An ocean in the sky? Anything is possible in Kinosaki Onsen, and experiencing an "unkai," or a sea of clouds, is on the bucket list of many autumn visitors.
As the name implies, the sea of clouds is a natural phenomenon, occurring when stark differences in air temperature cause clouds to spread horizontally at a low altitude.
This often happens during early mornings in autumn, delivering an unforgettable natural sight from the mountaintops in Kinosaki Onsen and beyond.
Read below for 4 of the best spots to increase your chances of catching the white puffy waves.
Dragon Palace in Hiyoriyama
Coastal Kinosaki, the town of Hiyoriyama, is home to the Dragon Palace - reminiscent of the palace of the same name from the Japanese folktale Urashima Tarō.
The early morning hours in autumn is prime viewing time for one of the area's most dramatic displays of a sea of clouds.
700 meters out from the shoreside observation desk, a cascading waterfall of clouds splashes against the Dragon Palace in ethereal waves.
Pack a light snack, bicycle up to the coast from central Kinosaki Onsen, and soak up the morning ambiance.
Mount Kuruhi in Kinosaki Onsen
If you're looking for the spot to be on a misty autumn morning, Mount Kuruhi is where it's at.
Arguably the most well-known spot on the list, Mount Kuruhi's mesmerizing atmospheric waves above the Maruyama River welcome professional photographers and casual travelers alike, all in search of the ultimate fall snapshot beyond the usual red and orange leaves.
Just south of Kinosaki Onsen's town center, the summit viewing platform at 566.6 meters can be reached by car in about 30 minutes.
*The top of Mount Kuruhi is best reached by car.
Arikoyama Castle Ruins in Izushi
Fantasy fans will consider the mountaintop Arikoyama Castle Ruins in the nearby Izushi Castle Town to be the holy grail of autumn sightseeing.
Peppered with castle ruins left after an attack by the feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1580, Mount Arikoyama's 321-meter summit bears a striking resemblance to a castle in the sky.
The hike up begins traversing up a staircase through the red torii gates of Arikoyama Inari Shrine, and at a leisurely pace, hikers can reach the ruins within 1~1.5 hours.
The trail is steep during the first half of the hike and becomes less intense as climbers reach the top.
Mount Daishi in Kinosaki Onsen
Kinosaki Onsen's Mount Daishi boasts a Michelin star repping its spectacular panoramic views, and of course the early morning sea of clouds rolling across the sky is an extra perk for autumn visitors.
The climb from the mountain base to the top is about 1 hour at a relaxed pace, with Onsenji Temple's main hall serving as a resting point halfway up the trail.
Plan for a tranquil morning mindfulness session with a visit to Onsenji Temple's mountaintop inner sanctuary, and consider treating yourself to a hot cup of coffee at Miharashi Terrace Cafe (open at 10:00).