The Japanese are proud of the four distinct seasons Japan offers and very conscience of the changing of the seasons around them. They often celebrate little, or not so little, milestones between each to mark the occasion. Long sleeve, or short sleeve shirts for example are there one day, but gone the next as the season officially ends for them. Similarly, spring and fall enjoy their own milestones, “hanami” and “koyo,” and taking a moment to enjoy “the moment” of each is a national obsession.
Viewing the changing colors of fall leaves, which is called either koyo or momoji in Japanese depending on the type of tree viewed, is autumn in Japan’s answer to the more famous cherry blossom viewing of spring; a tradition chance to get outdoors to live in the moment of the season, and to reflect on the impermanence of it all. Since ancient times in Japan this urge to experience the beauty of the changing seasons has been custom; you can find it referenced in the classical Heian Period (794 to 1185) novel “The Tale of the Genji;” one of the world’s first novels.
In modern times the passing of summer into fall comes with a great sense of relief and a greater sense of physical comfort with the easing of the summer’s oppressive heat and humidity. For the first time in months, the idea of being outside for a picnic or short walk in the park does not sound like an ordeal to be overcome.
Starting in mid September the “koyo front” slowly moves its bands of color south from Hokkaido to central and southern Japan and the end of November where it turns to winter, and many families will head to local parks, or to the mountains and countryside to enjoy the cooling temperatures and spectacular views of changing leaves. While some people celebrate the leaves much like they do the flower petals of spring, by spreading out a blanket beneath them for feasting and much drinking, it is more common for koyo to be celebrated by taking a short hike or walk through the mountains, or often in certain areas of the city, where the trees can be found.
Hiroshima usually enjoys its turn in mid November. If you are looking for an excuse to go play outside this a a good one. Why not try one of these spots in the Hiroshima area?
Miyajima Island, just outside of Hiroshima, is famed for the ‘floating’ shrine of Itsukushima, but it is also known for being the best spot in the Hiroshima area at which to see the changing colors of autumn. Having once been part of what was called ‘Aki’ (autumn) Province, this is perhaps no surprise.
The highest concentration of colorful trees is found in the Momijidani (Maple Valley) behind the town, for which the famous Momiji Manju (steamed maple leaf buns) were made.
Running 12km (miles) from the entrance of Hiriji lake, Sandankyo Gorge is a dramatic place at which to witness the autumn foliage. With steep rocky cliffs, powerful waterfalls and clear, mirrored pools, this gorge in the northern part of Hiroshima prefecture comes alive with bursts of color as the leaves reflect in the corsucating waters.
A 70 minute bus ride from Hiroshima station, it is best experienced as a day trip, but travelers will be rewarded by the best of only five of Japan’s ravines to be designated as a National Scenic Beauty.
A Buddhist temple with expansive grounds surrounded by a prefectural park, Buttsuji temple in Mihara City luxuriates amongst thousands of trees, all changing their autumn shades. Unlike the dramatics of Sandankyo Gorge, the 80 year-old Buttsuji Temple is a calm, quiet spot of zen tranquility in which you can peacefully enjoy the combination of Japanese nature and tradition together as one.
If you don’t want to leave the Hiroshima city limits, Mitaki-dera Temple is probably the best place to see the fall colors. With the golden leaves littering paths and the many Buddhist images and jizo statues that adorn the temple’s gardens, it is a spot of beauty perhaps unrivalled in Hiroshima-shi.
For the best views, it is advisable to head up the mountain trail from the top of which you can see the blazing reds in all their glory. A word of warning, thanks to its renowned beauty and ease of access, Mitaki-dera is not somewhere at which you can enjoy the colors alone. Be prepred for crowds.
For those requiring even easier access, Shukkei-en Garden, at just 15 minutes walk from Hiroshima Station, cannot really be beaten. Its name, which can be translated as ‘shrunken scenery garden’ is particularly apt as through careful cultivation the garden imitates mountains, forests and valleys and other natural scenic phenomena.
While the autumn leaves are not quite comparable to to the impressive Mitaki-dera Temple, this garden with its winding paths and delicate environs created for the the enjoyment of the tea ceremony nearly 400 years ago are still a lovely place to see the colours without venturing too far.
Main photo: flickr.com “Autumn colors” by peacefulscenery (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
Photo: flickr.com “Lonely Autumn Walk” by Mark Ng (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
Photo: flickr.com “三段峡 三段滝” by kagawa_ymg (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
Photo: www.visithiroshima.net -Modified
Photo: flickr.com “三瀧寺” by kagawa_ymg (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
Photo: www.gethiroshima.com -Modified