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Kyoto: Approaching Peak

Kyoto's Tofukuji Temple

The autumn color season has burst into full force in western Japan, where it annually goes out with a bang in some of the county's most well-loved autumn color hot spots. In addition to Tokyo, which is also just now approaching its peak seasonsal color, Japan's perennial koyo (autumn color) all-star Kyoto is also now beginning to show off its seasonal display. Our team will be in both cities over the next few weeks to track the conditions as they reach their peaks.

Today, I hit a few of Kyoto's most impressive early-changing koyo spots to check on the state of the season here in Japan's former capital. While most of the city's foliage was only still beginning to change during our last report here last week, this week, the colors are already reaching their peak in some places, and will continue to improve over the next couple weeks.


Approaching Peak

My first destination on this sunny morning was to one of Kyoto's most popular koyo spots, the lovely Tofukuji Temple. Located just a short train ride from Kyoto Station, Tofukuji boasts an incredible array of momiji (Japanese maple) trees concentrated in a small valley crossed by two iconic parallel bridges which visitors crowd onto to snap shots of the sea of red below from mid to late November.

Today, the temple didn't disappoint, as the momiji were almost all nearing their peak color.

Tofukuji's Tsutenkyo Bridge surrounded by near-peak autumn colors

As for the crowds of photographers, however, this year, the temple has placed a new restriction on taking pictures from both the Gaunkyo and Tsutenkyo bridges. In order to alleviate the increasingly intense congenstion on the bridges during peak season, the temple requests that no photographs be taken on either bridge between November 12–30.

While temple staff were stationed at both bridges today politely asking visitors to refrain from stopping to take pictures (in addition to clearly marked signs), it seemed that during relatively calm times of the day, the enforcement might be slightly relaxed, as I found many photographers shooting quick photos on both bridges early this morning. As the more people streamed in, however, the ban seemed to be enforced more strictly.

Photography on the two Tofukuji's two parallel walking bridges is no longer allowed during the peak autumn color season this year
The photography ban seemed to less enforced during less crowded times of the day
Inside the temple grounds, the colors were approaching their peak, but still have a little ways to go in some spots
Incredible colors around Tofukuji's grounds
A pretty palette
The Tsutenkyo Bridge and flaming red momiji (Japanese maple)
Colors popping out everywhere like a flamingo in a graveyard
The Gaunkyo Bridge amidst a sea of red and yellow


Peak Color

My second stop for the day was to the lovely Daigoji Temple, located just outside the city center to the southeast. Daigoji is possibly most famous for its iconic Bentendo Hall, which sits at the back of the main temple grounds' Shimo Daigo area. The colors today around the picturesque hall were absolutely stunning today, brought to life with the vibrant reds of momiji trees at the peak color.

While the colors around the Bentendo should be perfect through the rest of this week, for those arriving later, other trees throughout the grounds were only just beginning to change today (some were even still quite green), making the temple a good koyo spot for most of November.

The iconic Bentendo Hall at Daigoji Temple
Peak colors around the Bentendo Hall today
Deep red soul of autumn
One gigantic glorious golden ginkgo tree stands proud near Bentendo Hall, and today it meant business
Business tree
Many of the other trees around Shimo Daigo were also at or near peak color
The momiji grove behind Bentendo Hall, however, still has a ways to go
Setting up for nighttime illumination of the grounds
More colors around the grounds many peaceful walkways


Peak Color

My last destination today was also outside Kyoto's city center, where some of the area's autumn color seems to peak a bit earlier than the more urban Kyoto proper. Located about an hour north of Kyoto Station in the sleepy, small town of Ohara, Sanzenin is a lovely old temple of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism, founded in 804. The bustling, shop-lined approach to the temple and its peaceful, moss-covered grounds give it a tranquil atmosphere that is a welcome contrast to the crowds of the bigger temples of Kyoto proper.

Sanzenin's grounds also boast some lovely foliage that changes colors in autumn, which today were at their best. Though not concentrated all in one area, like at Tofukuji, the splashes of fall color around the temple were a lovely sight.

The colorful, bustling approach to Sanzenin
Yummy-looking kaki (persimmon) fruit: a favorite symbol of autumn in Japan
Such tree, very color
A gorgeous Japanese landscape garden on the Sanzenin temple grounds
Colorful reflection
Soaking in the view
Gorgeous colors around the main Shinden hall
Golden gate
Amongst the sorority of autumn color trees, momiji is still the queen
One of many intriguing statues around the grounds