by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com
This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.
2011/12/08 - Autumn Color Report: Kamakura
Today I paid a visit to Kamakura, which is one of the last places in Japan where the leaves change colors. In a typical year the autumn colors (koyo) around Kamakura reach their peak in early December. However, this year has not been typical and the koyo season has been delayed in Kamakura, as it has in the rest of Japan.
My first stop this morning was to the Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha) which doesn't really have that many colorful trees around its grounds. There are a few nice areas though with maples that look to be around the peak. Though on close inspection the leaves looked damaged and burned.
A short walk away from the Great Buddha statue is Hasedera, a small temple related to the grand Hasedera Temple in Nara Prefecture. The maples along the upper stairs towards the main hall were at their peak; however the trees around the lower ponds are already pretty brown. Curiously, the brown leaves are not really and falling off of the trees yet.
Next I headed over to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura's largest and most important shrine. There weren't many autumn colors of significance around the shrine's large ponds or the approach to the main hall. There were also fewer food stands around compared to previous visits; however that could be because it was supposed to rain today.
Last year the shrine lost its characteristic, centuries old gingko tree that stood along the stairs to the main hall. A portion of the trunk survived and young saplings began growing out of the damaged base. On last year's visit you could see the new growth, but it seems that the new saplings have already dropped their leaves for this season.
Next I stopped by Meigetsuin (300 yen), a medium sized temple tucked away in the hills just a few minutes walk from Engakuji. Meigetsuin has some very nice autumn colors, despite being better known for its summer hydrangea flowers (ajisai). In fact, it ended up being the highlight of today's trip as there were more and better colors here than at any of the other spots I visited. The maples are right around the peak, and didn't seem to suffer as much from the hot summer that we suspect may have dulled the leaves at other sites.
Behind Meigetsuin's main hall is a large garden and circular walking path. Though the separate 500 yen entry fee seemed a little steep, the garden had some of the temple's best koyo colors.
Finally, I ended the day at Engakuji which is usually quite busy during the koyo season. It was eerily quiet as I approached the main entrance which would normally be bustling with people trying to take pictures of the maple lined gates. The reason, which became apparent as I got closer, was that the maples were already turning brown and were not nearly as spectacular as in past seasons. However, the trees inside the temple grounds were in a much better state and many areas of the large temple complex were around the peak.