Maple Leaf Hunting in Autumn


Some maple leaves floating in water at Sandankyo

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by Matt Nelson

Two of the biggest things Japanese people pride themselves on, as a matter of national honor, are having four seasons and the centuries-old tradition of blossom viewing in springtime. For  those who don’t yet know the latter is known as 花見 (hanami). But why stop there? There are three other seasons to explore!!

And behold, fall is almost upon us. October and November happen to be the prime time for a close relative to the better known hanami custom: maple leaf viewing. This is sometimes called 紅葉狩り(momijigari), which literally means “maple leaf hunting.” This is a pretty accurate description as, like the short-lived hanami season, the turning of leaves in fall tends to last only a short period of time before their brilliance fades.

In the early viewing season, Hiroshima’s mountainous areas like Sandankyo (三段峡) and Taishakukyo (帝釈峡) are prime spots and can get crowded. Another good spot is Momijidani Park on Miyajima. Also, like blossom viewing, the actual state of affairs depends heavily on the weather. Hiking, photography, and even BBQs and beer slurping, akin to hanami in the spring or tailgating before American football games, are common ways to bask in the warm colors and cool air of fall.

Here is a description of a great place to go, Sandankyo, along with a poem and some pictures of my trip, which was a bit too early for the leaves.

My Autumnal Haiku in Honor of Sandakyo

シュマミレノ Gazing at the waterfall

タキヲミルボク draped in vermillion,

ウテキヌレ I become soaked in raindrops.

Driving is easy, or take a bus from the bus center labeled “Sandankyo.” Get off at the last stop (¥1400 one way).  On Sundays during summer and spring, and everyday during fall, a shuttle bus runs from the main entrance to half way up the gorge. Bring rain gear and/or an umbrella as it often rains or drizzles.

The entrance sign for Sandankyo

 A typical view from a Sandankyo path

There is an easy to navigate path made for anyone to enjoy and a few stops along the way including toilets and even a shanty house café you can get to by boat or rope bridge.  Adventurous types can also go off the path and walk the ridges if you so dare.

Some cliff runoff creating some bright colors

My picnic lunch sitting on a boulder: water; a mixed bag of nuts, fruit, and chocolate; and, of course, Subway!

Watch where you step! Along my walk I saw several different animals that others were walking right by!

A giant snail chillin’ on a wall 

A frog as big as my fist  (that almost got stepped on!)

I saw tons of multicolored frogs and even jumped a pheasant.

Hummingbird hawk moths were out sipping on the fall blossoms

And this golden husk of a beetle’s shell was easy to miss

There are camp sites in the area as well as ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) at the entrance in case you want to spend more than a day trip exploring.

The three-tiered waterfall for which the gorge gets its name is also known as a romantic spot for couples

And adding a rock to this collection of wishing-rock piles might not hurt your chances, either

There is more information about Sandankyo on the web, in English and in Japanese. Check it out:

Photo credits: All photos taken by Matt Nelson.


  1. Great article! I wish there was a place that beautiful around here (NJ, USA), but I guess I’ll just have to wait till I go to Japan next year!

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