ Best time for autumn colours: mid-September to mid-October.
◎ By bus: About 15 minutes by regular bus from JR Komagane Station to Suganodai Bus Centre. Change here for the shuttle bus to Shirabidaira, the start of the ropeway (about 30 minutes’ bus ride).
◎ By car: About 2 km or 5 minutes from Chūō Expressway Komagane Interchange to Shirabidaira Bus Centre. (Private vehicles cannot proceed beyond this point.)
Kurobe Gorge RailwayKurobe City, Toyama Prefecture
Clear waters and green conifers accentuating the beauty of the autumn colours
One of Japan’s “Top 100 Unexplored Regions” and also one of the country’s deepest gorges, Kurobe Gorge is a maginificent area of unspoilt natural beauty. An autumn ride on the open-car Kurobe Railway from Unazuki Onsen, upstream to the head of the Kurobe River, offers magical views of unspoilt virgin forest resplendent in autumn colours. The one hour and fifteen minute ride from Unazuki to Keyakidaira, the last station, costs 1,710 yen one way (ordinary car).
◆ Best time for autumn colours: late October to mid-November
◎ By train: At Kurobe-Unazukionsen Station on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line, transfer to the Toyama Chihō Railway (Shin-Kurobe Station). The journey from here to Unazuki Onsen takes around 25 minutes.
◎ By car: Get onto Prefectural Route 53 at the Hokuriku Expressway Kurobe Interchange, then onto Route 14. The drive is around 13 km or 20 minutes.
Asuke and KōrankeiToyota City, Aichi Prefecture
The magical sight of autumn trees lit up at night
Kōrankei is a picturesque valley near the village of Asuke (now part of Toyota City). Asuke was once a thriving post station town on the old Iida Kaidō route that linked Mikawa Bay on the Pacific coast with the inland Shinshū Province (now Nagano Prefecture). Thousands of maples, first planted around 380 years ago by the head priest of the temple, grow on the hillsides around Kōjakuji Temple. A large-scale tree-planting project undertaken by local volunteers in the 1920s added to the number of trees considerably. The area around Kōjakuji Temple is now considered one of Japan’s top spots for autumn colours. During the Kōrankei Maple Festival in November, the trees are illuminated from sunset until 9:00 p.m.
◆ Best time for autumn colours: mid to late November.
◎ By train/bus: About 1 hour and 10 minutes by regular bus from Higashi-Okazaki Station on the Meitetsu-Nagoya Main Line.
◎ By car: About 12 km or 20 minutes from Toyota-Kanpachi Interchange on the Tōkai-KanjōExpressway
Takashi Sasaki represents the editing office, Studio F. He is a writer and editor whose work includes ‘mook’ series in Japanese such as Scenic Drives (Gakken Plus Publishing) and Motorcycle Tours for Adults (Yaesu Publishing). He has authored several books, including ‘Touring Japan’s Kaidō’ (Gakken Publishing) and ‘Understanding Mongolia in Two Hours’ (Rippu Shobō Publishing).
Judy Evans is a high school teacher of English and Japanese, and a Japanese-English translator. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese and Art History and has studied production horticulture and landscape design. Judy has a keen interest in the internet environment and has administered websites for a number of organisations. She lives on a small farm in rural New Zealand and is a frequent visitor to Japan.