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Outdoor Japan (Autumn): Discovering the world of mushrooms

From about September the intense heat of the summer starts to wear off in Japan and cooler, damper weather moves in along with the occasional typhoon. It will not be long before the main season of autumn arrives with its stunning leaf colours and clear stable days. Although these few weeks between summer and autumn can be somewhat cloudy and rainy, the mountains in Japan at this time of year become covered in a huge variety of mushrooms and fungi. Photographing these incredible organisms and discovering their almost infinite variety of shapes and colours can add a huge amount of enjoyment to walking at this time of year. Japan is a very forested country and anywhere with good mixed forest will be home to different fungi. Here are some of my favourite areas to look at them at this time of year. Please never pick wild mushrooms as it potentially deprives them of their opportunity to disperse spores. Attempting to eat them of course can be deadly.  


A forest path in Okutama.

Photo by Alison Beale


Okutama: for outdoor escapes just outside Tokyo

This is a beautiful wild mountain area just 90 minutes by train from Shinjuku. Running through the middle of this area is a rocky gorge which is popular with people who enjoy bouldering, canoeing or otherwise just playing in the river. There are good paths leading up into the mountains on either side of the river, and as the mountainsides are covered in forest they are full of mushrooms in season. 


Looking down over beautiful Lake Okutama.

Photo by Alison Beale


Popular places to start walking are Mitake or Okutama stations, and there are both long and short walks. One of the added attractions of this area is that there are a number of good tofu restaurants in the valley, and also a sake brewery with an outside garden, and a popular craft beer cafe with a terrace. You can therefore combine a wonderful day out in the outdoors with a nice meal or a relaxed afternoon enjoying some drinks. 

Shosenkyo: autumn colours in a rocky gorge

Shosenkyo is another beautiful river gorge with very dramatic rock scenery. It is a short bus ride from Kofu, which is about 100 minutes by train from Shinjuku on the Chuo line. 


Rock formations and autumn leaves in Shosenkyo.

Photo by Alison Beale


There is a 5km family-friendly walking trail from Nagatorobashi to the dramatic 30 metre high Sengataki Falls. There are some incredible rock formations along the way and the area is an excellent place to see the autumn colours, and of course mushrooms.  The peak looming above the gorge is called Kakuenpo and there is a cable car up there but also trails for walkers (although parts of the trail can be tricky to find). On a clear day there is a wonderful view of Mt Fuji from up here. 


Sengataki Falls in Shosenkyo.

Photo by Alison Beale


Mt Ponpon in Kyoto

Most people understandably head for the exquisite temples, gardens, and tea houses of Kyoto, but actually the city is a great place for low mountain walking. The main part of the city is in a bowl of flat land surrounded on three sides by mountains and there is a good path along these perimeter mountains called the Kyoto Trail. One of my favourite ways to enjoy Kyoto is to spend half the day doing a walk on part of the Kyoto Trail and then to drop down to see one of the extraordinarily beautiful temples or shrines that lie all around the city. 

A wood ear kikurage mushroom in one of the gardens of Kyoto.

Photo by Alison Beale


One particularly good part of the Trail (that incidentally is also famous for mushrooms) is Mt Ponpon - so called because there is a piece of ground on the summit that resounds with a ‘pon-pon’ sound if you stamp on it. There are various paths up the mountain and you can descend into some of the extremely beautiful, historic sights of Nagaokakyo. 


Autumn colours in the mountains around Kyoto.

Photo by Alison Beale


Looking at mushrooms is a slightly niche hobby, but it provides a huge amount of interest particularly when the weather is damp or cloudy. If you start to look out for different fungi, you realise that there is a whole other living world underneath our feet, and it also brings a new awareness of the incredible biodiversity that the mountains of Japan have to offer. 


    About the author

    Author: Alison Beale
    Originally from the UK, Alison Beale spends her weekends outdoors exploring the geography, botany and mycology of Japan. Convinced that Tokyo is the foremost outdoor capital of the world, she is a self-professed evangelist about the beauty and richness of the nature of Japan. 











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