Sunday, December 11, 2016

Momijigari - Leaf Peeping in Japan

--Susan, every other Sunday

Japanese Buddhism places heavy emphasis on the transient, impermanent nature of life, and gave rise to the wabi-sabi aesthetic, which celebrates the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete nature of things.

Since at least the medieval era (and before it, in many ways, as well), this aesthetic has given rise to Japanese celebrations and appreciation of seasonal beauty, including the tradition of momijigari or "hunting maple leaves."

Be vewwy vewwy quiet. I'm hunting leaves...

Momiji is the Japanese word for acer palmatum (in English, the Japanese maple, though I'm fond of saying--tongue in cheek--that "in Japan, they're just maples").

Maples beginning to change at Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine

Gari is derived from kari, "to hunt" - and momijigari can also be translated "leaf peeping" or "hunting colorful autumn foliage." However you translate the concept, it's a highly popular pastime in Japan. Several websites (in Japanese and English) track the progress of autumn foliage across the Japanese islands, updating visitors on the best sites for foliage viewing on a weekly (in some cases, daily) basis.

Traveling to see spectacular foliage is a popular autumn pastime, particularly on weekends, when parks, public gardens, and historical sites fill up with visitors strolling beneath the trees or setting up cameras to capture foliage at the height of its autumn glory.

Photographing people, photographing leaves at Danjo Garan, atop Mount Koya

I timed my recent research trip to Japan to hit the middle of the foliage season--autumn's colors were at their height in the Japan alps and on Mount Koya, in Wakayama Province south of Kyoto:

Spectacular foliage at Danjo Garan, a temple atop Mt. Koya

But the colors were just starting in Kyoto:

A park near Sannen-Zaka, Kyoto

Foliage season in Japan generally runs from late September through the very start of December, and the colors normally start in the northern part of the country (and at altitude), and progress in a generally southward manner through the months of October and November.

An "early bloomer" in Kyoto.

I've always loved autumn, with its chilly nights and brilliant leaves. The colors are a spectacular reminder, not only of the impermanence of life but of the beauty of age and experience.

Foliage in the abbot's garden at Kongobuji (a temple on Mt. Koya)

Green may be the color of "youth," but I prefer the brilliant golds and reds of autumn any day--and in almost any context, too.

Foliage at Okunoin, a cemetery atop Mt. Koya that has over 250,000 graves.

Foliage season also marks the arrival of seasonal specialties in Japan, where restaurant and roadside vendor offerings change with the seasons. In autumn, summer's flavors give way to chestnuts, sweet potatoes, and other more autumnal favorites, including some unique treats you can only find in certain corners of Japan - but I'll leaf that subject there for now, and take it up again in two weeks' time.


  1. Lovely piece and pictures, Susan. But did I detect a touch of Jeff's influence at the end?

    1. As it happens, I've long been a fan of the pun. Jeff and I have that in common, no matter how hard it may be to be-leaf.

  2. It's a good thing this post is so interesting and beautiful. It takes a lot overcome the terror that the Jeff-EvKa disease might be contagious.

    1. Contagious, no. Genetic, and part of my makeup from birth?

      Magic 8-Ball says "Definitely So."

  3. Thank God you've finally come around to seeing the light, Susan. And if you want to see maples, oaks, hickory, birch, poplar, and oh so many others in their most brilliant splendor, schedule a trip down through New England next October. I guarantee you'll fall for it.

    [You know I had to do that last bit.]

    1. I love New England in autumn. It's probably the only thing I miss about living in and south of Boston for 6 years (college and law school). I still it's still a poplar place, come fall...

  4. Groan, but fun.

    What beautiful photos to distract us from this insane political situation in the States. It's quite amazing: the sun still rises, trees still grow, the seasons change, no matter what.

    1. I'm glad they provided at least a brief distraction, Kathy. Sometimes, when I feel powerless to stop the negativity raging around me, I try to at least offer a peaceful place for a minute or two.

  5. Peaceful is good; so is the beauty of nature.
    Then again I have to think about those who deny climate change and the dangers to our planet and all of life on it, etc.