The Aso area is a place where the changing of the seasons truly can be felt in everything from the lifestyle to nature. And one of the seasons that attract the most visitors is autumn. Why? Of course, because of the beautiful autumn leaves. In Japanese, this is known as “Kouyou （紅葉）”.
The Japanese have a long history of celebrating autumn by venturing out into nature and enjoying the vibrant colors of the leaves.
Another way of reading the word “Kouyou (紅葉)” is “Momiji”. This way of addressing the leaves is thought to come from the expression “Momidasu” which in old times was used to describe the process of extracting colors from leaves.
There is even an ancient poetry book on the theme of leaves from about 1300 years ago which further proves the deeply rooted Japanese history of appreciating the vibrant colors of autumn. In these times, venturing into the mountains to appreciate and write poems inspired by the autumn leaves was an activity reserved for the nobles.
About 300 years ago, as living standards had improved and common people had more time to spare, kouyou became widely popular all over Japan. After this short history lesson on this deeply rooted custom, let’s introduce our 4 recommended spots to feel the full force of Aso’s overwhelming autumn beauty!
This place is mainly known as one of the top 100 natural water springs in Kumamoto but in autumn it transforms into a stunning hotspot to enjoy the radiant autumn leaves.
Follow this path from the parking lot for about 500 meters until you get to the natural spring.
As you look around you, you will find beautiful orange and red leaves lit up by the sunlight that penetrates the green conifer trees. Let yourself be soothed by the beautiful mix of colors and the sound of the gurgling stream.
Address: Tajiri, Ubuyama, Aso District, Kumamoto 869-2704
Telephone: 0967-25-2211 (Ubuyama Tourism Association in the town hall)
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/UssP6hNsbWtocFYW9
Seiryu no Mori
Seiryu no Mori, meaning the forest of clear streams, is located at the back of the famous hot spring district Kurokawa onsen. This natural park offers everything from beautiful valleys, grasslands, broad-leaf trees, conifers, active wildlife and, of course, clear streams! The forest is divided into 8 separate zones where you can enjoy different forms of nature.
Don’t worry, I didn’t forget! Visit in autumn and you can expect to find stunning red leaves contrasting against the blue sky. The paths in the forest are well kept so it is a good place to go if you are bringing children.
Along the path, there is a place called “The sparrows’ hell”. It is a cold spring where volcanic water containing Sulphur bursts forth. The name comes from the fact that small animals and critters have been found dead here after drinking from the water. Sorry, it doesn’t sound very kid-friendly… The spring isn’t that active right now but you should still approach it carefully. But don’t worry, if it isn’t for you, it’s very easily avoidable!
Many people visiting Kurokawa onsen pick this as one of their excursions. Go for a walk in nature and then wash away the sweat in a steaming hot spring. Not too bad right?
Seiryu no Mori
Address: 〒869-2402 Kumamoto, Aso District, Minamioguni, Manganji, 火焼輪智
Telephone: 0967-42-1444 (Minamioguni Tourism Association)
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/N2ZWUM45udFgJFzMA
Yusuikyo with its shallow stream is a paradise for playing in the water during the hot Japanese summer. And in the autumn, you can enjoy this as one of the top kouyou spots in Aso. The contrast of the colorful trees stretching their branches out over the river which flows upon a bed of volcanic rock is simply beautiful.
On the opposite side of the river, there is a camping area that also boasts some impressive shades of red and orange.
Pro-tip! Slightly ahead of the entrance, you can find an excellent and rare view. Here you can see the autumn leaves and the river as it layers against the green cedar forest with a backdrop of clear blue sky!
Address: 〒869-2503 Kumamoto, Aso District, Oguni, Shimojo, Takinoue 4837-3
Opening hours: 09:00 – 16:00
Fixed holidays: None
Website: https://yusuikyo.jp/ (Japanese only)
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/3PjLeKiEyXfEoDio6
Mato-ishi Tea House
Our last recommendation for this time is Mato-ishi Tea House.
Mato-ishi Tea House was used as a resting place for the Japanese lords during their regular processions to the capital during the Edo period (1603 – 1868). This garden is known for its many beautiful trees and the clear spring water that gushes forth here.
Only a few steps into the garden and you soon forget the clatter of the world outside and get enveloped in a calm and tranquil atmosphere.
During the kouyou-season, the different species of trees change color at varying speeds creating a beautiful and artistic mix of yellow, green, red and orange.
Especially mesmerizing is the sight of the autumn leaves reflected in the surface of the gardens clear pond. This scenery is slightly dependent on having luck with the weather so aim for a clear day without too much wind!
Stop by Mato-ishi Tea house and enjoy the autumn nature in this calm and beautiful garden.
Mato-ishi Tea house
Address: 536 Matoishi, Aso, Kumamoto 869-2237
Telephone: 0967-34-1600 (Aso City Tourism Association)
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/yr4upMWUdFSGTLur8
So, what do you think? These are 4 recommended spots that you should definitely check out if you visit Aso from mid-late October to mid-late November! Since you will be out exploring in nature I recommend good shoes and comfortable clothing. And remember that the weather in the mountains can turn cold quickly so make sure to be prepared!
This is only a sliver of all the amazing spots in Aso where you can enjoy the autumn leaves so feel free and get out there and find your personal favorite!