Top Autumn Hotspots: Southern Tohoku

There’s no better way to enjoy the changing of summer to autumn than to go on a scenic hike or cruise and take in the colored leaves. Japan—and Tohoku in particular—has some of the best autumn leaves anywhere to be found.

The Tohoku region, in northern Japan, is something of a hidden discovery for many travellers to Japan. It’s in the opposite direction of the well-travelled path connecting Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka – but it possesses some of the best sightseeing spots that Japan has to offer.

Here are the top places to see the beautiful autumn leaves in southern Tohoku – don’t forget to see the companion edition covering northern Tohoku too.

Naruko Gorge, Miyagi

Carved by the Oya River, this 100-meter deep canyon plays host to spectacular nature scenes year-round. But from mid-October to mid-November, the autumnal colours that dye the gorge crimson and gold draw in plenty of visitors. Take some great snapshots that include the Otani Bridge for a beautiful contrast of natural and manmade.

Visit the Naruko Gorge Ofukazawa Promenade only two kilometres away from Naruko Gorge Rest House to enjoy a truly immersive walk through the bright colors of autumn. Listen to the wind rustle the leaves around the clear stream. Don’t miss out on the scenic gorge walk that takes a leisurely 45 minutes to complete. The trail is open from 9am to 4pm, but closed from the end of November until April.

Directions: During the autumn, a shuttle bus operates from Naruko Onsen; a 35-minute walk from Nakayamadaira Onsen Station or Naruko Onsen Station.

Entsuin Temple, Miyagi

What could be more tranquil than taking in the brilliant colours of autumn at a temple? Entsuin Temple was built next to Matsushima’s Zuiganji Temple in order to house the remains of Date Mitsumune. Although this temple was built out of mourning for the untimely death of Mitsumune at 19 years old today the temple is known for its splendid gardens and autumn foliage.

From late October to late November every year there is a dazzling illumination of the autumn leaves. For just 500 yen you can stroll through the evening air and enjoy these illuminated leaves in a peaceful atmosphere. The light-up event goes on nightly from 5:30pm to 9pm and is sure to leave you feeling refreshed and serene.

Directions: A 5-minute walk from JR Matsushima Kaigan Station.

Yamadera, Yamagata

Hike through a mystical cedar forest to reach this stunning mountaintop temple. The 1,000-step ascent beckons those who want to see the mountains blanketed in warm autumn foliage once they reach the peak. Founded in 860, Risshakuji Temple (Yamadera’s official name) is renowned for its beauty and amazing vistas.

Photographers will especially enjoy the mountains as they practically light up with colour. After reaching the summit of Yamadera, be rewarded with a stunning view of Tachiya River flowing through the valley from Godaido Hall. Stepping inside and soaking up the scene, you’ll also notice the various senjafuda placards pasted on the ceiling beams – they capture various names of worshippers dating back to the Edo Period.

On your return journey, don’t miss Konpon-chudo Hall at the foot of the mountain, which houses a ritual flame that is said to have been burning for 1,000 years without cease.

Directions: The lower temples are a 7-minute walk from JR Yamadera Station. The hike itself lasts about 30 minutes.

Yamagata Prefectural General Sports Park

This secret spot worth considering is not far from Yamadera if you’re already in the area. It’s hardly a vital fixture on any tourist’s sightseeing shortlist, but it’s no less spectacular during the autumn months. The Yamagata Prefectural General Sports Park offers beautiful views thanks to sweeping yellow ginkgo trees.

Nagatoko Ginkgo Tree, Fukushima

Fukushima Prefecture is renowned for its autumnal hues and vibrant nature. The prefecture has an abundance of ginkgo trees which fill the landscape and add a natural brilliance to the region's myriad of sightseeing spots. At Shingu Kumano Shrine, in Kitakata City, visitors can find one of the prefecture's most revered trees at the ancient and spiritual Nagatoko structure inside the shrine complex. The beautiful 800 year-old ginkgo tree bursts into life every autumn and matches, perfectly, the thatched roof of Nagatoko. It's quite a sight and, ultimately, symbolizes Japan's fascination and reverence for nature.

  • Naruko Gorge, Miyagi
  • Entsuin Temple, Miyagi
  • Yamadera, Yamagata
  • Nagatoko Ginkgo Tree, Fukushima

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