Biwako from Otsu
Our 3rd stay in this onsen hotel in Otsu. Panoramic views of Biwako stretching from Hieizan in the west to the distant coastal towns in the east.
water display on the dykes
Hieizan in the distance
After checking out from Biwako hotel, we headed back to Kyoto for one last koyo spot, had lunch in Shijo, strolled the Nishiki market before heading to our hotel in Osaka/Tennoji.
Jonan-gu is in southern Kyoto. It was less crowded than other popular spots in Kyoto while its garden displayed some spectacular koyo.
This was the end of our koyo trip in Kansai after 1 week. We did not visit any koyo spots in Osaka, but to relax and did some shopping in Tennoji before departure.
Moved to Biwako hotel in Otsu for 2 nights. Picked up a car to visit koyo around Biwako for the first time. Very heavy traffic heading north on the western rim where there is no expressway. Arrived at a spot in Omi-Takashima where supposedly there should be a boulevard of fiery red Meta-sequoia trees, but it turned out to be in pale green/yellow and rain started to pour abruptly. Drove eastward to Keisokuji but decided to skip it after 10min as there was a long queue of cars heading towards it on a narrow road.
Finally, we arrived at Saimyoji in eastern Biwako in late afternoon. There were few visitors around and koyo was brilliant in the setting sun, which found its way through rain clouds. Visited in about 30min before closure but it was worthwhile.
On next morning drove uphill to Hieizan to visit World Heritage Enryakuji. We visited the Todo (Eastern Hall) area only. Though the Chuo-do (根本中堂) has been under major renovation, we visited it and it was worthwhile. Monks were conducting normal rituals inside and two head monks were speaking to visiting locals. Koyo was still gorgeous which was beyond our expectation in late November up on Hieizan.
Kondo (lecture hall)
Biwako as viewed from Hieizan
Drove eastward after lunch to visit Miho museum, which was nestled inside mountains. After parking our car, we had to walk through a long tunnel to reach the museum entrance – though free trolley was available, the queue was long.
The architecture was designed by I.M. Pei to create a modern version of Shangri-la. We were surprised by its huge private collection of artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Roman Empire, China etc up to the modern era. We spent about 2 hours and had to return as traffic was heavy.
tunnel leading to museum
end of tunnel is a bridge leading to the museum entrance
large mosaic on floor
Okochi-sanso is a private villa with a large premise. Following its foot paths we wandered up and down the hill. Bumped into a semi-rainbow along the way. Finally, we arrived at its tea house where we took a brief rest and enjoyed its complimentary tea set. Koyo was also at peak.
Arashiyama on the other side
rainbow over Kyoto
tea set included
Before ending the day we arrived at Kodaiji in Higashiyama. The famous garden and pond were beautiful with peak koyo too. Had a coffee and caught sight of the silhouette of distant Hokanji in the setting sun.
the last cake set
So glad to be back in Kyoto during peak koyo season for the 4th time. Visited Jojakko-ji, Komyo-ji, Okochi-sanso and Kodai-ji in 1.5 days.
Took JR commuter train to Saga-Arashiyama, then taxi to Jojakko-ji to save time. Though it was a smaller temple, it was on a hill covered in a forest of fiery red trees. Koyo was brilliant and we spent almost 2 hours there !! By the time we left it was already sunset.
Visited Komyoji in Nagaoka-kyo. The famous “Koyo tunnel” was indeed gorgeous.
looking back at the entrance
Returned to Arashiyama by Hankyu train. Walked along Hozugawa and across the Togetsu bridge. It was so crowded around the bridge junctions that there were people directing traffic and crowd flows. Koyo in Arashiyama looked beyond peak. We had a quick lunch before visiting Okochi-Sanso on the back of the bamboo forest.
dedicated path for ricksaws
On the next morning, we visited the Momijidani Park and Daisho-in before leaving Miyajima. Wild deers were roaming freely in the Park. Though koyo has passed peak, it was still nice. Koyo was still in peak in Daisho-in. It was serene when the day trippers have not arrived yet.
From Momijidani Park to Daisho-in
Koyo was slightly past peak in park
on the way to Daisho-in
Koyo was reminiscent of Eikando in Kyoto
on the back of Hondo
Senjokaku and Pagoda
cool monk statues 🙂
Torii Gate – night and day
As we had visited the Itsukushima Shrine less than one year ago, we gave it a pass. I strolled around after dinner and reached the Torii Gate viewpoint in less than 15 min. It was nice to see it illuminated. By the time I was about to return, a small passenger cruise was sailing through the Gate.
By the time we checked out early drizzles had turned into rain. It continued when we were on Shinkansen in Hiroshima. Returned to Kyoto after lunch and checked into hotel on top of Kyoto station.
Visited Kansai for 1 week in late Nov for peak koyo in Miyajima, Kyoto and around Biwako.
Right after landing in KIX, we headed to an onsen resort in Kobe to relax. It was our second stay.
Kobe harbour views from our room balcony – dusk till dawn.
views taken from room balcony
Right after checkout, we headed to Miyajima by Sanyo Shinkansen, local commuter train and ferry. Went for lunch before taking ropeway to Mt Misen.
on the way to ropeway station
views from the ropeway
It took nearly an hour to queue up for the ropeway – guess it was due to koyo season. By the time we reached the top station it was almost 3pm. Started hiking up to summit but first we had to descend before ascending. Reached summit at around 4pm, rested for a while and commenced the return. Stopped by Misen Hondo and the eternal flame along the descent. Queued for the ropeway again for almost an hour and watched sunset over Mt Misen while waiting. By the time we arrived back at the base station it was completely dark. Returned to our onsen hotel nearby.
