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Nasu: Beyond Peak

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.

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.

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.

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!