Want to experience the vibrant leaf colours of the Japanese autumn in all their glory, but unsure where’s best to go? Simply read on…
Summer has faded away, with the heat slowly lifting to bring in refreshing cooler weather – but this signals the start of autumn, as the leaves change colour.
Autumn brings a fiery beauty to Japan as the country is tinted in oranges, reds and yellows. Like in spring, Japan revels in the beauty of nature and everyone escapes outside to experience the splendour of the turning leaves.
What is momiji?
Every autumn you’ll hear Japanese people talk about momiji. Perhaps you’ve been wondering what this actually means? Well, momiji is one of the many words used to talk about viewing the changing colours of the leaves. In spring, Japanese people often have drinking parties under the cherry blossom trees, but in autumn, you will find many people taking walks or having picnics under the coloured leaves.
All this fits in with the season-focused culture of Japan. Originally stemming from Japanese Shinto traditions of honouring the spirits that resided in the water, land and trees, the beauty of the changing leaves was thought to be motivating and inspiring during harvest time. Eventually, it became traditional to view and honour the leaves at this time of year. Over the years, the leaves became the inspiration for a variety of other art forms, and have been documented in poetry since the 8th century. The beauty of the leaves and the custom of going on outings to view them also featured in the classic Japanese work of literature The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, sometimes described as the world’s first novel.
Why is momiji popular?
Not only is momiji season a time to get out and have some fun with your friends or go on a date with someone special, it is also a time when people take a break from their busy lives and explore nature. The busy Japanese lifestyle leads many of us to lose ourselves in city life and focus on our work, but momiji gives us a chance to step back and relax a little in natural surroundings.
Various places hold a series of events during autumn. Be it small festivals or lighting up the leaves at night, there is always a place to discover and enjoy the beauty of autumn. These events often attract a large number of people every year, all of them taking the opportunity to see the show of red and yellow leaves. Most shrines make fantastic viewing spots as the shrine complex often features maple trees, the most popular for viewing in the autumn season (momiji, in fact, simpy means ‘maple’), but parks make great viewing locations too.
Where are the best places to go?
In Kansai, you have a lot of options for experiencing momiji. Many people recommend the mountains while others suggest shrines and temples. One of the most famous places to visit during momiji season is Arashiyama. Well known for its bamboo forest, Arashiyama also has a wonderful walking route through the mountains where you will be able to experience not only the ethereal beauty of the bamboo, but also the stunning, vibrant colours of the changing leaves.
Venture through the forest and mountain area among the leaves, or even wander into the temples and their gardens to see the true extent of the beauty in Arashiyama. The area is excellent for sightseeing all year round, but is brought alive when decorated with autumn colours.
Another famous place for momiji is Kiyomizu Temple. Known as a famous heritage site in Kyoto, Kiyomizu Temple is also known for its seasonal ‘light-up’ events when they illuminate the area at night and allow visitors inside to enjoy the exquisite temple.
Kiyomizu Temple holds a ‘light-up’ event for momiji every year, when you can walk through the gardens and around the temple at night. The area is incredibly beautiful with the red and yellow leaves illuminated against the dark sky.
So where will you be heading to see the changing leaves this year?
Not only can you look at the leaves, you can eat them too. Momiji tempura is made of maple leaves salted in barrels for over a year, then fried in a slightly sweet tempura batter until crisp. Yum! Munch on them as you take in the fantastic colours.
Take the JR line to Saga-Arashiyama Station or the Hankyu line to Arashiyama Station.
Take the Keihan line to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station or take the Kyoto Bus no. 100 or the City Bus no. 206 to Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop.
By Meghan Bridges