Autumn in Japan (September to November)
The tradition of momijigari has been popular since the Heian period (794-1195) and it has had a profound influence on Japanese culture. For Buddhists, it’s a moment that is important both spiritually and symbolically as it reminds us that life is ephemeral.
The maple leaf symbolizes a fall in Japanese culture and its use is widespread. Momigari features heavily In eighth-century Manyoshu poetry as well as the classical Heian Period novel ‘The Tale of the Genji’. It’s typical to find screens, dishes, kimonos, and other fabrics bearing the symbol of the maple leaf.
Maple-shaped cakes are typical during the fall and the leaves themselves have often eaten as tempura: a delicious, deep-fried, sweet snack. There are various variations of maple leaf tempura throughout the country and they are often accompanied by a cup of Japanese tea.
Japanese maple leaf metaphors
- ‘Scatter autumn leaves’ means to go red-faced with embarrassment.
- ‘Hands like tiny maple leaves’ is used to describe the small hands of babies.
- ‘Like maple leaves and a deer’ means that two things make a great pair.
Koyo viewing in Japan
Witnessing Koyo is a moment of the year which the Japanese spend time anticipating and looking forward to. It’s not just tourists who agonize over the best times and places to see the fantastic colors.
There is no shortage of stunning places to enjoy the phenomenon through the best days to see it vary from place to place and from year to year. The momigari can be enjoyed in many ways including hikes, picnics, drives, bike rides and camping trips.
Many regions peak in November but some areas can start changing as early as September or as late as December. The type of maple tree determines whether the leaves are red (koyo), yellow (oyo), or brown (katsuyo).
Autumn foliage season in Japan
The turning of the leaves in Japan varies due to temperature, elevation, and latitude. What does this mean for you? Mountainous regions and the islands to the north will experience autumn colors earlier than other regions. You should also take note of autumn color reports such as this one, as well as weather forecasts, as these will keep you up to date on fall color changes due to temperature. When temperatures turn cold early, the Japanese fall colors appear sooner – up to several weeks early – and vice versa.
In general, the autumn foliage season begins in mid-September on the island of Hokkaido, the northernmost island. In other parts of Japan, like Tokyo and Kyoto the best viewing times typically range from mid-October through early December. Peak viewing in each area typically lasts between two weeks to more than one month.
The fact is, any place in Japan is a good area for Koyo viewing. If you are feeling adventurous, consider hiking the meandering trails of one of Japan’s mountains. Even if you are visiting a bustling city such as Tokyo, city parks offer thousands of trees. Another option is simply looking out the window while traveling by train.
Likely, you already plan to travel from place to place using your Japan Rail Pass. Between stations, you will see the local countryside in all its autumn glory. For a truly unique koyo experience at a relaxed pace, consider a ride on the Sagano Scenic Railway.
Credits to: Japan RailPass