Autumn colors have been sweeping down the country over the last month or so, igniting the northern and high portions of Japan in a blaze of reds, yellows and oranges. While Tokyo isn't expected to start seeing some serious color for another few weeks, the Dewa Sanzan area of Yamagata Prefecture certainly is, and that is where I headed for my latest report trip.
Dewa Sanzan is an important spiritual area of Japan, being an ancient center of Shugendo mountain worship and a true gem of the Tohoku region. The area is home to sacred mountains and shrines and some beautiful nature spots. With so much to see, I was eager to get up to the area and check how the foliage was doing.
The glassy Lake Asahigassanko lies to the northwest of Yudono-san and provides pleasant views at this time of year. The foliage around the lake was starting to show some color, with the trees in the distance at a higher elevation already bright orange. I expect that another one to two weeks will be needed for the trees by the banks to fully reach their peak.
From Lake Asahigassanko, I got on the Gassan Hanagasa Line, a road that leads from Tsuruoka over the mountains towards Yamagata City and that would take me to Yudono-san. The road affords nice views of the surrounding mountains and the foliage at this time of year. The foliage itself was still predominantly green in the lower elevations, however, as the road climbed through the mountains, the leaves became alive with color, making for an impressive display that should within a week or so have filtered down to the lowlands.
The final stop was at Yudono-san. This mountain and accompanying shrine are considered the most holy in the Denwa Sanzan area, so much so that photography is prohibited within the shrine's grounds, and even to talk about what goes on within the shrine is prohibited. One thing I won't keep secret however was the state of the colors; which were quite spectacular with the trees and bushes alive with reds, yellows and oranges. The higher elevations began to get slightly bare, which suggests that the whole area may not be at peak for much longer. I'd suggest making the journey in the next week if one wants to experience the peak autumn ambience here.