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.
2015/10/28 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
Today Schauwecker and I drove out to Nikko to follow up on the progress of the area's autumn colors (koyo). It seems to have been a relatively fast koyo this year, and despite Nikko's typically long autumn color season the best colors had already descended to the lower parts of Okunikko when Raina came through the area two weeks ago on our last Nikko report. By now the colors have already come to a close around the higher elevations of the National Park all the way down to around Kegon Waterfall. However, if you continue lower down the mountain slopes you can start to see peak colors again starting along the Irohazaka Road to around Nikko town.
There can be quite a marked difference in the state of the colors between Nikko and Okunikko due to the large elevation change between the two. At this point, the colors have moved down to the Irohazaka Road with different areas of the road either at or beyond the peak depending on how high you are.
Once down in the town area we headed to the Nikko Botanical Garden, a research garden operated by the University of Tokyo. The garden is more like a forested park, with a network of walking trails leading though it and beautiful autumn colors overhead. The garden is home to lots of maple trees which appeared to still be approaching their peak this morning.
The botanical garden grounds are bordered on one edge by the Kanmangafuchi Abyss, however the two sites are not connected. But there are viewpoints from where you can look out over the rocky gorge and enjoy views of the abyss.
Next we headed further into town to the temples and shrines that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our favorite koyo spot in the area is Shoyoen Garden, which is part of Rinnoji Temple. Maple trees provided most of the autumn color along the paths that circle the garden, and were quickly approaching their peak. The garden will also be lit up in the evenings until 20:00 through November 15.
Rinnoji Temple has been undergoing major renovation work since 2007, which involves a complete dismantling of the roof of the main hall. Visitors can watch the construction progress from an observation deck. In the past, the observation deck had a separate entrance fee, but visitors will be happy to know that it is now included in the regular admission. Right now it is also possible to see the renovation work being done on some of the main Buddha statues as they are dismantled, inspected and repaired.
Our last stop today was at the Kirifurinotaki Falls, an impressive two tiered waterfall north of the town center. The name Kirifuri means "falling mist", as the water practically turns to mist as it travels down the 75 meter drop to the waterfall basin. Kirifurinotaki can be accessed by hourly buses from central Nikko. You used to be able to hike down to the base of the falls from the parking lot, however the trail was closed after sections of it collapsed. Instead, there is a wooden observation deck which can be reached in about five minutes along a short hiking trail. The colors that surround the falls are usually best from late October to early November. Today they looked to be right around the peak, but with the potential to improve further over the coming week or so.