Fall is arguably the most beautiful seasons in Japan and rightfully so. The bright colored leaves dominate the landscape and it's hard to take your eyes away from the warm hued mountains. However, there are some parts of Fall that are just as worthy of attention even if the color is more of a muted gold instead of bright fire-y red. If you're around Nara in November, take a trip out to Soni Kogen 曽爾高原, or the Soni Highlands, for some of the most unique autumn foliage in the country.
Soni, Nara is part of an ongoing project called The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan 日本で美しい村, an organization dedicated to preserving the heritage of countryside Japan. After being admitted to the program through a strict application process, the group hopes to promote the variety of beauty across Japan's rural villages and help these villages become self-reliant.
Soni Kogen is not an easy place to get to without a car, but it is possible. There's a sightseeing bus during November, which is prime viewing time for the pampas grass, or susuki grass ススキ. Every night in November there is a beautiful light up event around the highlands.
The day we went was one of the foggiest days we've ever witnessed and it gave the highlands a dark and mysterious atmosphere. The fog was so dense the mountain tops weren't visible and when we climbed up the ground was replaced with an impenetrable white mist. I say this a lot, but it was truly one of the most beautiful areas I've ever seen in Japan.
We could have stayed out there forever, but our friends had a ferry to catch that night. We made our way to the little roadside area that had an onsen and a restaurant. There was a window to get takeaway food, like inexpensive udon, but we wanted to sit down. We went into the Soni Plateau Farm Garden. We thought it was going to be a regular Japanese roadside restaurant, but turns out it was a delicious French restaurant. I'd keep talking about how great the food was, but it turns out they just recently turned into a curry only restaurant. While this is a shame, if the food is cooked with half as much as effort as the French restaurant, it'll be great.
We ended the trip with a stop at the Soni Kogen Onsen 曽爾高原温泉. I was worried going in about my tattoo, but I didn't see any signs or information online so I went in hoping for the best. Most of the time these countryside onsen don't really care about tattoos because so few people go to them. This was not the case with Soni Kogen Onsen. As soon as I got into their outdoor bath I was followed by an older cleaning woman. I had just paid 750 yen so I decided to pretend I didn't understand any Japanese. You can agree or disagree with me, but that's what I did. She finally left me alone and then followed me out when I went to change back into my clothes and told me in Japanese not to come back again. Again I pretended not to understand a thing she said, but I was inwardly laughing at her determination to make sure I understood her Japanese. The outdoor bath has wonderful views of the mountains so it's worth the 750 yen. Just be warned that you enter at your own risk if you have tattoos.
While it is possible to head out to Soni Kogen 曽爾高原 via public transportation, I have been told it is a pain. If you can find someone to drive, it would save you a lot of trouble. However, if you can't find a car don't give up on seeing this special corner of Japan. Go to Nabari Station 名張駅 and take a bus bound for Soni Kogen from there. It's a 45 minute bus ride from Nabari Station. Plan your trip out well because the buses run infrequently even during peak season. Soni Onsen 曽爾高原温泉 is open from 11am-9pm with last entry at 8pm. Entrance is 650 yen for adults and 450 yen for children on weekdays and 750 yen and 450 respectively on weekends and holidays.
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Got any favorite falls spots? Let us know in the comments below!