November in Japan is such a great time to be outdoors. Crisp mornings and clear skies, golden afternoon light and intense sunsets, and the best part… explosions of autumn colour around every corner!
A few friends and I hit the road mid-November to go momiji hunting through central Gunma. Despite being so close to Tokyo, Gunma is a prefecture I’ve not spent much time in. It’s one of just a handful of prefectures in Japan without a coastline, and is known mainly for its mountainous landscapes, good for skiing, and onsen towns, the most famous being Kusatsu Onsen (which I’m still yet to visit!).
We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day. The sun was shining, our spirits were high and we were in for many gorgeous sights!
Known to some as a ‘mini Niagara Falls’, Fukiware Falls flows over an elongated horseshoe-shaped, 7m high split in the granite riverbed. The rocks are pretty slippery, so they’ve built a walkway that takes you along the length of the waterfall, across a bridge, then up through the forested mountainside from where you can see the falls from above. The river was surrounded either side by flaming yellow and deep orange leaves. It was stunning! The short hike through the forest was relaxing and I loved breathing in the fresh autumn air. Considering the amazing colours everywhere, I would say autumn is the best time to visit this waterfall.
Though small in size, the hot springs town of Ikaho has an extremely long history – it was mentioned in a collection of poems called Manyoshu which were written sometime during the Nara Period (710-794 AD) and still exist today!
Present-day Ikaho is a charming little place centred around a flight of 365 stone steps. It’s located on the side of a dormant volcano and is known for its rustic-coloured ‘golden water’, that you can easily see all throughout the town in water features and free foot baths. It’s also famous as being the birthplace of onsen manju (soft, red bean buns), so of course we picked up a few of those delicious snacks!
But the main reason we were in Ikaho was neither for the onsens nor the manju… we were there to see a bridge! The Kajika-bashi.
This bright red bridge was built near the hot spring source. During autumn, it’s surrounded by bright red momiji, and in the evenings is lit up from all sides for the annual autumn leaves festival. The bridge, the leaves, the light up: this whole scene was so ‘Japan’ to me.
Gunma is full of little gems like these two places and really doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. In winter, many of the mountains turn into ski resorts, so maybe I’ll be back very soon!