Soni Highlands – Nara's Ultimate Autumn Destination
The changing colors of the leaves are a sign that autumn has arrived in Japan. Yellow Ginkgo leaves, red Maple leaves — all decorating the hills in vivid colors. Susuki, Japanese pampas grass or silver grass in English, is another plant strongly associated with autumn in Japan. The full moon, dango (round dumplings), and Susuki are the primary symbols of Japanese Autumn. For the sake of stunning imagery, let's introduce the special scenery of autumn that Susuki shows at Soni Highlands.
Susuki's Connection to Japanese Architecture and Culture
Japanese people used Susuki as a roofing material since the Yayoi period (BC.10C - AD.3). Therefore, Susuki was cultivated in many parts of Japan. Those grass fields are called kayaba. Eventually, the Japanese architectural style changed and thatched roofs largely disappeared, and the cultivation of susuki is mostly gone. Many abandoned Susuki grasslands became thickets of trees.
Soni Highlands is a valuable landscape where we can see kayaba even today. It is because the village of Soni maintains that grassland. For a long time, this has been a task for March season. But this season it is on schedule for February. According to the Soni Village Tourism Division, this is because the timing of the Susuki sprouts is earlier due to recent warming temperatures.
Susuki is a grass belonging to the Gramineae family plant that grows up to 2 meters (80 inches) in height. As autumn approaches, ten or more flower spikes of about 20-30cm (8-12 inches) in length appear at the end of the stem. At first, it has a dark copper color. When mature, white feathers grow like dandelions to disperse seeds on the wind. Such Susuki's growth shows several facial expressions in the scenery of the Soni Highlands.
The Green Hills of the Soni Highlands
Walking 2-3 minutes from the parking lot, you will see the basin-like grassland at the top of the mountain — about 38 ha in size. It looks like a crater of the volcano; in fact, it is said to be a trace of a large-scale landslide. There is a wetland called Okame-Ike in the center, covered with a reed (Phragmites australis). In this diverse environment, grow about 50 different kinds of plants. Unfortunately, you cannot enter inside the marsh.
Recommended sunset viewing points in the area indicated by the arrow in the above photo.
Meadow Shining Silver at Noon
I visited in early October. The meadow was still green. Susuki has just started to change color though the spikes are not ripe enough. When I approached and looked closely, they were shining like transparent glasswork. From a distance, it looks the silver veil covers the green hills in the daylight. The cold wind occasionally blows in the strong sunshine reminded me that autumn is undoubtedly approaching.
At Sunset, When Everything Turns Gold
As the sun leans west, the color of the landscape changes rapidly. The grass field that was shining silver was turning orange and eventually everything was in a golden glow.
The moment of sunset. The sun was shining stronger as it set into the mountains, and the atmosphere filled with golden colors. Tourists nearby gasped with awe at the sight.
Moonlight Over the Fields
After a while, the moon appeared from the shadow on the back slope. 200 lanterns illuminated the area around Kameike. And stars begin to shine in the dark blue sky. It is called the "Yama-Akari event." It lasts until 24th Nov. this year.
The Japanese pampas grass lit by the orange color of the lantern glows in the blue moonlight, creating a mysterious atmosphere. From now on, until spring, undergrowth will wither, and Susuki will become more noticeable. The best season to visit lasts until mid-November.
NOTE: There are no food shops or vending machines at Soni Highlands. There is only one toilet on the exit side of the parking lot, one step lower parking lot. The toilets are well maintained. The parking fee is 800 yen per day. However, because it is an automatic gate, there is a fee for re-entry once you exit.
The nearest restaurant is Soni Kogen Farm Garden, which is about 30 minutes on foot towards the foot of the mountain. Here you can enjoy locally brewed craft beer.
Next to the restaurant is a lovely hot spring called Okame no Yu, where you can soothe any fatigue from your hike. There is also a "Rice house" where you can try special bread made of rice flour. Every facility closes on Wednesdays.
Getting to Soni Highlands
Soni Highlands is in eastern Nara Prefecture, adjacent to the border of Mie Prefecture. It takes about 1 to 1.5-hours by car from Osaka, Kyoto or Nara City, and a 2-hour drive from Nagoya City. A bus service is available from Kintestsu Nabari Station.
For more details about Soni click here.