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Autumn in Japan

September 7th, 2011 by Jeff Aasgaard
Japanese Maple (Momiji) in the Autumn

Japanese Maple (Momiji) in the Autumn

Japanese cherry blossoms (Sakura) are a famous national celebration, and crowds from all around the world come every year to enjoy spring in Japan. But there is another natural event that worth the visit; the autumn leaves colors. Leaves turn to yellow, orange, red, purple, ruby, vermilion…giving a mystic atmosphere to some places. The Japanese summer is really hot and humid, and though Japanese enjoy the summer, I have a feeling that they are impatient for autumn to start and finally being able to enjoy the autumn colors and an outdoor activity without getting sunburn.

Today I would like to give some basic advice and recommendations on how to enjoy those autumn colors.

When to go to see the most beautiful autumn colors?

Because Japan stretches from north (Hokkaido) to south (Okinawa) the autumn actually happens at a different time. In Hokkaido the autumn might starts as early as September while in Okinawa there is no specific autumn due to the tropical weather. But in Kyushu the autumn starts only by the end of November.
Though nature is not an exact science, in the central part of Japan, the best time is November.

To know the progression of the autumn leaves, some websites publish very detailed reports:

Japan Guide – Autumn Color Report
This website is in English and they update the color of the leaves in the most popular spots.

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Japanese Maple (Momiji) in the Autumn

Yahoo Japan – Autumn Color Report
This one is in Japanese and seasonal (From September to December) but you don’t need to understand Japanese to actually find the information you are looking for. When the Autumn Report will be available, usually by the end of September, you will see a big red Maple leave, just click on it to see the Autumn Color Report. This is the most detailed report; every single spot in Japan is listed. The Maple leaf symbol beside the location selected will change from green to red; red being the best moment to go.

Where to go?

Kyoto is probably the most popular and crowded spot but still it worth the visit. During the second half of November, places such as Tofukuji, Arashiyama, Kiyomizudera will be surrounded by beautiful autumn foliage.

In Hokkaido, the Daisetesuzan National Park is the first place to have autumn colors every year. The mix of colors, between yellow and red in the middle of mountains or along rivers and lakes offers some particularly nice spots in early October.

Fuji Five Lakes, with a view on the magnificent Mt Fuji, is one the most popular. In addition it is possible to find some quiet and not crowded places around the Mt Fuji. It is advised to go there in late October to enjoy the autumn colors.

Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route; in the Northern Japanese Alps is famous for the great amount of snow fall but also for its beautiful autumn colors. Because of its elevation range the autumn can be enjoyed from late September to early November.

Miyajima Island is one of the three most scenic places in Japan, so anytime is good to visit this place, but the middle of November would be a great choice. Few autumn colors can be seen around the Miyajima Torii (gate) and the Itsukushima shrine; but in the Momijidani Park laterally “Maple valley” there are plenty.

My special recommendation;
Mino Park, this park is located only 30 minutes from the Osaka city and is a small valley full of Maple trees. I went there last year, and sincerely it is beautiful. Walking in this forest of Maple trees is something that I enjoyed a lot, and I recommend this place that few foreigners know. Extra surprise, you might see some monkeys walking beside you.

Don’t forget, that every interesting place in Japan can become crowded very quickly, I suggest you to go to the above places as early as you can in the morning or late in the evening. Of course it is also better to avoid weekends. That way you will avoid making lines….and you will have a better light for your pictures.

Which tree to enjoy in autumn?

Of course the Maple tree (Momiji in Japanese) is the most beautiful tree in autumn. Maple trees are native of Japan; nowadays there are other a hundred of varieties. The shape and colors of their leaves can be very different from one another; thin, long, round, red, yellow… Cultivated ones, with the most shining colors can be seen in temples especially in Kyoto or in Japanese gardens.

Japanese Maple (Momiji) in the Autumn

Japanese Maple (Momiji) in the Autumn

Another famous tree in Japanese autumn is the Ginkgo (Icho in Japanese). This tree will not turn red but into a bright yellow. This is very common in the cities, along the streets and parks. I agree that the yellow of the Ginkgo is beautiful, but I would add that this tree produce some fruits that really stink, so take a deep breath before you go around one.

What to eat during the Japanese autumn?

Like every season autumn brings specific fruits or vegetables. Japanese have a passion for the Matsutake, this mushroom popular for its smell and flavor can be compare to the Truffle in Europe. If they are as good as expensive they must be delicious!

Chestnut (Kuri in Japanese) is a typical product to eat in autumn. Japanese chefs can cook almost anything based on Chestnut; soup, sauces, cakes, ice cream… Some Japanese farms will suggest you to pick up Chestnuts by yourself. Fruits always have a better taste if you can select them on your own directly on the tree!

Now if you go to Mino Park, you will have to try the Momiji Tempura (Fried Maple leaves). It is probably not the most tasty Japanese dish, but it’s interesting to know that we actually eat the leaves of a Maple tree.

Personally, I am so impatient to see the autumn coming.

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