The autumn color season is now in full swing in the Kansai Region, about a week ahead of the average annual pace. As Raina reported yesterday in Kyoto, temperatures are dropping and forecasted sunny weather might mean that leaves might soon be reaching their peak color around the region.

Continuing our coverage of the season, I headed today to Kansai's Nara Prefecture, to the city of Sakurai, tucked away in Nara's southern mountains. Like its famous neighbor Nara City (an hour train ride north), Sakurai is a city of history, and is home to some of Japan's most ancient temples and shrines.

Among its historical gems, Sakurai boasts two sites which also happen to be daytrip-worthy autumn color spots rarely reached by the throngs of leaf-watchers that flock to nearby Kyoto: Hasedera Temple and Tanzan Shrine. Today, the leaves at both were looking great.

Hasedera Temple

Peak Color

My first today was to Hasedera. This old temple is set atop a hill at the end of a nostalgic, shop-lined approach surrounded by a small, sleepy town.

At the temple itself, the color-changing trees around the temple grounds were showing wonderful color today. It seemed that they recently peaked in most places, and they will likely remain nice through the weekend if the weather stays good.

Tanzan Shrine

Peak Color

My next stop was to Tanzan Shrine, a short 30-minute drive south of Hasedera. Similar to Hasedera in many ways, Tanzan is also hidden away in the mountains perched on a wooded hill. And among the grounds of this shrine are scattered dozens of Japanese maple, ginko and other color-changing trees.

Today the colors here were definitely at their peak. Here too, the leaves should remain quite nice through the weekend and possibly into next week as well.