The “koyo front” is gradually rolling southward and toward the end of the month, Kansai maple leaves will be blazing amber, auburn, and scarlet. Kyoto boasts the most leaf-watching spots in the region – here are three to check out this autumn.
Known for its quirky jizo statues that appear to be popping out of the mossy ground, Sanzenin is a serene spiritual sanctuary nestled in a peaceful area of Kyoto Prefecture, surrounded by tall trees on the capacious temple grounds. Mid-month is a good time to go as the autumn colors in Sanzenin’s beautiful gardens are usually at their best a few days before the trees in central Kyoto. The pond on the temple grounds lies under a leafy canopy formed by the statuesque trees around it. During the fall season, these trees cover the earth below with a many-hued carpet of red and gold and scatter a shimmering mass of carnelian colored leaves on the surface of the water. Sanzenin is the main attraction of the rural town of Ohara, which is located about 40 minutes north of central Kyoto.
From Kyoto, take the Karasuma subway line for 20 mins to Kokusaikaikan. Then take Kyoto Bus no. 19 for 20 mins to Ohara
Mid to late November
Built on a mountainside, Yoshiminedera is a temple on the slopes of Kyoto’s western mountains (Nishiyama) with radiant autumn colors and majestic views over the city. There are several buildings on these spacious temple grounds and, around this time of year, many fiery maple trees. (The temple is also home to a unique 600-year-old pine tree that is just two meters tall but 40 meters wide). Go for a day of hiking and explore the paths that extend up the mountainside from the temple grounds, visiting the numerous smaller temple structures located along the way.
From Kyoto, take either the JR Kyoto Line from to Mukomachi Station or the Hankyu Kyoto Line to Higashimuko Station (20 minutes, 220 yen). Then take Hankyu Bus #66 for around 30 minutes. There is one bus per hour.
Mid to late November
Easily one of the best autumn vistas in Japan, the highlight at Daigoji is the area surrounding Bentendo Hall at the back of the Shimo Daigo temple complex. The bright vermilion structure and matching footbridge surrounded by a pond lined with maple trees make for the perfect photographs to capture the Japanese autumn atmosphere. Daigoji is laid out in three parts: Sambo-in, Shimo-Daigo (Lower Daigo), and Kami-Daigo (Upper Daigo). Right at the back of the lower temple grounds, not far from the Bentendo Hall, is the trailhead to the Kami Daigo, Daigoji’s original temple grounds, which are located around the summit of the mountain. It takes about an hour to climb the steep trail through the forest, but those who make the effort are rewarded with having the quiet forested mountainside to themselves. Not to mention the exquisite views, which on crisp clear days, can stretch as far as Osaka.
Departing every 30 to 50 minutes, Keihan Bus operates direct “Yamashina Express” buses between Kyoto Station (in front of Hotel Keihan) and Daigoji. The one-way trip costs ¥300 and takes 30 minutes.