Autumn Colours in Japan – Spectacular Tohoku

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Japanese and foreign tourists travel throughout the country in search of autumn leaves known as kōyō (紅葉).

Kōyō viewing dates back several centuries and is a popular activity for locals, considered the autumn (or fall) equivalent of the ever-popular cherry blossom viewing (hanami, 花見) in spring.

Our tour will take you to Tohoku (東北), located in northeast Honshu Island, to witness some of the most spectacular displays of yellow, orange, and gold you will see in the country.

Tohoku is made up of six prefectures and is famed for its natural beauty, onsen (hot springs), and agriculture. I conducted a photography expedition there in October 2015 and my conclusion is that Tohoku is, quite simply, the best autumn natural scenery location in Japan! Best of all, it is not a well-touristed area (yet!) unlike Kansai and Tokyo, meaning now is the best opportunity to catch the magnificence of the area before its secret gets out!

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll cover Tohoku’s best autumn and landscape photography spots in more detail. Incredible Photo Tours will also be releasing details of a fantastic Tohoku autumn photography tour too!

Aomori(青森県)

Aomori Prefecture has several outstanding kōyō locations. The Hakkoda mountains, Jogakura Gorge, Lake Towada, Oirase Stream, Tsutanuma Pond, Mt. Osore, Yagen Valley, and the Juniko Lakes are all stunning, and make Aomori Prefecture my favourite prefecture for autumn colour scenery.

Tsutanuma(蔦沼)

Oirase Stream(奥入瀬渓流)

Wakitsubo Pond(沸壷の池)

Lake Usori(宇曽利湖)

Jogakura Gorge(城ヶ倉峡)

Iwate(岩手県)

The highlight of  Iwate Prefecture is Mount Hachimantai. A journey along the winding roads in this area highlight all the richness of the autumn season. Other noteworthy locations are Geibikei Gorge and Genbikei Gorge, while the historic town of Hiraizumi has the famous Chusonji (featuring the stunning “Golden Hall” Konjikido) and Motsuji temples.

Driving around Hachimantai(八幡平)

Hachimantai mountains(八幡平)

Akita(秋田県)

Famous for its onsen (hot springs), Akita Prefecture is also home to the old samurai town of Kakunodate. Great autumn spots include Dakigaeri Valley, Lake Tazawa, Momijiyama Nakanojinja, and the Nyuto Onsen area.

Dakigaeri Valley(抱返り渓谷)

Fukushima(福島県)

The best spots in Fukushima Prefecture are located around Mount Bandai, where the mountain roads are peppered with warm hues, and the five volcanic Goshikinuma Lakes (五色沼) provide a striking contrast, each glittering a different colour.

Bishamon Pond(毘沙門沼)

Yamagata(山形県)

Yamagata Prefecture has Mount Zao (蔵王山) on its border with Miyagi Prefecture. Must-sees include the “Zao Echo Line” road leading up to Zao Onsen, the kōyō views from the ropeways, and Okama Crater. Zao Onsen is one of Japan’s best hot springs and a popular winter ski resort. Locals affectionately dub the trees “snow monsters” (juhyo, 樹氷) during winter when high snowfall hits the region.

Zao autumn leaves(蔵王連峰の紅葉)

Okama Crater(御釜)

Miyagi(宮城県)

The stunning Naruko Gorge (鳴子峡) is located in Miyagi Prefecture and is arguably the most scenic gorge in Japan. Naruko Gorge is easily accessible via train and is close to the hot spring town of Naruko Onsen (鳴子温泉).

Naruko Gorge(鳴子峡)

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