Mid to late November is usually a good time to enjoy autumn colours in parts of the Kansai region, though the trees in some places tend to put on their gorgeous fall leaves a little earlier than others. On the second day of my 12th trip to Japan, I sought out an ancient temple in the hills of southeastern Kyōto that’s famed for its particularly vibrant seasonal foliage, which in the right conditions can start developing a few days ahead of other spots in the city.
From Tōkyō’s Shinagawa Station, I boarded the Hikari 463 Tōkaidō Shinkansen service bound for Kyōto (dep. 0810 -> arr. 1047).
Now then, a piece of practical wisdom gleaned from riding the shinkansen on this route countless times through the years. When travelling westwards from Tōkyō (towards Kyōto or Ōsaka for example), try to get a window seat on the right side of the train. About 20-30 minutes or so into the journey, Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji should rise up from the horizon and present itself to you for a perfect Instagram-worthy snapshot.
Provided the weather cooperates, of course. And it just happened to be in a cooperative mood on the morning of my trip.
After disembarking at Kyōto, I offloaded some baggage at the hostel I’d booked for my stay, then hurried back to the station for the journey to my first destination of the day.
The train ride is quite short: just 2 minutes on the JR Nara Line.
The walk from the station takes much longer: approximately 10-15 minutes, depending on your pace (and sense of direction).
Established in the 13th century AD, Tōfuku-ji (東福寺) certainly looks the part of having been around for a good many years. The enormous San-mon – an officially designated National Treasure of Japan – dates from the Muromachi Period and is the oldest of its kind at a Zen temple anywhere in the country.
There are many interesting architectural and horticultural features spread out across the grounds, which makes for a rewarding stroll…
…but none of that was my main reason for coming here. Earlier that day, I’d seen an autumn colours report posted at the tourist information centre in Kyōto Station, and it put me on the scent of some gorgeous-looking leaves hereabouts.
By and large, the first half of November is too early for the best colours in the Kansai region, and indeed many trees on the grounds were still sporting rich shades of green (merely tinged along the fringes with the first hints of orange and gold).
That said, Tōfuku-ji is a bit of an early-changing spot, and there was already a rich palette of autumn foliage ready to be savoured by the leaf-hunting masses.
Some of the very best views can be enjoyed from the temple’s iconic Tsuten-kyō, a wooden bridge that crosses the small valley in the midst of the compound. Alas, that invariably leads to uncontrollable and (potentially dangerous) crowding as visitors jostle for the best photo spots along the railing, so the authorities have introduced a ban on photography from the bridge during the peak of the leaf season. A lot of people ignored both the signs and the verbal warnings from staff not to take pictures, but not I – Diego tends to do as he’s told.
So no pictures to show from there, unfortunately. But I’ve laid them up in my head as a precious memory, and that certainly counts for something. (^_^)
Well, now that was a rewarding stop. Back to Kyōto Station for lunch (which, time and mood permitting, will be the subject of a separate food report), and then I was on the road again: this time to visit Japan’s newest major railway museum.
All for a later post, of course.