View from Ofukazawa Bridge

Koyo (Autumn Foliage) viewing is a popular pastime in Japan, with the leaves of trees changing colors beginning in mid-September in Hokkaido in the north, gradually moving south as the season progresses. In the Tohoku region the peak season for koyo viewing is from late October to early November depending on the altitude.

The Plan

Day 2 of my first solo trip in Japan was slightly more challenging than day 1: I planned to hunt for autumn scenery in Miyagi prefecture in the north. The plan was to take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Furukawa, transfer to a local train to Naruko-onsen, take a bus to Naruko Gorge, backtrack to Sendai then proceed to the coastal town of Matsushima, then go back to Sendai for the return train ride to Tokyo, and be back in Tokyo before midnight.

Naruko Gorge

The shinkansen ride to Furukawa was uneventful as expected: the Kanto plains were a blur as the bullet train sped on its way to the Tohoku region. When I transferred to the East Rikuu local train, the simpler life in the countryside became more apparent. The 2-car diesel-powered train was a far cry from the sleek 16-car electric trains in Tokyo. Actual humans took the place of ticket gates at the train stations. Still, the common denominator was punctuality: old as it was, the train still arrived and departed each station on schedule.

naruko onsen

Arrival at Naruko-onsen Station

Naruko Gorge is a ten minute bus ride from Naruko-onsen Station. Even with the scarcity of English signs, I did not have difficulty spotting the bus as almost all passengers who disembarked at the station were apparently headed to Naruko Gorge too. When the other passengers got off the bus, I got off as well. Apparently, that was a mistake as the bus stop where I got off was at the Naruko Gorge trailhead, which was a good half hour walk to my end goal which was the Ofukazawa Bridge, where the best views of Naruko Gorge can be found. Thirty minutes later, I emerged from the trail onto the main road and the Ofukazawa Bridge. The view was breathtaking: trees ablaze in reds and yellows lined the gorge as far as the eye could see. The East Rikuu tracks coming out of the cliff complemented the autumn colors of the gorge. Train schedules were posted on the bridge railings for those who wanted to include the train in their photos. I waited for the scheduled 12:27 train, and as it approached the tunnel, it gladly obliged to a photo-op by slowing down before disappearing into the mountainside.

naruko gorge

Naruko Gorge

naruko gorge

View from Ofukazawa Bridge

A few hundred meters ahead on the Naruko Gorge resthouse, the view was equally breathtaking, this time with Ofukazawa Bridge in the frame.

ofukazawa bridge

Naruko Gorge and Ofukazawa Bridge

Matsushima

After light lunch at the Naruko Gorge resthouse, I retraced back my journey towards the prefectural capital Sendai and took a train to the coastal town of Matsushima. I was already off my schedule due to various factors: trains from Naruko-onsen depart only once per hour, I got off at the wrong bus stop and padded 0.5 hour to my time in Naruko. It was almost dark when I arrived at Matsushima at around 4 p.m., so I just walked around and waited for the temple night illumination to open.

mangattan liner

Manga train to Matsushima

Night illuminations are a popular event at selected cultural spots in Japan (probably because it gets dark very early). Historical treasures such as temples and shrines are lit up in the evening in various colors and there are occasional music performances as well. In Matsushima, I went to the night illumination at Entsuin Temple, a temple housing the mausoleum of a local feudal lord’s son.

mausoleum

Entsuin Temple

Overlooking the pond at Entsuin Temple

Overlooking the pond at Entsuin Temple

entsuin temple

Lanterns at Entsuin Temple

Matsushima, being a seaside town, is known for its cuisine featuring the freshest catch of the day. However I wasn’t feeling adventurous enough to try eating at the local restaurants, so I just returned to Sendai for dinner before heading home.

Sendai

I still wanted to try a local specialty for dinner. Luckily, there were a couple of eateries at Sendai Station specializing in gyutan, charcoal-grilled beef tongue served with rice and soup. I ordered the cheapest set menu and filled my stomach, hungry from all the walking I did throughout the day.

gyutan

Gyutan Set Meal for Dinner

sendai station

Outside Sendai Station

I took a short walk outside Sendai Station before taking the shinkansen back to Tokyo. I was back at my place before midnight that day, tired but satisfied with my two-day train marathon. All in all, I logged a total of 1,458 kilometers and JPY 42,290 worth of train rides on a JPY 18,000 ticket. Not bad.

Itinerary

Day 1: Nagano Loop

  • Matsumoto
  • Nagano
  • Karuizawa

Day 2: Miyagi Koyo Hunting

  • Naruko Gorge
  • Matsushima
  • Sendai