by Joe, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2014/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
As this year's autumn color season is coming into its final stretch around the country, some of the best places to enjoy the changing leaves right now are actually some of Japan's most popular destinations: Tokyo and Kyoto. This week, I'll be taking over where Raina left off last week, reporting from the Kansai Region, with my first stop being Kyoto's beautiful Arashiyama area.
Though the weather was a bit wet today, the autumn colors in Arashiyama today were absolutely at their peak. All over the district's hills, temples and garden the colors were breathtaking. If you are still hoping to catch some autumn leaves in Kyoto this year, it is safe to say this would be an ideal week for it.
To check out some of Arashiyama's best fall color spots, I rented a bicycle near JR Saga-Arashiyama Station and pushed my bike through the crowds to the end Arashiyama's lively main shopping street to my first stop, the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge (in hindsight, I wouldn't recommend using a bike while exploring the crowded southern part of Arashiyama, though it was very handy in the relatively spread out northern areas). The hills behind the bridge were vibrant even in the rainy mist.
I made my second stop of the day at the popular Monkey Park on the south side of the Katsura River. While the monkeys are generally the main attraction here, the many of the trees in the park were showing lovely color today, and the view from the highest point in the park was impressive.
Tenryuji Temple, the largest and most famous of Arashiyama's temples, was my next destination. The temple's grounds host several gardens and buildings, and even a few sub-temples in and around the complex. While much of the grounds have very nice colors to show in the fall, one such sub-temple I discovered today is a knockout spot. The Hogonin Temple gardens are packed with momiji (Japanese maple) trees, which were all brilliant shades of red and yellow today. Much of the garden's paths are also lined by moss-covered rocks and earth, covered with a fresh blanket of brightly colored fallen leaves, making for some wonderful views.
In the main Tenryuji temple complex, the trees lining the paths and in the impressive garden behind the main hall were also impressive today. Despite the rain, there were still surprising numbers of tourists around town and crowding into the small garden paths.
Just to the north of Tenryuji's back garden exit, Arashiyama's famous bamboo grove path led me west to Okochi Sanso, where I stopped for a break and some traditional green tea. Okochi Sanso is the former villa of a popular actor, which is now open the public to enjoy its lovely grounds, traditional buildings and teahouse, which happens to be situated next to some trees with nice fall leaves.
My final two stops brought me north, first to the beautifully understated, yet stunning Jojakkoji Temple. Again, the foliage permeating the hillside paths of the temple grounds was at its peak color, making a canopy of red and yellow all around the temple's famous gate. Continuing beyond the gate, I was surprised to find that the main hall is actually currently being completely rebuilt from scratch, and will remain under scaffolding until October of 2016. But despite the construction, the grounds were still stunning today, and certainly still worth a visit, especially during the peak of autumn color.
My final stop today was Nisonin Temple, just north of Jojakkoji. The leaves didn't disappoint here, either, especially around the main approach to the temple's famous front gate. Here too, I was surprised to see so many visitors on a rainy weekday like today. It made for a good reminder to always be prepared for crowds in Kyoto this time of year, advice I think might come in handy for any leaf watchers heading to Kansai this week.