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Nara: Beyond Peak

Autumn colors in Nara Park

The autumn color front has blazed through the Kansai Region this month more rapidly than in past years, leaving much of western Japan nearing the end of its color season. Some late-season autumn color spots in the region and further west, though, still offer a last hold-out for leaf watching over the next several, final days of the season, which is exactly where I have been heading this week to cover the home stretch of the 2016 season.

Today, after a trip yesterday to a near-leafless (though still quite pretty) Kanazawa, I made my way today to the Kansai Region to check on the colors in Nara, the ancient capital of Japan.

After some exploring, it was clear that (like the rest of the region) Nara's fall colors were definitely past their peak today, though not quite finished yet. Those hoping to catch some colorful leaves here should probably visit within the next several days before more leaves than not end up on the ground instead of the trees.

Nara Park

Beyond Peak

My first destination for the day was the expansive . The large, wooded park's zig-zagging pathways hide a few patches of deciduous trees scattered about the grounds that can show some nice flashes of color in autumn. Today, most were shedding much of their leaves, but the park's best collection of color-changing trees, a grove of momiji (Japanese maples) lining a canal just to the southwest of the park's main attraction, Todaiji Temple, still had some decent foliage.

Nara Park's momiji (Japanese maple) trees were still showing some color today
The season is coming to its end in Nara Park
Some lovely leaves still left in a momiji-lined canal near Todaiji Temple
Ginkgo and stone lanterns lining the approach to Kasuga Taisha Shrine
Which is flippier, the ginkgo or the tops of the lanterns?
One of Nara's sacred deer, chilling
I don't always pose for photos, but when I...oh, who am I kidding, I always pose for photos
Very lantern, such ginkgo
A lone bright standout along a park path
This deer refused both rice crackers and attention: total hipster
Cute, puffy-cheeked hamster deer
Shrine maidens at Kasuga Taisha Shrine preparing a koto for a ceremony
Soba shop on the way to Isuien

Isuien Garden

Beyond Peak

My second stop today was the lovely Isuien, a centuries-old Japanese landscape garden located just a few minutes' walk from Todaiji Temple. The quiet garden is divided into two parts, a front and rear garden, each centered around a small pond (fed by the same momiji-lined canal that passes through Nara Park), but with slightly different styles and histories.

Both of the gardens today were well past their peak autumn color, but still atmospheric nonetheless, lending some tranquility to the relatively small numbers of visitors on this overcast weekday.

The front garden of Isuien
Still some colorful momiji at Isuien today
Dramatic momiji
The beautiful rear garden of Isuien, with its borrowed scenery of Todaiji Temple's Nandaimon Gate and Mount Wakakusayama
The autumn colors in the rear garden are fading fast
The rear garden, beautiful with or without koyo (fall colors)
Even the berries are starting to fall

Yoshikien Garden

Beyond Peak

My last stop today was to Yoshikien Garden, just next door to Isuien (so close they share a bordering wall). The slightly more rugged of the two neighboring gardens, Yoshikien boasts dozens of large momiji and other color-changing trees which can be breathtaking at their peak autumn color. Today, they were unfortunately well beyond their peak, but still showed a bit of nice color here and their, particularly in the moss garden area in the back.

The pond garden of Yoshikien, definitely past peak color today
Momiji (Japanese maple) trees with some lingering leaves between the pond and moss gardens
Some still-colorful momiji
Isuien's moss garden
A carpet of fallen leaves covering the moss
Even end-of-season autumn color can still be quite lovely
And one more Nara deer for good measure