When autumn finally comes to Japan after a seemingly endless summer, the entire country becomes awash in nature's breathtaking palette of fall colors. Starting around mid-September in the northern mountains of Hokkaido, and slowly descending its way south as the weather cools is what is called the "front of autumn colors" -- green leaves changing to spectacular reds, oranges, and yellows. This fall foliage holds considerable import for the people of Japan, and during the fall months, great numbers of people visit places famous for autumn colors. Perhaps it is the feeling of being able to enjoy the outdoors comfortably after a sweltering summer combined with a sense of melancholy for the coming cold winter months that lends a special poignancy to the beauty of the autumn blaze.
There are numerous spots throughout Japan where one can go to appreciate the autumn foliage, and here we will list a few favorites, from north to south: Daisetsu-zan in Hokkaido, where we can spot the first flush of color, usually around mid-September to mid-October; Oirase Stream in Aomori Prefecture, around mid-October; Tateyama, in the Northern Japan Alps, in Toyama Prefecture in late September all the way to early November; Nikko, north of Tokyo in Tochigi Prefecture, around early October to mid-November; Miyajima, just outside of Hiroshima Prefecture around mid-November, Arashiyama on the outskirts of Kyoto, around mid- to late November, and many other places. The color peaks about 20 days after the colors start to change, and lasts for about one month.
Kyoto, which peaks from mid-November to early December, has special significance in regards to the autumn glory, as it was in Kyoto, during the Heian period, beginning late 8th century, when the custom of viewing autumn colors began. During the peak of the season, there are over two dozen temples, shrines and parks within and surrounding the city that offer breathtaking night time illumination of the trees and shrubs in their autumn glory as well as spectacular daytime viewing.
Another special viewing treat in Kyoto is the Eizan Railway Momiji Tunnel, which is a section of railroad track about 750 feet long that runs through a section surrounded lushly by maples that have been specially lit with spotlights for a magnificent effect. This illumination begins at dusk, and the Railway (a local rail service in Kyoto) offers this viewing every evening for two weeks in November. The trains even slow down and turn off their interior lights to the delight of the passengers.
Other ways to enjoy viewing the seasonal beauty include hiking, and there are many such tours available at most locations. Some favorite treks include the Oirase walking trail, Mount Daisen in Tottori Prefecture and Oze, north of Tokyo, just to name a few. Bus and train tours are also plentiful and easily accessible.
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