Joe's Japan Travel Journal
by Joe, staff writer of

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2014/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Hakone

A recently snow-capped Mount Fuji over Lake Ashinoko

After making its way down from the northern regions of Hokkaido and Tohoku for the last month and a half, Japan's autumn colors are starting to creep into the south of Kanto and further. Today Stefan and I traveled to Hakone National Park, a hugely popular side-trip destination from Tokyo, to check the status of the fall color there.

Like other mountainous areas (such as Nikko and Tateyama), Hakone has a range of elevations, from around 1400 meters at the highest peaks to around 750 meters around Lake Ashinoko, which translates to a long timeframe in which to enjoy autumn colors around the park. From the trend around northern Japan this year, we expected the foliage to be showing about a week earlier than usual today, but we were a little surprised to find most of the park still before its peak. The foliage around Lake Ashinoko, for example, was still sporting a lot of green (though much of the slopes in the area have more non-deciduous pine trees than not, making for a rather green palette year-round).

While the colors were rewarding in some spots around Hakone today, we expect the color to be approaching its best levels in about another week from now here. For our visit, though, we were at least lucky enough to have some wonderful weather and great views of Mount Fuji.

Lake Ashinoko from the Narukawa Art Museum. The color around the lake was still a bit early today.
The fall color on the some of the slopes around Lake Ashinoko weren't so impressive today
Mount Fuji from a lookout point
Mount Fuji and some autumn color around Lake Ashinoko
Some trees were starting to show color earlier than others, though mostly just in small pockets today

After journeying from Odawara to the Moto-Hakone town area, we took a cruise on one of the fun pirate ship sightseeing boats across Lake Ashinoko. From the middle of the lake, the views of the surrounding shores were a bit more impressive than in Moto-Hakone. Again, in about a week, these spots will likely be even more impressive.

The infamous Hakone pirate ship sightseeing boat in front of a pocket of fall color
A torii gate dedicated to the Shinto god of the water of Lake Ashinoko

On the north side of Ashinoko, we took a local bus to an area called Sengokuhara, famous for its dazzling pampas grass (susuki in Japanese). The grass had just begun its cycle of autumn colors very recently; the tips of susuki plants first turn a silvery yellow then deepen to a brilliant gold and eventually a reddish burnt yellow. The cycle usually progresses over several weeks, so the fields at Sengokuhara should still be impressive almost to the end of November.

The Sengokuhara pampas grass (susuki) fields
Susuki up close
Silvery susuki in the sun

Our next stop in Hakone today was Choanji Temple, just north of the pampas grass fields. This small temple is often overlooked, but is a hidden gem of a fall color spot. The temple is surrounded by bamboo and deciduous trees, some of which were beginning to approach peak color. Scattered around the temple are dozens of fascinating Bhuddist statues, all unique, making interesting poses or strange faces. It definitely merits a visit if you are visiting during November.

The woods around Choanji Temple
Autumn color beginning to surround a temple building at Choanji Temple
A pair of Bhuddist statues at Choanji
A local in front of a temple building
One of the dozens of Bhuddist statues scattered around the temple grounds

Our final visit of the day was to grounds of the Hakone Museum of Art in the town of Gora. In autumn, visitors flock to the museum not for its art collections, but for the moss garden beside the museum itself. The expansive garden is packed with color-changing trees, and today the foliage was just starting to change color on most of the trees here. In about one more week, the colors here, as with the rest of Hakone, will likely be much more brilliant.

The moss garden at Hakone Museum of Art
A waterfall in Hakone Museum of Art's garden
A Hakone-Tozan cable car, one of the many interesting modes of public transportation to get around in in Hakone

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List of Posts:
2018/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2018
2017/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2017
2016/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2016
2016/03/24 - Setouchi Triennale 2016
2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015/12/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Mitake
2015/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Takao
2015/11/12 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/11 - Autumn Color Report: Fukuroda Falls
2015/10/30 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/10/26 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2015/10/22 - Autumn Color Report: Northern Alps
2015/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Northern Alps
2015/10/20 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Fuji
2015/10/15 - Autumn Color Report: Hachimantai
2015/10/14 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2015/10/13 - Autumn Color Report: Hakkoda
2015/10/08 - Autumn Color Report: Nasu
2015/10/06 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2015/04/14 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Yoshino
2015/04/13 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Miharu
2015/04/08 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Matsumoto Report
2015/01/29 - Crabs, Peonies and Castle Cruises in Shimane

2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014
2014/12/16 - Seasonal Illumination: Osaka
2014/12/15 - Seasonal Illumination: Kobe Luminarie 2014
2014/12/09 - Seasonal Illumination: Ashikaga Flower Park
2014/12/05 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Nara
2014/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Hakone
2014/10/29 - Autumn Color Report: Shima Onsen
2014/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/10/16 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2014/10/08 - Autumn Color Report: Nasu
2014/10/07 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/09/26 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/08/20 - Kusatsu Onsen Beautification