What a wonderful few weeks I've had, particularly in terms of seeing the beautiful transition from Japan in Summer to Japan in Winter. Unlike in the UK, autumn here is quite a short season, and seems to start later on. It's now early November, and many trees have only just really turned yellow or red, and many are still holding on to the their summer greens.And there is still a huge amount of colour from flowers blooming late into the year.
We have spent the last few weekends out in the countryside our little corner of Ibaraki, searching out some of the most beautiful sites for flowers and trees.
Our first visit, back in early October, was to Hitachinaka Seaside Park, which, as the name suggests, sits right on the coast. It is a huge park, with all sorts of different areas including sports fields, BBQ pits, meadows, cultivated gardens in various styles, a fantastic playpark, and several cafes. The park has a number of areas filled with only one type of flower: nemophila, tulips, cosmos, sunflowers. These flowers each bloom at a different time, and I'd heard that when they do, their particular field or hill or garden is spectacular. In October, we went to see the kochia, and it really was beautiful. Kochia are little round green bushes and at Hitachinaka they grow all over one hill zig-zagged with paths. In October each one turns completely red. The effect is really stunning.
When we went, it looked like the hill was on fire. We walked all through it and took a lot of photos. As an extra bonus, when you get to the top of the hill, you get a gorgeous view of the coast and the sea. It was a beautiful day when we went there too.I can't wait to see all of the other blooms!
Another colourful Autumn trip, this time further afield, in Gunma prefecture, afforded the first glimpse of maples turning from green to orange to red. It's easy to see why people get so excited about viewing Autumn leaves when you see a maple tree in three different colours, all equally vivid. When we visited Lake Haruna, the maple trees were just starting to turn, although the weather was decidedly wintery; definitely hat, scarf and gloves temperature. The drive to the lake from our hotel was lovely. In fact, driving through the countryside in Japan is rapidly becoming one of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday. It reminds me of Iceland in that it has large flat valleys with not a hill for miles, and then suddenly a mountain range appears on the horizon and you find yourself driving so steeply upwards that you start to doubt the capabilities of your car engine. The valleys are mostly planted with rice and vegetables, and are therefore usually quiet and empty, save for a few farmhouses.
The road to Lake Haruna was just like this. A nice drive through rice fields before heading up into a range of hills. The lake itself sits near the top of the mountain, in a crater of Mount Haruna. It forms roughly a semi-circle around the base of a large round peak, known as the Fuji of Lake Haruna, due to its resemblance to that famous Mountain. We hired a swan boat and went out onto the lake, wearing as many layers as we had brought with us, and afterwards we walked round the edge of the lake, through the small town that has sprung up there.
There's quite a mixture of tourist businesses around the lake. We saw tandem bicycles, family quadracycles, horse riding and horse-drawn carts for hire, as well as putting and mini-golf, tennis courts, and a number of people fishing. The scenery around the lake is leafy and sheltered and very beautiful. Despite the freezing cold, we enjoyed our stroll through the village, and found ourselves a delicious bowl of ramen each in a tiny cafe run by a smiling old man and his wife. We also tried mushroom tea for the first time. Surprisingly delicious, and very warming.
Our most recent Autumn-colours trip took in the two beautiful locations of the Ryujin suspension bridge and the hananuki gorge, about half an hour North of us, and more inland. The Ryujin suspension bridge is a huge suspension bridge and incredibly high above the Ryujin dam, which is an impressive sight in itself. Having previously seen the bridge on our way home from the Fukuroda Falls (more on that in another post) but not walked across it, this time we drove right up to the bridge, paid our fare and walked out onto it. I don't remember having ever been on a suspension bridge before, but it was quite a feeling. Despite the apparent fixedness of the bridge, I could feel the walkway swaying slightly in the wind. It was a bit nerve-racking. The Ryujin suspension bridge is painted bright blue and has a huge painting of a dragon at one end. In the sunshine, it really looks amazing. Once you've crossed it, there seems to be a nice woodland walk you can do, but we decided to save that for another time. Instead, we went back to the other side and warmed ourselves by eating katsu curry in a cafe overlooking the gorge and all of the beautiful autumn trees.
Once we had returned to the car, we headed down the mountain and towards Takahagi, which sits in the hananuki gorge. Driving through the bottom of the gorge, alongside the river, was another wonderful experience. It's quite a narrow gorge, just allowing space for the river and the road, and the sides are steeply vertical on either side of you as you drive through. We stopped to take photographs at a small road bridge over the narrow end of a lake. As well as the beautiful maple trees, there were a lot of rose bushes, gorgeously dark green with bright pink roses all over them. It rounded off a really wonderful autumn day quite splendidly.
The leaves are really starting to turn here now. Tomorrow I think I'll use my day off to explore a different region of Ibaraki. Oh, and I must tell you about the Kasama Chyrsanthemum Festival next time!