Dear visitor, if you know the answer to this question, please post it. Thank you!

Note that this thread has not been updated in a long time, and its content might not be up-to-date anymore.

Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/24 18:10
Hi All,

At the moment I'm currently looking at potentially planning a potential trip to Japan in November/December from Australia if it's safe, flights are open and travel is allowed. Qantas currently has flights with taxes for under 50,000 yen return which is a steal (plus I'll get a refund or at the worst credits which I can use in my home country if something happens).

I originally thought that my January trip this year was the last - but limited opportunities to travel due to COVID-19 and my job (teacher) will not allow me to visit Japan again for Koyo or fall colors until I change professions or retire in 30 or so years.

I'm in a lucky position where I'll be completing replacement teacher work up until early November and then will be able to travel around Japan for around a month in November / December. My knowledge and locations visited around Japan is stronger than most - but my knowledge of seasons and hidden gems of course is limited.

My limited list of places I have not visited in detail and may visit include: Iwate (tsunami affected area), Ginzan Onsen, a week worth of "stuff" in Tokyo, Enoshima, Chichibu, Mitakesan, Takaosan, Nikko (Edomura/Tobu parks - I like tacky Japan!), Saitama, Utsunomiya, Nagoya, Gujo Hachiman, Karuizawa and potentially Toyama City. A potential visit to Kyoto for 2/3 days is also possible.

My loves include fall colors, industrial heritage, gardens, shrines/temples if a bit different and traditional towns. I have completed little research but will be stuck in a hotel room for 2 weeks for quarantine in June/July so I'll have plenty of time to dig into way too much research then.

My main question is - looking at the locations mentioned, what would be a good starting date in general to start with fall colors? I was originally looking at visiting potentially starting from November 16th but others on the forum probably know these locations a bit better. I'm aware that November 20 - December 5th is often the best time for Osaka/Tokyo/Kyoto and Nagoya depending on elevation and the specific season.

This is the first planning stages so I don't need an exhaustive list of places to visit. The locations mentioned above are basically the places I have not visited (yet) that hold some interest to me. I'm expecting to spend some time in Tokyo at the end after Koyo to visit gardens and museums once the season is finished. It will also be a very different time to travel around Japan due to COVID-19 and potentially many less tourists than normal due to closed borders.
by mfedley  

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/25 09:41

I've not been for Koyo in around a decade now, because child in school (or well child who would be in school if there was school, but I am sure you get the picture) but when I was last in Japan, I would think November 16th would be a little late for Iwate and Karuizawa. The last trip in Autumn, I think I started in October and finished around November 1st or 2nd and I thought the colors were quite nice in Nagano. I think two weeks later they'd be pretty close to over. '09 wasn't as warm as 2020, but I do remember there being sakura in late March '09 because I did some sakura viewing on my March '09 trip as well. (and then came back and did sakura in Tohoku for GW '09)

If you want to try something different, you can also try that Hawaiians theme park. It seems sort of tacky, but I admit I've been curious what it is like. I've also wanted to visit Abukumado cave, I am unsure how my child feels about it, because she got a little freaked out when we visited the Great Orme Mine in Wales in August 2019 and Osarizawa in July 2019. I've not been to the Oyu stone circle and I 'm sort of interested in dragging the kid, because I had a delightful stay in Oyu.

It's not on Japan Guide, but I like visiting Licca Castle in Ono. I actually think it is fascinating to see how fashion dolls are made and I like the dorky museum (as well as the exclusive dolls.) It's not as interesting when they're not producing dolls, but when they are, I love seeing people root heads and style hair.

If we're able to safely go back in February (since I am assuming we're not going this Summer and I'm glad I never reserved or bought tickets for the failed June trip) we'll probably try fruit picking in Karuizawa. I'd probably be a bad mom and see if we could miss 2 days of school instead of just one.

Good luck, and I hope you can go back for koyo!
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/25 10:28
There are current no flights between Australia and Japan.

Qantas, Virgin, JAL and Jetstar and all cancelling on a monthly basis.

While they might sell you a ticket. It will likely become a cancellation. I would be careful bokking a flight.
by H (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/25 13:06
Thanks rkold for the confirmation that Iwate will probably be finished by very early November.

