How to see foliage the Japanese way

Posted by in Mike's blog

We just returned from another weekend in Nagano at the lovely cottage that we visit occasionally.  This time we had a mission:  To find and take pictures of awesome fall colours in the mountains.  Our friends and neighbours call it “autumn leaf viewing”.

Prior to this past weekend I used to look outside, decide the trees looked nice, then drive through wooded areas.  That was my version of autumn leaf viewing.  This time we did things differently.  I discovered foliage spot finder to help us with our quest:

Screenshot 2013-11-05 08.53.44

This is a translated version of

Using this website, I was able to find the best places to go in the area at the best times.  Not once did we have to deal with the disappointment of green or barren trees.  Best of all, at the bottom of each location’s page there are a few links to other locations close by.  Unfortunately, the website is entirely in Japanese…but that wasn’t a problem with Google translate (I bookmarked this link so I could quickly view English versions of websites in mobile safari).

While we were driving to the foliage spots that we found online we made sure to stop wherever we saw groups of parked in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.  Last weekend was the weekend for leaf viewing where we were, so parked vehicles usually meant good picture opportunities.

We found these spots on the side of the road.  I think I made a few cars angry when I pulled over, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

We revisited Togakushi ninja village (which was listed as a foliage spot as well, and we went to get some lunch at a soba museum.  We skipped the museum part because the Bunny was cranky and she needed a nap.

I saw some cars parked near what looked like a small lake on the map while we were on our way to somewhere in Iizuna (we weren’t sure where to go).  I parked beside them and I went to see what was there…and it was a fishing spot.  A really, really nice fishing spot:

The cottage we stayed at is in Kurohime, which is very close to Niigata prefecture.  We ventured into the neighbouring prefecture to find some more foliage spots, and we found a fantastic one that was very close to “home”.  The only road access was, of course, a scary narrow mountain road with minimal guard rails.  No trip to the mountains is complete without defying death on roads that shouldn’t exist.

Our reward:

The hike to the waterfall was easy, but tiring with a hungry Bunny.  After lunch we quickly visited two other spots, one in Niigata and finally lake Nojiri in Nagano.  Intermittent rain and fairly constant exhaustion ended our leaf viewing before we ran out of daylight.

Nagano (and Niigata) are popular with tourists, and it was a long weekend.  There was something missing from all of the foliage spots we visited:  Foreigners.  We saw them when we went to popular tourist attractions (like the ninja village), but we were the only foreigners at the popular foliage spots.  The waterfall was full of people and the dangerous road to the waterfall was full of cars.  I have a feeling that this kind of tourism may not be as popular in the foreign community…yet.  Should I go as far as to say that we were “off the beaten path”?

There are 8 foliage spots listed in Fukui prefecture, and 5 of them haven’t reached “full bloom” status yet.  We have more leaf viewing to do!