One of my earliest experiences of Japan’s spectacular autumn leaves was during an employer-sponsored outing to Goshiki-numa in the Urabandai area of Fukushima Prefecture nearly 40 years ago. The area still holds a special place in my heart and, although my last visit, and hence my latest photos, was a few months ago, I’m writing now to encourage wannabe leaf-peepers to consider a trip to this beautiful spot now to see the autumn foliage.
Mt. Bandai is the name given to a cluster of volcanic peaks, the highest measuring 1,816 meters, sitting north of Lake Inawashiro. The last major eruption occurred in 1888, resulting in the collapse of one peak that caused a debris avalanche that took 477 lives and dramatically altered the shape of the north flanks of the mountain, the area known as Ura-bandai. Among the changes wrought by the avalanche was damming water courses off the mountain so that around 30 ponds and swamps were formed at the foot of the mountain in Ura-bandai. This area has come to be known as Goshiki-numa (5-colored ponds), named not for the number of ponds but for the variety of colors seen in their waters.
There is a delightful walking trail of around three and a half kilometers, with a bus stop at each end, that takes visitors through beautiful scenery that is especially dramatic when enhanced by autumn colors that are not shown in these photos so you either have to use your imagination or visit for yourself. Hard core walkers can to this course in just over an hour, but I recommend taking it slower to really enjoy the beauty of this area.
Beginning from the east end, the rest house/souvenir stand sits above Bishamon Pond, the largest of the ponds, and provides views of Mt. Bandai beyond, the scars of the eruption more than 130 years ago still visible. It is popular with many visitors to rent a rowboat and spend some time on the lake, exploring its many nooks and crannies.
Bishamonten Pond’s water changes color based on depth and the water plants in the vicinity, as well as on the sunniness of the day. There are a number of large ornamental carp living in the lake, including a white one with a large red spot in the shape of a heart. A sign encourages visitors to post a photo to Instagram if they are so lucky as to spot that particular fish. While I saw a number of carp as I walked along the lakeside trail, I did not see the famous heart carp.
The varied colors of pond water to be seen on this walk are said to also have been caused by the volcano, which has released hydrogen sulfide into the ground water, changing the pH balance of the water in the ponds and causing them to be different colors from each other.
In addition to the large ponds along the trail, there are some swampy areas and even a babbling brook of very clear water, with the pH balance resulting in brilliant green water moss.
The ponds are also of varying sizes and shapes, so that the views are fresh and new and each turn in the trail.
This area is most easily reached by catching a bus from JR Inawashiro Station (takes 20-30 minutes). There are only one or two buses an hour, with local taxis as the next best alternative.
By starting the walk from Bishamon Pond, the end of the trail is near Lake Hibara, a large old lake that is also popular for water sports. A couple of bus stops away is the Mount Bandai Eruption Memorial Museum, with displays explaining the history and impact of the volcano and the geology of the 1888 eruption. Open daily 8:00 to 17:00 (9:00 to 16:00 December through March); JPY600.
© 2021 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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