My current thoughts of a starting time is the 12th of November. That would allow me to complete a small Tohoku loop in 3 nights between Iwate and Ginzan onsen. My only concerns would be driving in snow - which is probably too early in the season.

Dolls are not really my thing, but Licca Castle is the type of thing I do like. I've already discovered
Michinoku Folk Village and Esashi Fujiwara Heritage Park in Southern Iwate prefecture after 20 mins research.

The cave that you mentioned is not that one I was looking at but this one: Ryūsendō Cave

The other one is near the Hawaiian Swimming Park in Iwaki? My interest was reasonably low until I saw the onsen part and a few other things to do in the area. There is a great value JR East Tohoku pass which gives me 5 days of travel within a 14 day period. I only had 2/3 days (Tokyo - Morioka and Morioka - Tokyo/Nikko) but I might look at the Iwaki area.

Karuizawa looked like a nice place that I caught a bus and caught the Shinkansen from once. Maybe I'll give this a miss - at least from a fall colors perspective.

H - I am acutely aware of the predicament of flights at present. I currently live in Singapore and have been watching the total number of flights from 8 airports since April 2nd. There are still 2/3 direct guaranteed flights a week between Sydney - Tokyo with ANA. I am looking for an excuse to work more - any excuse so the potential to lose 50,000 yen will be made up by the extra cash earnt as a result.

by mfedley rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/25 15:11
If you have never been to Karuizawa I would not give it a miss. Itfs a nice village with an outstanding modern museum, an old hotel now also a museum, a posh atmosphere, chalets in the woods and a posh onsen area.

Also the huge outlet mall was kind of interesting. Never saw so many shops in one place (I mean except in a city center)

Generally I would go to the highlights of koyo eg in Kyoto this year, because number of tourists will be small even if traveling is allowed again. I had a great time visiting Kyotofs mai sights this year April with few other visitors. A real privilege.
by LikeBike rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/25 18:34
I am Australian, and I do not think Australia's ban on foreign travel will be lifted before the end of this year. Forget whether the flights are available - our government is unlikely to lift the travel ban. There would be huge public outcry if they did; not because people don't want to travel themselves, but because we have been very protected in Australia by preventing foreign travelers entering the country. The government will be very careful about when they open the borders, and all signs (including speeches from ministers!) point to that not happening until next year.

Be very careful buying a ticket; make sure you are able to get your money back as a refund! If you will only be offered credit, don't book it, as you may not be able to use it once you start teaching (I suspect school holiday dates would either be blacked out, or be far more expensive, requiring extra payment) and it may expire.

Don't forget that the whole of Japan doesn't experience autumn at the same time. There's every chance you could catch some colours in Australian school holidays if you're not fussy about where in Japan you travel.
by / (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/25 21:00
Hi "/",

I apologize in advance if I come across as arrogant or foolhardy in this response, but I hope it clears up any misunderstanding.

I'm also an Australian resident who has lived overseas for a decade in a plethora of countries. COVID-19 has significantly affected world travel and I have seen this impact directly with my current employer and how it's gutted the aviation industry in Singapore. If I leave Singapore I will not be able to return via Singapore law and if I return to Australia I will not be able to return via Australian law.

However - there are a group of like-minded countries in North Asia and the Western Pacific that may open up travel in the 4th quarter of 2020 in a travel bubble such as what is seen Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

In the Australian context - it will be a first step of New Zealand and potentially Pacific nations such as Fiji or Vanuatu who significantly rely of tourism. There is also a second group of countries who have been in contact with each other who have strong business and tourist ties which have successfully (at present) suppressed COVID-19. These countries include Singapore, South Korea, Japan and to some degree Vietnam. An example is South Korea asking Vietnam to remove it from a list of high risk countries.

Do I think I will be able to travel to Bali in 2020? Hell no. But travel bubbles with countries that have a low rate of infection is a possibility. My intention is not to buy a ticket tomorrow but to research a potential trip while I am in quarantine in Sydney in June/July. The earliest overseas travel in Australia may be NZ for business travel in July but more likely September.

As I am stuck inside in Singapore since early April - I have been following many of the press briefings in Australia along with other asian countries. Singapore will allow transit passengers from June 2nd, Thailand will probably allow limited bespoke tourism from July 1st with a slow opening up to follow in the coming quarters.

