by Francois, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2009/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Hakone
Today we got an early start and headed to Hakone in pursuit of fall colours ("koyo"). We were hoping to capture pictures that included both Hakone's koyo and Mount Fuji and chose to leave today based on favourable weather forecasts. Unfortunately, despite the clear skies on almost the entire journey, as we approached Hakone clouds hanging directly over our destination gradually came into view. This again confirmed to us the difficulty of having clear skies over both Hakone and Mount Fuji, and we were not able to get pictures with the mountain as we had from Lake Kawaguchi on our October 28, 2009 Koyo Report.
We approached Hakone from the north by car and first got a glimpse of the area from Ashinoko Skyline toll road. The road runs along a ridge above the area and offers good views. The color of the area was decent, but it was not spectacular compared to some of the other areas we have visited this year. It did not seem that the colors would improve much though, and they are probably near their peak.
We drove down from the Ashinoko Skyline to the edge of Lake Ashinoko in the Moto Hakone area, to a spot near the Detached Palace. We were able to see some of Mount Fuji but most of the mountain's peak was obstructed by clouds. The best views we were able to get in the area were from the Narukawa Art Museum, where a large section of the museum is devoted to a panorama lounge. There were a few colorful trees located around the museum as well.
From Lake Ashinoko we headed to the Horaien Garden, which is part of the Mikawa Ryokan but is open to the public. Again, the colors at the garden were decent but not spectacular. It is still a bit early for the garden though, and it should continue to improve into the next couple of weeks.
From Horaien we headed to the Hakone Museum of Art, which is known for its moss garden. The museum's gardens proved to be the day's koyo highlight. The moss garden is filled with maple trees that are turning vibrant colors, making a lovely combination of the green of the moss floor and the red canopy of koyo. The Sekiraku-en Garden, another of the museum's garden, also had some impressive koyo on display. Seiraku-en is usually open just on weekends and holidays, but for the month of November it is open everyday so that visitors can enjoy its fall colors.
According to the museum staff, the koyo has come two weeks earlier this year than in the average year. Although the colors are already impressive, they should continue to improve for another week until they reach their peak.
There had been moderate crowds at the Hakone Art Museum, but the busiest spot of the day was at an unscheduled stop we took at the end of the day. In Hakone's Sengoku area, we drove past fields of pampas grass that were drawing large crowds of people. The tall grass had turned a golden color and shone brilliantly when the sun reflected off of it. A path lead through the grass and a steady stream of people continually flowed through it. The shimmering pampas grass was another of the day's high points.