Koyo season is approaching again and hopefully by now you realize how nuts I am for it. I went hiking last week around Cloudland Canyon in Georgia where it is in full fall colors. It was beautiful and it had several waterfalls and the hiking was good. But without the Japanese red maple of Japanese koyo I was left wanting. All the other fall colors are beautiful, but that bright blood red of Japanese maple is special especially against its ashy branches.

I hate myself a little for feeling this way. I love to visit Japan but I’ve seen many other beautiful places in the world. Norway nature is just breathtaking. What has been built in Austria is nothing short of spectacular. But there you have… damn you Japanese maples! And in this post I actually eat Japanese maple.

Minoo Park (alt spelled Minoh, Mino,  Minou | Japanese – 箕面公園) is a small valley a quick train ride away from Osaka and its considered Osaka’s outdoor area complete with waterfall. It’s a relatively easy paved hike that takes about 45 minutes from the station to reach the waterfall (where the trail stops). Minoo shines during koyo and everything is maple for that reason.

The easily paved hike. I was walking in heeled boots and it was no big deal.

Tiny cute souvenir shops dot the hike up.

This woodsy tea room was at the midway point. I love the natural decor of it.

The main goal was the waterfall, but the scenery up was always beautiful.

More beautiful colors up and down the hills

Walking up to the waterfall.

I was lucky to catch the light shining with all the perfect reds.

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The lovely waterfall and autumn leaves.

Minoo is known for their Momiji tempura which is dipping a maple leaf into a sweetened batter and frying it. They were sweet and crunchy. I don’t think I can compare them to much maybe a sopapilla? Here’s a kotaku post all about them.

On the way up I noticed these temporary platforms. I think they’re part of Kawayuka/Kawadoko which is a Kyoto style of dining with kaiseki meals above rivers during the summer.

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Food stall at the waterfall advertising fall specialities like hot sake, oden, and smoked fish.

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My blonde head hiking up the hill

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Food stalls were everywhere. I picked up a red bean taiyaki. I mean I was hiking I needed some sustenance.  :wink:

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We stopped by this beautiful pottery studio near the train station of Minoo. The older woman who worked the shop said her grandmother invented the red glazing done by the studio and she’s been doing it ever since. Reflecting all the red maples of Minoo park. My man’s parents are really into pottery (have their own studio) so we picked them up one of the beautifully glazed cups.

More info on Minoo here: japan-guide

More koyo posts: here

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Nagano is a really wonderful town with a spectacular temple, the Nagano Zenkoji Temple. Nagano of course is famous for the 1998 Winter Olympics and symbols from that event still remain. It’s also shockingly close to Tokyo. And quite doable if you’d like to simply make a day trip out of it. Tokyo station to Nagano station is only 86 minutes by Shinkansen.

Of course Nagano is a ski resort town and also known for its monkey park (like the one in Arashiyama). But the Jigokudani in Nagano is a hot steam monkey park. English website for the monkey park is here and taking 1 hour and 30 minutes by bus from Nagano station it’s definitely something you’ll have to spend the whole day on.

I went back in 2011 (previous post of getting lost in the apple orchards of Nagano). And figured this was a great time to share because it was koyo time in Nagano (mid November). The Nagano Zenkoji is massive and one of the best temples I’ve been to outside of Kyoto. But instead of all this talking let’s photo and  talk.

 

The walk is one of my favorite things about the Nagano Zenkoji. It’s on high and you’re surrounded by gorgeous mountains in full koyo colors. And the shops are all these mom-and-pop businesses.

Almost to the temple check out those gorgeous koyo colors. Even a cloudy day won’t dim this.

The main temple itself which was massive.

I love when temple ema get cutesy. I’ve blogged about cute ema in Nara that were heart-shaped but Rilakkuma ema?

It’s the simple needs, isn’t it?  :wink:

The Rokujizo statutes six Bodhisattvas, who gave up Buddhist enlightenment, in order to provide salvation to others.

Close-up of one of the Rokujizo

Super cool incense burner

The Sanmon gate which was refurbished in 2007. Now you can see the giant Buddhist statues inside. Obviously that statue did not need to be asked if he lifts.

Just outside the temple is a super fancy building that must house a restaurant. Check that wonderful red maple.

Further down the way all the gorgeous places now turned to nice restaurants.

I stopped by Kinoko & Vegetable to eat. It’s on the Zenkoji road. I highly recommend it! It was an all you can eat buffet of mainly vegetables. Everything was locally sourced and seasonal. It was only 1,400 yen for all you can eat. So many vegetables. I will definitely eat there again.

The crowd down the temple street. Check out the JRock band on the right. I think there were semi-famous because some people were taking pictures. I know 0 about JRock so…

I loved the look of the coffee shops that line the cold Nagano street. See the cute coffee mug?

Another coffee shop offering traditional Zenzai (red bean soup) sweets.

Tiny little stalls that lined the temple road.

And Nagano itself since it’s not just monkey parks, apple orchards and shrines. It’s a bustling town.

This was a day trip for me from Niigata to Sendai. I was able to enjoy Zenkoji easily but not do the monkey park because of staying in Sendai that night.

Traveling Japan can be inexpensive! I spent 1,400 on food. 200 on beverages. And 1,000 on a train ticket because I got lost. The temple was free. So in total 2,600 yen for a detour or $25 USD.