For my personal situation - if I buy a ticket in say September and there is not regulatory approval for fights to resume, then I can use my credits to travel inside Australia or the Pacific. What I do for a job will also be a strong impetus to work more than I normally would. That means I'll be much better off if I plan a holiday and it's cancelled even if Qantas somehow goes broke and all flight credit becomes unsecured credit (such as what might happen with Virgin Australia).

I have also live in Japan for 3 years, visited each prefecture in some detail and have found that autumn in Japan is my main travel highlight. As I am a teacher finishing a contract in June, I will not be able to visit Japan in November for another 20-30 years or if I change professions.

RE Likebike - thanks for the info on Karuizawa. I'll consider your info this town with knowing that there will be no fall colors when visited. Your comment on Kyoto is exactly what I was thinking. One weekend in 2013 is the whole reason I even considered travel in 2020.

by mfedley rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/25 21:42
Please don't misunderstand me - I wasn't trying to be rude, just pointing out that Japan opening up is not the only barrier to you travelling from Australia. Travel bubbles are still very much works in progress, and some of the wider Pacific ones are only suggestions. The Fiji option is only their government making a comment - nothing from the Australian side yet - probably just to keep them "in the loop" if NZ and Aus do get together. I was also planning a trip to Japan at the very end of this year into early next year, so I'm hoping, like you that we will be able to do so soon! I'm pretty convinced it's not going to happen this year, though.

You can actually see autumn colours outside of November and December in Japan. While the majority of the country does get them in that timeframe, some areas in Hokkaido can get autumn colours as early as September! Hence why I said you could still see them during Australian school holiday periods (Term 3, precisely) if you didn't mind exactly where in Japan you saw them.
by / (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/25 22:33
I guess this is what sucks about the written word and then COVID-19 chucked up on top. It's so easy to misconstrue what is said.

I've visited Hokkaido, Tohoku and some upper areas of central Honshu in October but that is not really my thing. I'm also aware that travel bubbles are theoretical at the moment - but things are very fluid at the moment. Kyoto is what I'm focused on - with places I visited in late December (visited in 2019) that would be VERY unique given the reduced crowds.

The aim of this thread was to refine the locations I wish to travel to(based on when I can travel) - which has been done to some degree. If the borders remain close - then at least I've got more savings than what I would have. I'm trying to make it into a win-win for me and have something - anything to look forward to.
by mfedley rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/26 03:57

I'm not going to get involved with questions of reopening, since I don't have a crystal ball and I figure the information is useful regardless of when this takes place.

You might get the tail end in Iwate, particularly in lower elevations. I did Oirase October 25, 2009 and it was not quite peak but it was getting close and there were leaves on the ground. Though I will admit now, I enjoyed visiting Japan in the Autumn, and I would love to go back in October and November but seeing koyo is not a high priority because I have lived most of my life in places with amazing fall foliage. So I like koyo, but it's not been a priority like various flower viewings.

I don't think you would get snow unless it is a particularly bad Winter. I think March tends to be riskier than November. I find this true in most places where you get Winter snow.

Licca Castle is small and a bit expensive for what it is (there is a discount on the website) but it's just very different and I like factories and seeing how things are made. (outside of the dolls, I've done a few factory tours in the US -- GM back when cars were made on assembly lines, jelly beans, chocolate, and herbal tea. I'm not into cars outside a means to get somewhere, but I adored the GM tour and it made a huge impression on me.) I would think depending on where you were staying if you rented a car you could easily do Licca Castle, Abukumado and possibly some of Iwaki in one day. You could definitely get in the first two. I would rent a car. There are trains , they run at best once an hour and driving gives you a lot more flexibility. Licca Castle is about 45 minutes by car from Iwaki and Abukumado is about 20 minutes further towards Koriyama. I had planned to do Abukumado and Licca Castle June 2019, but getting to Koriyama and getting the rental car took longer than I expected. I went here: http://scheffli-shogetudo.net/service once because I like pastries lol

I have heard of Ryusendo and have also looked into it. I've not spent too much time east of Morioka. I think people who were staying at the same ryokan as me in the Hanamaki group onsen were planning to go there the next day on their trip Eastwards. They had a place on the coast.

