Travel Reports by scarreddragon view profile of scarreddragon

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October 30, 2013 - Onioshidashi Koen and Mt. Asama Part 1

This past weekend was a three-day weekend for some Gunma cabbages like myself since Monday was Kenmin-no-hi for Gunma and Tochigi. With a typhoon blowing through Friday and Saturday, Sunday dawned beautiful if a bit chilly, so we decided to head out to Onioshidashi Koen on the motorcycle and stay the night around Kita-Karuizawa. It turned out to be a great decision and time to visit, as the fall colors in the area are really beautiful, and both days were sunny and mostly clear.

Also Onioshidashi Koen is pretty darn awesome.

We passed by Mt. Myogi first thing in the morning. As you can see, the colors still are not prominent on or around the mountain. I'd say at least another week before you get much showing, more for the nicest time. Still, there are some colors here and there.

From Myogi we took a famous Nakasendo highway road through Usui Pass towards Karuizawa that took us by the famous Megane-bashi of Annaka City. The red brick of this beautiful bridge really sets off the emerging colors of the surrounding area. This area is not at peak yet, but closer than Myogi. I'd say it will be very nice by this coming weekend!

From the start of this road, there is a nicely paved walking path that takes you up onto this bridge and beyond. If you have a nice day for walking, it seems like a really beautiful one, especially this time of year. There is also a parking area you can drive to, and a path that takes you up onto the bridge as well. While we were there, we met a Gunma Tourist volunteer who took our picture for us, which was very nice to see.

After heading through the pass we crossed over into Nagano prefecture and hit Karuizawa, an extremely popular fall colors spot (well, an extremely popular anytime-of-the-year spot, really). As usual it was quite crowded. We found an italian restaurant for lunch and admired the nice colors of the maples lining the streets around town.

Karuizawa is heading into peak now. This week into next weekend will be especially nice, but beware of crowds! Still, Karuizawa isn't as bad as say, Nikko or Kyoto. So if you're looking for a good kouyou spot without heavy crowds and traffic jams, Karuizawa is easy to get to from Tokyo, and also has a lot of good shopping and walking opportunities.

After Karuizawa, we headed north to Kita-Karuizawa and passed back into Gunma Prefecture before hitting Mt. Asama and Onioshidashi Koen.

Mt. Asama is a large active volcano straddling Gunma and Nagano prefectures. Its usually pretty quiet, although you can often see it smoking. It is actually the most active volcano in Honshuu, but its most recent tantrum was in 2009, so overall it is a nice mountain neighbor to have if you're going to live near an active volcano.

Onioshidashi Park was created in 1783 when the eruption of Mt. Asama spewed ash and lava for miles, wiping out a village and creating a surreal landscape when the lava cooled into jagged peaks and sharp rocks. The area is far from barren, however, as many trees and bushes have sprung up in and around the rocks, creating an amazingly beautiful and unique landscape visitors can enjoy.

The park costs 400 yen for adults, and features a restaurant and rest area, as well as several shops and a shrine. The park can be reached easiest by car, but you can also take a bus from Karuizawa station that takes about an hour to reach.

My apologies for the quality of these photographs in advance... the sun was in a difficult position for nice photographs unfortunately.

The shrine is Asama Kannon-do, and behind it is the main peak of Mt. Asama. The shrine and some rocks are lit up at night for nice viewing, and from the shrine the observational platform and garden area is really nice.

There are several walking paths through the garden of varying distances, as well as a much longer trail taking you beyond the park to Asama itself. There are many rest structures and photo spots around the trail, and even special spots to view "hikari goke", a "glowing" moss plant that grows in dark spaces. I tried to take a picture of some, but it turned out blurry.

Although the colors were really beautiful, the mountain was already a bit past peak, with lots of dropped leaves and heading into the duller browns for a lot of plants. But there was still a lot of nice color, and even though it is past peak, I would definitely recommend it as a good kouyou spot into next week. Or, put it on your list for next year!

