The Wonders of the 紅葉 (もみじ/Momiji) Season in Japan
If you’re planning on visiting Japan, you should make the trip twice: once in the spring to experience the cherry blossoms, and once in autumn to witness the beautiful sight of the tree leaves turning red (Momiji)!
Momiji and Kouyou
Have you heard of “Kouyou”? It is another reading of Momiji’s kanji: 紅葉. The characters literally translate to “red leaves”. However, the word conveys the idea of “leaves changing colors”. Historically, the characters are read Momiji (紅葉) which means “red leaves” & “maple tree”. The custom of going to visit scenic areas where leaves have turned red is called 紅葉狩り.
This tradition was born during the Heian Era in the Kyoto region’s aristocracy. In this era, the word 狩り, hunting, was used to speak not only about the hunting of deer, but also the picking of fruit. Of course, Japanese nobility did not participate in such activities, but they were great admirers of nature’s beauty. Finally, the aristocracy borrowed the word 狩り and started to use 紅葉狩り to mean “red leaves viewing”, especially around Kyoto’s temples. Trees were planted specifically for this refined autumn hobby of the era’s elite.
When do I get to see these?
Typically, leaves start turning red in Hokkaido around September. From the north, the fall leaves (紅葉前線) will gradually reach the south of Japan. All the popular spots (Nikko, Oirase and Kyoto) release their forecasts. As for the best timing to see momiji, it is usually around one month after the leaves turn red in Hokkaido for the Tohoku region (around October), and early November to December in the Kyushu and Kanto regions.
What can I do in Autumn?
Autumn is considered one of the best season to travel in Japan, so most hotels and ryokans are fully booked (Pro tip: book early!). Moreover, there are plenty of autumn activities to do while you’re here: hiking, visiting Japanese hot springs (温泉), and shopping (there are a lot of autumn sales going on!).
A: Why don’t we go see the autumn leaves this weekend ?
B: Okay. Where will we go?
A: I have heard that Mount Takao is a nice place…
B: Yeah. Let’s go there!
Psst… Did you know that there is even a holiday dedicated to the Momiji Season known as the Autumnal Equinox Day? How cool is that!
Want to find out more about Coto Japanese Academy? Try taking a look at the various Japanese Language Courses we offer!
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