by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com
This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.
2010/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
Today we headed over to Okunikko, the "Inner Nikko" area that lies in the mountains above the temples and shrines of Nikko, to check out how the autumn colors (koyo) are progressing. Due to its high elevation, on a typical year the Okunikko area begins its leaf changing season around early October, and the colors then slowly make their way down the mountains to the town of Nikko below over the next month and a half. However, this year's koyo season is running a week or so late, and it was pretty evident as green was definitely the predominant color today.
As usual, we began our trip travelling along the Japan Romantic Route from Gunma Prefecture, and entered Nikko National Park through Konsei Pass at the innermost part of "Inner Nikko". The trees around the pass were only just beginning to change colors, and there were only a few red and orange trees among many green and barely yellow-green trees.
Lake Yumoto was the next stop after heading down from the pass. Again the colors are only just beginning to change along the shore of the lake. Peering over the top of Yudaki Falls, the outlet of Lake Yumoto, over the rest of Okunikko below offered a preview of what was to come.
Continuing on, I took a short hike into the Senjogahara Marshland to get an unobstructed view over the open grassy marsh. The early changing broadleaf trees along the trails were just beginning to yellow while the other trees and grass coving the marsh have yet to change much. We can expect that the grass will become quite a bit redder and the trees almost golden in a few weeks, but for now it is very much the early season.
The next stop was Ryuzu Falls, which is a rather odd part of Okunikko in that it has a slightly faster leaf changing schedule than the rest of the region. The trees around the falls were showing more yellow and red than today's earlier stops and the koyo looks to be about a week or so more advanced than the surrounding area.
Next on the list was Lake Chuzenji. I had planned to go up to the Chuzenji Skyline overlooking the lake from where there are a few observation points with nice views, however the clouds were already beginning to roll in as I got there and it became a race to get some quick shots before I was completely surrounded in fog. The trees were very much still green and looks like the season is only just about to start around the lake.
Unfortunately today was another battle with the weather as the fall rainy season continues, and the persistent clouds hanging around Lake Chuzenji completely blocked my view from the nearby Akechidaira Plateau over the uphill route of the Irohazaka Road. Its hard to speculate the state of the trees when you only have a 5 meter visibility, but being just next to Lake Chuzenji leads me to guess that the trees are still very green with only scattered autumn colors.
Finally, the last stop of the day was at Kegon Falls. From our past trips to Kegon Falls it seems that the free observation deck provides the best views of autumn colors, while the lower observation deck (accessed by a paid elevator) has a better view of the falls. That said, the falls weren't very visible from either deck today due to the fog. You can see the surrounding trees, however, and they are still very green.
So to quickly recap today's trip, it appears that there is a split in the Okunikko region where the koyo hasn't quite gotten started yet in the Lake Chuzenji area, while it is still very much the early season from Ryuzu Falls on up towards the region's higher elevations.