Misen Hondo (Hall)
statue of Kobo Daishi
Kiezu-no-hi (eternal flame)
Miyajima ferry arriving
sunset behind Misen
Our original plan was to visit Naruko gorge and a boat ride along Mogamigawa as we last did in 2001. However, due to typhoon 22 – second in a row in 2 weeks, we dropped the latter due to rain and strong wind.
From Tokyo, we took Shinkansen to Sendai and picked up a car. Rain was pouring on the way while driving to Naruko Gorge. We did not visit anywhere until the next morning when it cleared.
Naruko Gorge (鳴子峡)
Our 3rd visit but first time by car. Though koyo has past peak as expected in end October, it was still great. Followed the trail down to the bottom of gorge and returned. Back in 2001 we carried on another 4km for some gorgeous koyo down there, but ever since the big Tohoku earthquake in 2011 that section has been closed.
bottom of the gorge where the full trail was closed
local train entering a tunnel in the gorge
From the parking area, we followed another trail for an easy 1-hour walk.
Afterwards, we had to return to Sendai area to check into another historical onsen ryokan in Akiu onsen.
==> Akiu onsen ryokan – Sakan
After checking out the next morning, we drove back to Sendai station, returned car, Shinkansen back to Tokyo and left Japan, thereby ending this koyo trip in Tohoku and JP Alps.
Myoko Kogen (妙高高原)
Myoko Kogen is in Niigata Prefecture and is close to Nagano city.
We visited a few koyo spots there and stayed in an onsen hotel at 1000m with views of mountains, lake and sea of clouds !
Another top 100 waterfalls in Japan. Koyo was in peak there.
Dusk till dawn
views from hotel room shortly before sunset and sunrise. For more views of sea of clouds, refer to the link above.
views from room shortly before sunset
views from room shortly after sunrise
After checking out from hotel on the next morning, we took the Sky cable car to 1300m. It was another rare sunny day in this trip. We had some nice views up there. Afterwards, we drove to nearby onsen towns for two other waterfalls – the Sou-taki and Budou-taki.
Sky cable to 1300m
view from top station
Nojiri-ko in the distance with sea of clouds
Beautiful pond with reflection of Mt Myoko as in featured photo. We then headed to Nagano city, visited Zenkoji, returned car and headed back to Tokyo for weekend.
Blue sky in Nagano city
Matsukawa river valley (松川渓谷)
We next stayed in a renowned historical onsen ryokan in Yudanaka onsen for 2 nights. While the local weather forecast had predicted a sunny day in Nagano Prefecture, rain clouds rolled in not long after our breakfast and we had to embrace for another rainy day again 🙁
Despite this, we had some nice surprises for the day when we visited Matsukawa river valley for the first time ! Apart from peak koyo, we bumped into two waterfalls that were not on our radar screen.
Ya-taki (eight fall)
Kaminari-daki (thunder fall)
Walking behind a waterfall for the first time – the Kaminari-daki (Thunder fall) !!
Yonako falls – top 100 waterfalls in Japan (日本の滝百選 米子大瀑布)
On the next morning after checkout, we drove to Yonako falls in Suzaka city.
The car park was at 1300m, after 10km of narrow and winding mountain road from Suzaka city. From there, we hiked another 180m uphill to the observatory in about 30min. Though koyo has past peak on the cliffs, it was still stunning.
sea of clouds in the distance
peak koyo along the mountain road
Given this was our 5th visit we had deliberately booked a ryokan with room facing the Mt Hotaka range for 2 nights. Our original plan was to follow the walking trails to Tokuzawa or maybe Yoko-o as day trip and to buffer for any adverse weather conditions.
It turned out the plan did cater for the latter case only. On the afternoon when we arrived heavy rain and strong wind was ravaging and getting dark. Thus, we did not venture to go anywhere after checking into our ryokan beside Kappa-bashi (bridge). On the next day wind subsided a bit though rain had been persistent. Rain clouds and mists simply obscured almost all the summits – not even the closer Mt Yakedake can be seen 🙁 We only walked the smaller loop between Kappa-bashi and Tashiro-bashi, while the trail heading to Taisho-ike was closed due to flooding.
Kamikochi in rainstorm
D1 – Kamikochi in rainstorm
macaques feeding themselves in rain
even Kappa had to wait
Luckily, the sky cleared up (after typhoon Lan and its rainbands had passed by Japan) upon daybreak prior to our departure, with snow-covered Mt Hotaka range in the background, layered bands of koyo and almost perfect reflections from Taisho-ike !
At last, mother nature and Kamikochi were kind to all visitors in showing off her grandeur. When we arrived at the Taisho-ike observatory point around 8am, there were already a dozen of photographers focusing on the same target after the rainstorms had finally dispersed 🙂
Kamikochi in grandeur
view from room at dawn
Mt Hotaka range @3000m
view outside ryokan before 8am
at Taisho-ike at 8am
Mt Yakedake @2400m
Summit of Yakedake
From Kamikochi to Yudanaka onsen via Matsumoto
While we were on the Alpico bus returning to Shin-shimashima, we wondered where the beautiful Mandarina ducks have gone. They were either swimming in Taisho-ike or moving precariously along the river banks during our past four visits. Meanwhile, there were heavy cranes and other machines operating at the far end of Taisho-ike close to the entrance. Hopefully, those lovely birds are still living happily in this closest paradise on Earth.
During the descent, there were gorgeous koyo on either side of the mountains/slopes. After arriving at Matsumoto, we picked up a car and dropped by Matsumoto Castle again.
We then visited Obuse – a small garden town less than 1 hour from Nagano city. As it was the harvesting season of chestnuts, there were plenty of those products for sale.
gorgeous koyo while descending on bus
==> Yudanaka onsen – Yoroduya