Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Autumn in Japan

After the hot and humid summer months from June to August, everyone in Japan looks forward to Autumn. Come September and the signs of autumn are evident everywhere.  The weather is pleasant, the days are bright and nights are longer. The most visible sign however is the change in the trees, plants and grass.

 The leaves change colour from green to various hues of yellow, orange, red and brown before they fall off leaving the trees and plants barren till spring arrives. The most colourful of all the trees are maple and gingko. The deep red colour of the maple leaves and the bright yellow gingko leaves are a treat to the eyes. The Japanese word for maple and autumn season both is “Momiji”. 

 The beauty of autumn is a sight to be seen and experienced. The panorama of colours is truly one of the most beautiful creations of nature.

 The golden and crimson hues of the leaves are well complemented by the fruit laden trees. Mandarin oranges known as “Mikan” in Japanese and Persimmon known as “Kaki” in Japanese can be seen hanging from trees everywhere. 

Autumn viewing is a popular activity in Japan and in Japanese it is called “Momijigari”. On weekends families and groups of friends get together and go out to autumn viewing spots. There are popular autumn viewing spots in almost all of Japan. The locals know the exact timing to visit these spots. There are various websites in Japanese which predict the best time to visit these spots and the locals track these sites regularly to know the best time to visit these spots. Autumn viewing season begins usually around early October and ends during Mid November. Autumn colours have a pattern here . The colours first begin to change in the north and eastern part of Japan moving southwards and towards the west. Autumn arrives earlier in Hokkaido than in Kyushu and Okinawa and ends there earlier too. At many places the local shrine or the local authorities organize an autumn festival called as “Momiji Matsuri”. This is held usually at the peak of autumn in that area. In most of the tourist destinations and shrines there is special illumination at night during the autumn colours. Kyoto’s Kiyomizudera and Mt Tsukuba in Ibaraki prefecture are two of the most popular places for the night illumination during Autumn.

 It is said that the autumn is especially spectacular in the Tohoku region which comprises the prefectures of Aomori, Akita, Miyagi, Yamagata, Iwate and Fukushima. Autumn arrives in early October and lasts for over a month till the leaves begin to fall off in mid to late November. As such autumn in Tohoku is longest compared to other parts of Japan. This year was our first autumn in Japan. Based in Iwaki, it was easier for us to cover a lot of places in Tohoku region, Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures during the weekends.

Our first trip was to the Bandai region in mid October. I had posted pictures of this trip in an earlier post. Our next autumn viewing trip was to the Hananoki Valley in Ibaraki prefecture.

The Shiomitaki bridge is a popular spot. This is a suspension bridge with colourful trees on both sides and a small waterfall beneath.

 A small trail along streams and small waterfalls leads to the bridge.

 This spot is crowded during autumn and finding parking is a bit difficult.
The website link for tourist information (in Japanese) is

Our next trip was to Mt Tsukuba in Ibaraki prefecture.

The Tsukubasan shrine is located at the base of the mountain. Maple trees and other trees around the shrine make it a colourful place.

A 9 minute cable car ride takes visitors uphill to the observation point. This observation point is located between two mountains, Mt Nantaisan and Mt Nyotaisan. The cable car ride offers good views of the autumn colours.

The cable car fare for adults is 570 Yen (oneway) and 1020 yen (roundtrip). For enthusiastic hikers, there is a steep hiking trail which takes you to the top of the mountain and it takes about 2.5 hours to reach the top. There is a ropeway from Mt Nyotaisan to Tsusujigaoka. The ropeway fare for adults is 600 Yen (oneway) and 1070 yen (roundtrip).

When we visited Mt Tsukuba on 20th November it was almost the end of autumn in that region and we couldn’t see the full bloom. The Momiji Matsuri had taken place a week earlier. The phone number of the tourist information center is 029-866-0502 and 029-866-0611.

Iwaki has its own share of autumn beauty. Maple and gingko trees along roads make driving around the city a pleasant experience.

Iwaki park and other gardens in the city offer good autumn views. The best however is the sight of the garden at Shiramizu Amidado temple.

 We had first visited this temple during summer. However the sight of the temple and the garden had transformed completely during our visit the last weekend.

The temple is a national treasure. The hall houses 5 statues of Buddha. However the garden of the temple is the main attraction.

A walking path takes visitors around the temple through trees and around a pond.

The beauty of the garden is exceptional in autumn. Entrance : 350 yen. Open : 8.30 am to 4.00 pm . Phone : 0246-26-7008

In Japan every season has its own speciality and the cuisine too changes with the season. Autumn is the season for “Oden” It is a stew consisting of a mix of eggs, radish, fish cakes, and konyaku (devil’s tongue) boiled in a broth of soy flavoured broth called Dashi. It is also popular during winter and is available at convenience stores, roadside joints and department stores too. The ingredients change from place to place. We had first tasted Oden in South Korea last year. In South Korea it is called “Odaeng” and is a popular dish in the cold seasons. The other autumn delicacies in Japan are Mushrooms, Pine Nuts, Gingko nuts and Chestnuts.

Children enjoy collecting Acorn, Chestnuts and Pinecones which are known as “Donguri”, “Kuri” and “Matsubakuri” in Japanese. Infact kindergartens and elementary schools organize nut collection outings in autumn.

To sum it up, Autumn is an enjoyable season in Japan especially for travellers and nature lovers.

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