Want more Nagano posts? Only the apple one here

Want more traveling around Japan posts? I’ve got you covered from Sendai to Kagoshima 

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With November coming up it’s a great time to talk about my favorite season in Japan: Koyo or autumn leaves. Kyoto Koyo (葉 こうよう) is unrivaled in how seriously gorgeous it is. I previously posted about Kyoto Koyo in Tenryu-ji temple in Arashiyama, but I definitely was even more impressed by Okochi Sanso.

Near the famous Tenryu-ji in Arashiyama is Okochi Sanso. It’s a quick walk (10 minutes) out the back exit of Tenryu-ji through the famous bamboo grove then to Okochi Sanso. If you think the bamboo grove is epic, prepare for Okochi Sanso.

Okochi Sanso is a mountaintop retreat by silent film star Okochi Denjiro. After his death it has been turned into a visiting place with lovely gardens. The admission is pricey for a garden-style visit at 1,000 yen ($10) but the price does include the best place I’ve ever had tea. It’s not as stunning for sakura season, koyo is where it shines. Don’t adjust your monitors, because I didn’t adjust these pictures much. It really is that vibrant for Kyoto Koyo.

 

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In these pictures I’m really happy I got to take and show everyone enjoying it. Couples, women traveling together, old men savoring Japan. There’s just a pleasantness about it. That kind of sightseeing is so nice compared to everyone filing into the Sistine Chapel or such.

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Okochi Sanso is very high up and depending on where you’re walking around on the grounds you can see neighboring mountains. The Japanese untranslatable word Komorebi (木漏れ日) for light streaming through the trees is really evident during koyo.

The Scenic “Tea House” at Okochi Sanso

Entrance allows you to enjoy a cup of freshly whisked green tea and a green tea biscuit in gorgeous surroundings.

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Check out that technicolor entrance! Kyoto Koyo is the best especially at Okochi Sanso.

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This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve gotten to enjoy a snack ever.

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Delicious green tea biscuit and green tea. The thumb of my fun manga-eye nails I did at Avarice last year.

 

Head to Kyoto for Koyo

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Even if you decide not to hike from Tenryu-ji through the bamboo forest to Okochi Sanso, Kyoto Koyo especially in Arashiyama is amazing! The colors, the nature, the clear water, the amazing food, or the cute monkeys (post)! I’ve visited Arashiyama three times and I just can’t get bored. It’s so beautiful.

Just looking at these pictures makes me check airline prices.  :sadcat:

I have one more post about Arashiyama, this one is a restaurant recommendation, before Koyo happens. If you’re making travel plans please stay tuned!

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Kyoto Koyo is one of the most amazing natural experiences I’ve ever had in Japan and yet I never really knew about it. My friend Alice and I kept trying to plan a vacation together while I was in Tokyo so we decided to go to Osaka, but most every hotel under $300 a night was booked and everything was completely sold out on weekends. I’ve traveled Japan during Golden Week and Sakura season, but nothing prepared me for Koyo!

Koyo (紅葉 こうよう Kouyou but usually romanized as Koyo) means autumn leaves. Kyoto Koyo is a spectacle and one of the biggest tourist draws.

Unlike sakura every country has autumn leaves and the changes are wonderful, but what is striking about Japan is the red maple or もみじ/momiji. Momiji is so blistering red that they look hyperreal and almost fake. November Kyoto was wonderful sunny chilly weather to hike around the mountains and hills of Arashiyama (previous post).

All these photos were taken at Tenryu-ji (天龍寺) in Arashiyama, Kyoto. Tenryu-ji is a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered one of the temples in Kyoto. Admission was 600yen and it’s considered one of the best spots in all of Japan to experience Koyo.

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Tenryu-ji is a zen temple and well known for its water feature (above) and garden.

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Against the pale and forest greens the red is just so shocking.

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A lot of young couples were dressed up in traditional kimono for their Koyo pictures. As I’ve said before about Arashiyama, it’s the place Japanese go to get their “wa” filled tourist on.

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The entrance to the shrine was very packed, but after I got through the gates it didn’t feel packed.

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In order to get to the burning red maple, Momiji change to this pretty burnt yellow hue first.

Fall and Spring are my favorite times to visit Japan and I just got another reason why. Isn’t Kyoto Koyo amazing?

If you’re planning a fall trip to Japan, I really recommend going to see the koyo especially the Kyoto koyo. Koyo Walker (http://koyo.walkerplus.com/) is an excellent site like its sister Hanami Walker that provides region-by-region daily updates on peak koyo viewing times.

This is part one of my Kyoto Koyo travel report. My next one features a tea room in natural settings and a climb around a Japanese garden.

As usual I like to discuss how much I spent on a travel day in Japan. I was already in Kyoto but had to use the subways which wasn’t covered in my Japan Rail Pass. That was 500 yen. My garden entrance and temple entrance fees were 1,600 yen in total. My big splurge traditional Kyoto meal (post later) was 1,700. I also got some traditional Kyoto sweet snacks for 600 yen. I had breads for dinner and a tea which was 1,000 yen.

So transport: 500 yen
Tourist fees: 1,600 yen
Meals: 3,200

So even with my splurge meal I spent only 5,300 or $52.00 for the day not including Rail Pass and Hotel.

Again one of my more expensive days in Japan and yet not so expensive.