Autumn in Japan

Celebrating the Beauty of Nature

There is an autumnal counterpart to the Japanese celebration of hanami. It is called kouyou. Translated literally, it means “red/yellow leaves” or “autumn leaves.” The term is used to describe the changing color of the leaves during this season.

Spreading in the opposite direction of cherry blossoms in the spring, the first leaves begin to turn in mid to late September at the tip of Hokkaido, moving South into Tohoku in mid-October then to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Kyushu by mid-October to late-November.

Autumn Leaves in Tokyo Japan
The season is exemplified by a myriad of yellow, orange, red, and purple leaves suddenly overtaking what used to be a plain green horizon.

To celebrate the coming of autumn, people frequently stroll in gardens and parks to experience the beauty of the leaves in the midst of changing colors.

The seasons have philosophically been linked with the passing of time as well as the ebb and flow of life. If spring symbolizes life and revitalization after winter, then what is autumn if not death and decadence.

Momiji Kouyou Japan
The Japanese Maple is so iconic during this season that the letters for kouyou (紅葉) can also be read as momiji, referring to this leaf.

Though in practice more low-key than its spring counterpart, kouyou can be just as beautiful. In fact, after experiencing this season in Japan I came upon a new appreciation for the simple act of leaves turning color. When looking at leaves I suddenly perceived an increased diversity of hues and patterns, often even on the same tree.

Did you ever notice that the edges of leaves and the tops of trees change color first? Among other reasons, this is because once the tree starts shutting down due to the colder weather, those places are the first to have their nutrients cut off, leading to the change in color.

With this in mind, it is possible to view these colorful leaves not just as a result of the season, but also as a process leading toward winter.

Click on a picture to view a large version.

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