The Hunt for Kouyo (Autumn Leaves) Part 1 – Nikko

The Hunt for Kouyo (Autumn Leaves) Part 1 – Nikko

This past autumn I’ve been obsessed with seeing the changing leaves. My home state has eternal summer and I providing lived in the South of France. Therefore, I haven’t enjoyed the changing of seasons in quite some time. Japanese people love the changing seasons. They love taking photos of leaves and flowers. When I first traveled here two years ago, I found it hilarious to see throngs of people photographing leaves. Now, I’m right beside them trying to snap the best photo. The peak of the season may be over, but there are still plenty of trees clutching their beautiful leaves.

The first place I went Kouyo hunting was Nikko. I’ve been wanting to visit Nikko since I first arrived. I kept reading that Autumn is the best season to visit. After thorough research, my friends and I agreed to visit Nikko October 21 and 22. We would spend one day hiking and another visiting the UNESCO World Heritage sites. As the trip approached so did a typhoon. We thought about postponing the trip but all affordable accomodation was sold out for the next month. We decided to to to Nikko in spite of the massive typhoon heading out way. I took all of my rain gear and braced for a wet weekend. 

Despite the nonstop rain all weekend, Nikko was still buzzing with tourists. I can only imagine how crazier things would have been if there was perfect weather. Our first stop after grabbing bento boxes, buying bus tickets, and getting on all of our rain gear was Kegon Falls. Side note, I highly recommend the two day bus pass. You can get on and off between Nikko Station and the final destination (in our case Lake Chuzenji area) for the two days. We thought it was only one round-trip care but not at all. Everything was surrounded in fog, but even thought the fog you could see the wonderful fall colors. It’s just a shame I don’t have better photographs. 

After the waterfall, we found a dry picnic table and ate lunch. It was already nearing 14h and we had yet to begin this 4 hour hike. We agreee to finish the hike in the dark since I brought my lantern. After lunch we headed to the plateau and trail head. The platform ropeway was closed due to the fog. We went inside the gift store to inquire about the trail head. The girls informed us the trail gates would be locked in an hour and we wouldn’t be able to start. They also advised not hiking in the dark because of bears. Well, our day of hiking was already off to a slow start and now was just flat out a total failure. They recommended visiting an onsen and called a hotel for us to confirm we could visit the onsen as non guests of the hotel. They were kind enough to make all of the necessary arrangements and we once again got on the bus. I have the feeling we spent more time on the bus the first day than actually doing stuff.

We were at the onsen by sunset and had about an hour an a half to relax before taking the bus back into the city. I could not have been happier with the gift shop staff’s recommendation. This onsen was amazing. Without a doubt the best one any of us have ever vistsed. The outdoor pool was completely in nature with no wall or fence a few meters away. It was amazing. You could hear the sounds of the forest as we relaxed and chatted outside (obviously men and women are separated). Afterwards we spent our time using every body cream available. It was the perfect end to a rather unsuccessful Kouyo hunting day.

Our second day wasn’t any sunnier. It rained the entire day, but that didn’t stop us and many others from visiting the World Heritage sites. We braced the rain and dodged travelers as best we could. We were still able to see all of the main sites and even caught a glimpse of a wedding at the Toshogu Shrine. 

As you can see the rain is really coming down

In the afternoon we are lunch and took a long break in Nikko Coffee house. We decided that we were finished sightseeing for the day. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to return to the same onsen as the day before so we settled for the onsen by the train station. Although there wasn’t a view, it was nice to relax and change into warm clothes. 

I’d like to return to Nikko during a sunny weekend to really enjoy the World Heritage site and wonderful hiking the area has to offer. The trip was still fun because our group dynamic was perfect and we had interesting conversations.

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