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.
2013/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
Four days after Sean's last report from the Kansai Region, it was finally time for me to take a turn and head down to Kyoto to check on the autumn leaves (koyo). For today's trip I paid visits to several of the popular koyo spots along Kyoto's eastern mountains including Shinnyodo, Eikando, Nanzenji, Shorenin, Kodaiji, and Kiyomizudera. Based on today's experiences, I'd say that the overall colors around the city are hovering at the tail end of the peak, with some areas leaning slightly past the peak.
My first stop of the morning was to Shinnyodo, a quiet, lesser known temple not far from Ginkakuji and the Philosopher's Path. Most of the temple grounds are free to enter, although there are a few paid areas to see as well. I limited myself to the free areas around the temple and its three storied pagoda which had plenty of nice orange and red maples on display. However, some trees had already lost large amounts of leaves and the general colors were slightly dull and a little past the peak.
Next I headed south to Eikando which was still approaching the peak when Sean paid a visited last week. Again, like at Shinnyodo, the trees around Eikando were nice but it was apparent that they were toward the end of the peak and no longer had that vibrancy that they exhibit when they are really at their best. Don't get me wrong, Eikando was extremely beautiful and well worth a visit today, just make sure to get here sooner rather than later if you want to see it with the best colors possible as they will only decline from here. The temple will continue to hold their evening illuminations from 17:30 to 21:00 (600 yen, entry until 20:30).until December 5.
After stopping by Eikando I paid a visit to nearby Nanzenji. Again the trees around the large temple grounds were still pretty green when we last visited and have since progressed to be slightly beyond their peak. Several of the trees have lost enough leaves to leave noticeable bald spots in the canopy. Admittedly most of those are early peaking cherry trees, but there were also a fair amount of maple leaves littering the ground today.
I also made sure to check out Tenjuan, one of Nanzenji's subtemples, which has been the subject of recent JR campaign posters. I was expecting pretty heavy crowds, but it was relatively quiet instead. The colors around Tenjuan were also relatively muted and slightly past the beautiful state that is depicted on the campaign posters
Next I continued south to Shorenin, a large Tendai sect temple in eastern Kyoto. We don't visit this temple very often, and as far as I can tell we only made one previous koyo visit in 2009. Today was also my first time to Shorenin, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The gardens were quite large and there were plenty of nice colors and views to see around the grounds. Again, the colors were starting to fade, but still worth a visit. Shorenin also puts on autumn illuminations through December 8th where thousands of led lights are used to light up the gardens. The illuminations take place evenings from 18:00 to 22:00 (entry until 21:30) and cost 800 yen.
After Shorenin I kept heading south through the Higashiyama District to Kodaiji Temple. The colors around the temple followed the theme of the day (still colorful but on the verge of decline), but the more notable feature was the garden's modern dry rock garden which was covered in a large painted mural. I suppose that the painting should somehow work in conjunction with the temple's evening illuminations which will be held evenings until 21:00 (600 yen) through December 10th.
My final stop of the day was the traditional koyo report visit to Kiyomizudera. The colors around Kiyomizudera have really sped along since Sean's visit last week and were the most advanced of the day. Lots of bare spots were noticeable around the maples, and the leaves were really dull in color. There was also quite a bit of construction going on around the temple, so much so that it was starting to impact my enjoyment of the grounds. Usually you can selectively block out the offending eyesores, but this time there were enough cranes, barriers, blue tarps and scaffolding that something was almost always in view.
Personally I might reconsider a daytime visit, but on the other hand I think the evening illuminations should remain rather unaffected by the construction. The illuminations take place daily from 18:30 to 22:00 (entry until 21:30) until December 8th. The entry fee is 400 yen.