Fukushima Prefecture has some absolutely beautiful spots for enjoying Japan’s amazing autumn leaves. Although many of these can be accessed by public transport, one of my favourite spots is a little difficult to get to without hiring a car.
So, I recommend renting a car and making a day of it in southern Fukushima – visit sights of stunning natural beauty full of autumn colours, take photos at the breathtaking natural phenomenon that is To-no-hetsuri, and dip in an onsen – or two – before heading back to the car rental shop!
The autumn leaves at the places I’ve listed in this article tend to be at their most colourful from late October to early November, but seeing as the autumn colours this year are arriving around 1 week earlier than average, it may be worth going a little earlier.
Here is a simple map of the driving route I suggest for an autumnal drive in Fukushima.
A) Shinshirakawa Station
Rent a car at one of the car rental shops outside Shinshirakawa Station (a couple of these have English online booking pages!). Shinshirakawa Station is on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, and is just 85 minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen.
From Shinshirakawa Station, drive for around 20 min to reach Yukiwari Bridge!
B) Yukiwari Bridge
A very picturesque red bridge that towers 50m above the Abukuma River. The reds, oranges, yellows and greens that surround the bridge and colour the valley below make for a fantastic view.
You can park before you reach the bridge, or cross the bridge by car, park up close by and walk to the observation deck (展望台 in Japanese). Construction is currently going on to build a bridge that will replace Yukiwari Bridge in the future – so this year might be your last chance to see this great view!
(Don’t worry – although construction is underway, you can still get amazing views of the bridge).
This impressive katsura (Japanese Judas tree) is almost 400 years old. The tree splits into two main trunks, which have circumferences of 6 m and 5 m.
The Kenkatsura tree has been used for hundreds of years as a place to worship for those praying for the health of their family, and the safety of those working in the mountains.
Usually shrines have hon-den, or ‘main shrines’, nestled at the back of the ground. Gods are thought to reside in this hon-den. But in the case of the Kenkatsura, there is no hon-den; the tree itself is actually thought to be inhabited by a god.
There’s a legend that many centuries ago a fierce god would appear in this spot and harm passers-by. Hearing this legend, the feudal lord of the Shirakawa Clan brought a sword (ken) and used it to trap the god inside the tree. This gave the tree its name – ‘kenkatsura‘ translates into English as ‘the sword tree’.
C) Kashi Ohashi Bridge
Less than a 10 minute drive from Kenkatsura is yet another beautiful viewpoint featuring another bridge!
Kashi Ohashi bridge is approximately 200 m long and, together with the Kashi Tunnel, makes for another scenic highlight of this autumn driving route! No matter the season, Kashi Ohashi bridge is a wonder to admire.
Close by to Kashi Ohashi Bridge is Kashi Onsen – an onsen town of approximately 8 ryokan, hotels etc where you can do higaeri nyuyoku (onsen-only day plan). Daikokuya is just 1 example of a ryokan with this kind of place.
A half an hour drive from Kashi Ohashi Bridge takes you to our next stop…
To-no-Hetsuri is located in Shimogo Town, which has been made famous thanks to the Edo Era post town of Ouchi-juku. To-no-Hetsuri is the name given to rock formations, carved away over thousands of years by the flow of the river, wind, rain and other natural elements.
It’s thought that the rocks date back 28 million years! Definitely worth a visit during Autumn.
F) Iwase Yumoto Onsen
Feel refreshed after a long drive by taking a dip in Iwase Yumoto Onsen, which has a history of over 1000 years. The ryokan Yuguchiya has an onsen-only day plan for a reasonable price!
E) Futamata Onsen
If you travel further into the mountains to the south you’ll reach Futamata Onsen, which has a few different places to do onsen-only day plans such as Kashiwaya Ryokan & Daimaru Asunaro-so, and there are a number of places that do open-air baths too!
As with many areas in Japan, onsen-only day plans tend to be on offer at ryokan hotels until early afternoon (or until new guests come to stay) so you may wish to switch around the order of this plan to visit them in the morning! Also, be aware that some ryokan hotels are sensitive about accepting guests with tattoos, due to their association with yakuza.
G) Shinshirakawa Station
Once you are totally relaxed from taking a dip in the amazing onsen of southern Fukushima, drive back to Shinshirakawa Station, where you can return the rental car and travel home by train – or continue your journey!
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