I admit, Karuizawa keeps getting cut from my itineraries. I had planned to go in February but just didn't have the time and then had planned to go this Summer but well... If things are open to me in February I would probably try to go then. My kid wants to go back to Shiga Kogen and I loved the ryokan we stayed at near the monkey park, though I don't know, my kid might be willing to try the Winter activities near Kaurizawa since we don't actually ski and then we could just get the cheaper Tokyo Wide Pass.

Good luck making your itinerary and I am excited to read about it in the future. You always find interesting places and do wonderful write ups.
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/26 07:59
My limited list of places I have not visited in detail and may visit include: Iwate (tsunami affected area), Ginzan Onsen, a week worth of "stuff" in Tokyo, Enoshima, Chichibu, Mitakesan, Takaosan, Nikko (Edomura/Tobu parks - I like tacky Japan!), Saitama, Utsunomiya, Nagoya, Gujo Hachiman, Karuizawa and potentially Toyama City. A potential visit to Kyoto for 2/3 days is also possible.
When would be a good starting date?
Personally, having traveled in koyo season most years for the the last decade, I would have said mid November. My trips to Hokkaido saw good colours at the end of October/beginning of November, so for Iwate/Tohoku early/mid Nov should be pretty good. My other personal opinion that autumn season is more reliable than cherry blossom season has caveats as depending how the summer finishes the times do vary a couple of weeks, and the quality can also be quite mixed (2015 was a pretty poor season as an example, but we had a good display in Nikko -with rain).
Heading into the second half of the month the best colours will have retreated from places with elevation, but somewhere like Nikko has a big difference between the lake and the town/temples/shrines. So, I think your plan to get your autumn colours "fix" starting 12th or 15th is pretty sound for the places listed.
As the weather cools, the last third or last week of November might be good for locations around Tokyo - usually I'm further south. But there are still nice places around Tokyo too - zillions of ginkyo trees for bright yellows for example.
50,000 yen for a flight from Aus sounds like a great deal (even with uncertainty.)
by JapanCustomTours rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/26 08:24
Hi Mfedley, me again.

Looking at your list of places

My limited list of places I have not visited in detail and may visit include: Iwate (tsunami affected area), Ginzan Onsen, a week worth of "stuff" in Tokyo, Enoshima, Chichibu, Mitakesan, Takaosan, Nikko (Edomura/Tobu parks - I like tacky Japan!), Saitama, Utsunomiya, Nagoya, Gujo Hachiman, Karuizawa and potentially Toyama City. A potential visit to Kyoto for 2/3 days is also possible.

- haven't been. but sounds interesting. Only place I have been in Iwate is Tono valley and Hiraizumi. Both very recommendable... but you might already know them. And definitely not affected by the tsunami at all.

Ginzan onsen
- it was nice... but it is a very small village and there are only 2 public onsen, both without rotenburo. If you have a car, I think it is okay to go, but without a car, it is just going to take ages to get there for not that much to be seen actually. (one of the onsen and one hotel is by Kengo Kuma. The onsen didn't specially impress me for it's architecture though... the hotel looked nicer)

Tokyo: some odd places... in case you haven't been yet:
- Shibamata. Very nice shrine, like in Nikko but you can get a much closer view and less tourists. Plus a nice old style shopping street and some old villas as well as Tora-san museum.
- Meguro Parasitological museum. Nothing for the faint of heart but interesting and easily reachable.
- Rikugien garden (but you probably know that already). I am also a great fan of Hamarikyu garden
- Obviously all the new buildings for the Tokyo "2020" Olympics
- Yamatane museum
- Japan folk crafts museum
- Nezu museum (for its architecture, the art and the garden) - and no, it is NOT close to Nezu shrine, which is nice too.

- well, I cannot believe you have never been to Enoshima. Anyway, the nice thing about Enoshima is to cross over it and get down to the rocky shore on the other end of the island. There are some restaurants on top of the cliff and then a long flight of stairs down to the rocky shore. Ideal with a nice view over to Fuji-san. But nice also without Fuji-san

Chichibu. Again, hard to believe you haven't been...
- There is the pilgrimage of the 34 temples. Which would probably take about a week (on foot).
- My favorite is #28, Hashidate-do, close to Urayamaguchi station. I strongly suggest to NOT look at pictures of it before for the real impression when there. There are also a few more temples right around that station, so within a few hours, you can get easily 4-5 temples under your belt, and they are all a little bit different and in nice harmony with the landscape.
- And there is the Chichibu festival... never been... but if you are there in early December, I would definitely try it. Specially this year. https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6552.html
- Kumagaya (nice shrine, again somewhat similar to Nikko) and Gyodo aren't too far either.

