October marks a great opportunity for visitors to Japan to hunt for the countries best Autumn leaf viewing spots. The seasons in Japan are very clearly defined, meaning that the colours of both the leaves in Autumn and the cherry blossoms in Spring are rich, and the scale of seasonal foliage is much larger than I have seen in any other country.
Fukushima Prefecture is no different when it comes to Autumn time. So far this year I have been to two spots for momiji-gari (Autumn-leaf viewing).
It’s pretty hard to guess the exact date for when the various locations will start to turn red. Even if there are some calendars online (such as with sakura cherry blossom calendars) there is no way to guarantee if the koyo (autumn leaves) will be at their best when you actually go. It can usually be narrowed down to a couple of weeks though.
A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be visited by one of my best friends. We went together for a drive along Bandai-Azuma Skyline – one of the most scenic roads leading in and out of the centre of Fukushima City. I was a little worried about driving for the first time in a few months, but it is pretty easy to drive in Japan as a British person, especially seeing as the steering wheel is on the same side of the car, and you drive on the left like in the UK.
On the road to Jododaira – an area with restaurants, gift shops and (most importantly) toilets – I became a little worried, seeing as even after fifteen or twenty minutes of driving, few red autumn leaves could be seen…. However, once we approached the top, colour began spreading across the mountains.
One of the things that was really stunning was the white of the cliffs contrasting with the red and yellow of the leaves. I love the scenery around Jododaira.
We were happy to take our time at the top of Jododaira. I even enjoyed a premium cream ice cream. I’ve had this before but couldn’t help myself once I saw the poster, because it is absolutely divine.
Top tip: Prepare for long queues!
We went the weekend before the “best weekend” for viewing the leaves in this spot, however even so it took twice as long as normal to drive there from the city centre (i.e. Fukushima Station). I naively drank a whole cup of tea right before setting out, which is the reason why I listed Jododaira’s toilets as very important!
One week later, I went to Mt Adatara, which is relatively nearby Bandai-Azuma Skyline (Around 12km at the sightseeing road’s closest point). Mt Adatara is 1718m tall, and is a popular destination for skiing in the winter. The lower the temperature, the quicker the Autumn leaves start to turn colour, meaning that Mt Adatara was in full-bloom – so to speak – by the time we arrived.
Before going to the mountain, we took a trip to Nihonmatsu, where there are flower displays outside Komine Castle in October, in the shape of magnificent gowns and cloaks.
This year the theme of the show was “Japan’s famous figures”.
I didn’t know too many of them… (Except for Fukushima’s own Hideyo Noguchi – depicted in flowers below – the biologist who discovered syphilis as the cause of progressive paralytic disease in 1911) but even so, it was interesting to visit the garden.
Despite Nihonmatsu and Mt Adatara’s proximity, due to the popularity of the mountain for autumn leaf viewing, the roads were horrendously packed, meaning that it took two hours to travel just 18 km!
Top tip: When you go to see Autumn leaves travel as early in the morning as you can bare waking up.
When we reached the rope-way area, everyone in my group was very happy to find two things waiting for us: A DIY Japanese BBQ and toilets!
Yes, there’s a restaurant at the base of Mt Adatara where you can BBQ as much meat, veggies and yakisoba noodles as your table orders, with drinks provided. The food was great (thanks to my amazing chef friends) and you could see a lovely view from the restaurant.
The rope-way to the top of the mountain was busy, but the Japanese queuing system is very efficient, so it wasn’t frustrating at all.
The views from the top were spectacular. I’ve never seen so many bright red trees. Reaching our destination, I understood why people were willing to queue for that long!
Other than as a great location for hiking and skiing, Mount Adatara is also known for the quote which is carved into a stone post on top of the mountain. It reads: この上の空がほんとの空です。 Or in English: The sky that you see from here is the real sky.
After feeling satisfied with the amount of photographs we had taken, we took the rope-way back down to the bottom and I treated myself to a well-deserved matcha-flavoured ice cream.
Bandai-Azuma Skyline is a 28.7km long road which is approximately a 30 minute drive away from Fukushima Station. The best way to experience this scenic route is to rent a car or motorbike (or bike if you are feeling very, very strong).
Once at Jododaira, you can go hiking up to the top of Mt Azuma-ko-fuji, or around the many nearby ponds .
For more information about Jododaira, please look here!
By car: 20 min from Nihonmatsu IC on Tohoku Expressway.
By bus: 60 min by a shuttle bus (resevation necessary) from JR Koriyama Station.
For information about skiing on Mt Adatara, please follow this link.