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.