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Nasu: Beyond Peak

The brightest colors still showing on the south side of Mount Nasu

With tempatures sharply dropping across Japan, the autumn color season is fully underway in the country's higher mountain areas and northern Japan, where, of course, the Japan Guide team will be reporting from over the following weeks.

While major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto's autumn colors won't really be kicking off for another several weeks, the higher mountains even within Tokyo's Kanto Region are already showing off their stuff. Today, I visited just one such mountain: the lovely Mount Nasu in northern Tochigi Prefecture, just an hour-long bullet train ride north of Tokyo.

Considered one of Japan's 100 most famous mountains, Mount Nasu is home to many famous hot springs, hiking trails with beautiful views, skiing, plenty of local legends, and a host of restaurants, shops and a variety of theme parks and museums. And every year in autumn, it plays host to some of the best autumn colors in the Kanto Region.

Mount Nasu: Beyond Peak

While there are several ways to get up amongst the famously colorful slopes of Mount Nasu, today I drove, fighting through the traffic already clogging up the roads on the mountaintop even on a Friday morning. My first stop was actually a little ways down from the peaks at the lovely Komadome-ga-taki waterfall. Located some 700 meters below the mountain peaks (next to one of Nasu's oldest hot spring ryokan, Kita Yu Onsen), the foliage around the falls here was just barely starting to change color today.

The colors around Komadome-ga-taki were surprisingly green compared to the nearly-finished mountain slopes
Komadome-ga-taki

I next made my way to Mount Nasu itself, where the best autumn colors here can be seen along the mountain's hiking trails. The trail I took today started just above the popular Nasu Ropeway base station at the Toge-no-Chaya (Mountain Pass Tea House) to the ridgeline that connects the mountain system's several peaks.

The foliage along the slopes today was, while still lovely in many spots, definitely beyond its peak color overall. Being mid-October already, today was a bit beyond Nasu's normal peak time (which often comes in the first ten days or so of the month). The colors were also sadly a bit duller than normal, perhaps due to the large amount of rain from a series of recent typhoons that have been slamming Japan.

Even if not at their tip-top, the slopes were still quite beautiful today, and should still have some decent color through the weekend.

The peak of Mount Nasu's Chausu-dake peak, around which the foliage was looking a bit crispy
The still-colorful slopes around Mount Asahi peaking through the trees
Possibly thanks to the recent heavy rain, a lot of leaves' tones were a bit duller than past years
Mount Asahi, still robed in colors
Trees on the slopes of Mount Asahi
Majesty
The trail up Mount Nasu
Exchanging obligatory, cheerful 'konnichiwa's
Not a bad view at all

While the slopes of Asahi-dake, which dominates the landscape on the trail to the north, still had plenty of good color (mainly from its vibrant sasa—mountain bamboo—and nanakamado bushes), on the west side of the ridgline, the colors were well past peak, almost barren in spots. The few exceptions were splotches around trails on the Uba-ga-daira plateau below the ridgline.

The northern mountains in the Nasu chain had seen more colorful days this year
Lots of trees, not so many leaves
Looking southwest from Chausu-dake, the trees were definitely well beyond their peak
Barely any leaves left on the trees on the south side of Mount Nasu
Nasu's Chausu-dake peak hissing jets of sulphuric gas
Pampas grass, volcano gas
Blotches of colorful foliage still littered some parts of the trails on the south side of Chausu
Hikers trekking their way along the ridgeline
There was no shortage of hikers out to see the colors: expect a zoo this weekend

Continuing my counter-clockwise circle around the prominent Chausu-dake peak, I managed to find what seemed to be the last hold-out for still-vibrant koyo (fall colors) on the mountain on the southeast slopes below the Ushi-ga-kubi col.

For those looking to catch some autumn color this weekend near Tokyo, even if it's a little below its normally high standard, Mount Nasu should still offer a good opportunity. Just beware: every other leaf-watching fan in the region will probably be there, too!

Found it! The colors on the southeast slopes was still vibrant today
Like a crispy lake of marmalade
Nanakamado bushes brightening everyone's day
Catching the colors
The Nasu Ropeway, toting visitors up and down the slopes
A dip in one of Mount Nasu's many famous onsen after hiking, like the 1300-year-old Shika-no-yu here, is hard to beat

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