The pictures can't really do this place justice, and I took about 6 million more than shown here. I can definitely recommend this place to anyone who has the chance to visit. It is really neat and amazing, and every time I turned a corner it seemed that there was a new and interesting formation in front of me. Coupled with the lasting fall colors of the surrounding areas, and it was some of the best kouyou so far this year!

Coming in other seasons is also recommended, as there is a wide variety of flowers and plants in spring and summer. The park closes in winter, from mid-December to late March, probably because the snows make the roads dangerous on the approach.

Coming down off the mountain and heading to check in at our hotel saw more gorgeous colors in the lower elevation of the valley. This area is called Kita-Karuizawa, but is really Naganohara in Gunma prefecture. The rich in Tokyo often keep summer homes, and this are a reminded me so much of the countryside around where I grew up. It was an absolute delight to drive through these roads! I wish I had taken more pictures.

We ate dinner at a Western Curry place called the Yellow Fox. The food was delicious, and with things like beef stew and western-style beef curry on the menu, is food you can't normally get just anywhere in Japan! It was very good.

Right next to it was a newly opened French bakery and cafe, which has the usual Japanese treats and cookies, like matcha cookies and shu cream, but also had the best desert I have ever had the pleasure of eating. I forgot what it was called, but it had almond and white-chocolate mousse inside a dark chocolate outside. It was fantastic. Go there. Tell them I sent you. Eat your amazing dessert. Bring me back one.

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List of Posts:
2016/04/24 - Mitsuhiko Imamori Paper Cut Works Exhibit in Takasaki
2015/11/19 - Shiobara Onsen, Tochigi
2015/08/30 - Southern Kyushu: Miyazaki City
2015/08/30 - Southern Kyushu: Nichinan Coast and Cape Toi
2015/08/30 - Southern Kyushu: Takachiho, Miyazaki
2015/08/27 - Southern Kyushu: Kumamoto Castle
2015/08/25 - Southern Kyushu: Ibusuki and Kirishima
2015/08/24 - Southern Kyushu: Kagoshima City, Kagoshima
2015/08/03 - Tambara Lavender Park
2015/07/13 - Event: Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium
2015/05/01 - Kanna-machi Koi-no-Bori Festival
2015/05/01 - Wisteria Festival in Fujioka
2014/11/15 - Sakurayama Koen: Fall Colors and Winter-blooming Cherry Blossoms
2014/11/15 - Ueno-mura Sky Bridge and Fall Colors
2014/08/22 - Gifu Road Trip Part 1: Gifu City and Gujo Caves
2014/08/22 - Gifu Road Trip Part 2: Gujo City and Shirakawa-go
2014/08/22 - Gifu Road Trip Part 3: Hida Takayama
2014/07/02 - Rainy Season around Tokyo: Hydrangea Flowers
2014/05/27 - Road Trip: Yamadera, Yamagata
2014/05/26 - Road Trip: Yonezawa, Yamagata
2014/05/19 - Roadtrip Fukushima's Ouchijuku
2014/05/16 - Roadtrip: Aizu-Wakamatsu
2014/04/30 - Climbing Gunma's Mt. Myogi
2014/03/09 - Flower Weekend 2: Tokyo Report
2014/03/09 - Flower Weekend 1: Gunma Plums
2013/10/30 - Onioshidashi Koen and Mt. Asama Part 1
2013/10/30 - Onioshidashi Koen and Mt. Asama Part 2
2013/10/30 - Cosmos and Mt. Myogi
2013/10/01 - Fall Flowers: Higanbana
2012/12/01 - Winter Cherry Blossoms at Joumine Kouen
2012/11/18 - Annual Coco Harvest Festival
2012/11/11 - Ueno Cat cafe ''Nekomaru''
2012/11/10 - Tokyo Design Festa vol.36 at Odaiba
2012/11/04 - Utsunomiya, Tochigi Gyoza Festival