Falling for the season
Roll up, roll up. Get yourself front row seats to nature’s wildest show as she decorates the land in an explosion of glimmering gold, burnt-orange and blood-red.
There’s no better time to appreciate nature than autumn, when the hills are set ablaze with trees making their slow transition into winter. Luckily, Kansai is home to some of the best and most popular places to see this annual spectacle. From big-name classics to hidden treasures, here are 10 of our favourite leaf-peeping spots.
Widely regarded as one of Japan’s most popular autumn destinations, Arashiyama has a long history of attracting tourists with its beautiful scenery. Several UNESCO World Heritage sites, chartable river boat trips, and an amusing monkey park all boast stunning fall views. Along with charming cafes and restaurants, it is little wonder the area has been a favourite for centuries.
• Access: Kyoto City buses and JR, Hankyu and Keifuku railways all service the area.
• Information: www.pref.kyoto.jp/ visitkyoto/en
Tofuku-ji temple, Kyoto
If the sight of crowds makes you cringe, this is probably one venue to avoid during the change of leaves season. Tofuku-ji’s main attraction – the 100m long Tsutenkyo Bridge – overlooks a lush expanse of around 2,000 maple trees that draws tourists from all around the nation. It’s so popular that waiting lines form during peak viewing periods: definitely not for those whose disposition tends against the Zen temple’s ethos.
• Access: Tofuku-ji is about a 10-minute walk from the JR Tofukuji Station. Kyoto City buses 202, 207 and 208 also go there.
• Information: www.tofukuji.jp/english.html
Kongourin-ji temple, Shiga
Known in Japanese for its autumn “bloody maple” display, Kongourin-ji is a spectacular sight, especially when the sun is out to illuminate nature’s bold interpretation of a gory, bloodsplattering horror flick. The temple and its grounds also contain many historical and religious points of interest. Thankfully, its relative isolation means visitors can avoid the crowds and enjoy a comparatively relaxed atmosphere.
• Access: Accessible from JR Inae and Kawase stations. Shuttle buses run during peak viewing season.
• Information: www.kongourinji.org
Suma Rikyu Park, Kobe
This Impressionist’s dream is modelled on the Palace of Versailles park; fittingly, it abounds with an array of colours, flowers, trees, rare plants and importantly, spaces to commune with nature’s most sumptuous offerings. The main autumn highlight is a 150m long tunnel of maples, but it also offers special autumn workshops that focus on insect identification, roses and orchids. Did we mention the ocean view? Japonisme comes full circle.
• Access: 10-min walk from Sanyo railways Sumadera/ Tsukimiyama station. Several buses from JR Suma Station also pass the area.
• Information: kobe-park.or.jp/rikyu[/box]
Minoo Park, Osaka
A perennial favourite, this forested valley is just 30 minutes from Umeda and offers the best autumn views in a wholly natural setting. Unlike the humanhelped fall foliage found in gardens and temples, Mother Nature has been allowed to run naked here. Complete with a waterfall, the designated trek around the park is about 45 minutes one way – don’t worry, there are plenty of side trails, temples and shops to keep everyone entertained. Among the multitude of snacks available, KS recommends the momiji tempura, which are maple leaves coated in batter and deep fried. Sounds strange, tastes amazing.
• Access: A 5-minute walk from Hankyu Minoo Station.
• Information: mino-park.jp
Mt. Yoshino, Nara
Slightly overshadowed by its popularity as a cherry blossom destination, the mountainous area should by no means be discounted as a hotbed of momiji activity. The Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde action is concentrated in its four main sakura/ momiji groves, the highest of which is situated 800m up the mountain. Yoshino is a popular subject of tanka poems, so the walk should inspire some choice words. If not, at least a vow to hit the gym more.
• Access: The area is a short walk from Kintetsu Yoshino station.
• Information: yoshinoyama-sakura.jp/english/flowers.htm
Manshu-in temple, Kyoto
Seemingly afloat on a pale, rocky ocean, Manshu-in’s fiery red maples leap towards you like the tendrils of a dragon. Nationally recognised for its scenic beauty, the meticulously raked white sand garden envelops buildings and visitors alike, while providing the perfect surface to accentuate the momiji. The temple serves up a perfect sample of Japan’s approach and appreciation of the season; be sure to take a moment to metaphysically escape.
• Access: A 20-minute walk from Eizan Electric Railway Shugakuin Station or the Kyoto Bus Ichijo-ji Shimizu-cho stop. Take buses 5, 31, 35 or 65. • Information: manshuinmonzeki.jp
Nanzen-ji temple, Kyoto
Emperor Kameyama (the 90th ruler of Japan) fancied this enchanting area so much that he built a palace here in 1264. Thankfully, the serfs have since been liberated and ordinary citizens can now visit to soak up the charming views and ambience. KS recommends a climb to the top of Sanmon, the gargantuan gate, for a spectacular 360-degree view. After that, obligatory photos are also in order around the red-brick aqueduct, which perfectly complements the autumn leaves. Don’t forget the 45 degree sideways lean here – kawaii ne!
• Access: Take the Kyoto Tozai Line to Keage Station, or Kyoto City buses 5, 32, 93, 100, 203, 204 to the Higashi Tenno-cho bus stop. The temple is about a 10-minute walk from all stops.
• Information: nanzenji.com
Expo ’70 Commemorative Park, Osaka
Okamato Taro said it best with his famous quote, “Art is Explosion”. Just follow the discharge of people from the monorail station to Taro’s Tower of the Sun for the start of a perfect autumn outing. The area teems with a seemingly immeasurable amount of maple trees, and this, coupled with plenty of green space and public facilities, makes it the perfect place for a day out. If you can’t spare that much time, KS recommends the 2-hour walking tours: you’ll see the autumn highlights and end your extended stroll with a forest footbath.
• Access: Take the JR, Hankyu and/or Subway Midosuji lines to Senri-chuo station. Then take the monorail to Bampaku-kinen-koen.
• Information: www.expo70.or.jp/e
Eigen-ji temple, Shiga
Time runs slowly at the head temple of the Rinzai Eigenji Sect of Buddhism, so take plenty of photos as you mosey along in the picturesque gorge of the Echi River. The long stairs pose a healthy challenge, but the reward is well worth the effort.
• Access: Take the Ohmi bus from Ohmi Railway Yakaichi station to the Eiganjimae stop. Walk for 5 minutes.
• Information: eigenji-t.jp/index.html