- Nice hike and good spot for koyo and view over Tokyo.
- I don't think you are much into hiking, from what I remember... (not am I), but I know that you can start with climbing Takao-san and then continue onwards and get a nice view over Fuji-san as well.
- My idea of a nice day out, would be more to soak in the onsen at the foot of Takao-san (although I have never been to THAT onsen, as it wasn't yet built last time I was in Takao-san).

Saitama (and up to Uchinomiya direction)
- not sure if Saitama city has anything else interesting, but the Omiya Bonsai museum, was excellent. Some of those bonsai where really moving (I mean emotionally). Plus the museum is well explained in English.
- Other interesting points might be the railway museum
- Or you might want to visit Riken institute https://www.riken.jp/en/about/visiting/ (I worked there 25 years ago... ;-)
- BTW, you can also visit JAXA (Japanese Space Agency) installations. I lived on campus in the one in Sagamihara for a few months 5 years ago. https://global.jaxa.jp/about/centers/sagamihara/index.html I didn't do any of those guided tours. They are in Japanese only I think... but if you ever wanted to touch a real rocket... it's right there outside their door. (And sorry, Sagamihara is in Kanagawa prefecture not Saitama... getting side tracked here). And no, I am not into rocket science myself. Husband is though.
- close to Saitama, but in Ibaraki prefecture, the Kurita museum in Ashikaga was a great find.
@rkold, I guess you will want to visit Ashikaga flower park again, if you do, visiting this museum might be a great option. It is just across the road. Maybe 20 min on foot and huge.

- and if you have a car (or bicycle), the temple in Izuruhara Benten was also nice and for me unexpected.
- Tochigi city had a surprising number of old buildings and a very questionable museum about "new ginger"
I definitely always must laugh when I see this video and am very happy that none of my bosses had the idea to have a go at something like that. I could not imagine to dance around my computer with a big pink ginger on my head: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=NN7WK_eMxA8&feature=em...

- Well, I already mentioned it.
- Not too far is Ueda (castle) and Bessho onsen (onsen and temples). I haven't been - yet - but definitely on my bucket list... and should be an easy ride down the valley from Karuizawa :-)
BTW, @rkold, I also had dropped Karuizawa from my list of places where to go, because all I ever heard about it that it has this huge outlet mall... and I am simply not into shopping. Although I did end up buying Danish procellaine in the end, which I brought back from Japan to Germany as a gift to my mother... who likes it a lot, as it was a cup of a special edition only available in Asia. Anyway, once someone actually showed me some pictures of a nice lake... I was easily won over. Also I went in early September, and while it was boiling hot in Tokyo, in Karuizawa it was even a little bit chilly.

- I guess the main attraction of Toyama is the Kurobe gorge specially for Koyo and in general for nice landscape. I was a tad too early for koyo, but I did enjoy my night in a ryokan inside the gorge.
- in Toyama itself, the glass museum was special and had some nice exhibits. The building itself, although by Kengo Kuma, did not impress me that much. I think there are better examples of his architecture, as for example the superbe Nezu museum in Tokyo.
- However if you don't plan to go to Kurobe gorge or anything else around Toyama, I think I would skip it, as it is far away from all the other places you have listed.
- However if you are going to Toyama and then from there to Kyoto, I would not hesitate to add a day or two to visit onsen in the Okuhida region above Takayama. But then I am crazy for rotenburos.

Happy planning!
by LikeBike rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/26 08:45
Ups, I didn't realize that the Kanagawa prefect managed to convince some colleagues of my husband to do the same dance right in front of the space rocket I mentioned above

See minute 1:47 !

And well, once you get into these.. there are many more. This one from Nishitetsu I thought was a great introduction to Japanese corporation. How a train company branched into so many different business areas: train, bus, taxi ... hotel, aquarium...

by LikeBike rate this post as useful

Re: Koyo planning 2020 2020/5/26 15:28
I think it's fair to say that I have a couple of days of research here. No complaints at all!
by mfedley rate this post as useful

reply to this thread