Autumn is (秋) aki in Japanese and takes place in the months of September, October and November. The temperature is moderate and the weather is considered the most pleasant and enjoyable at this time. It is an explosion of vibrant colors as the leaves turn into orange, yellow and red. Being a popular tourist destination to visit during this period, don’t let the crowds stop you from visiting during this wonderful season.
Here are 10 reasons why you should visit Japan at this time of the year:
To take part in Momijigari
Momijigari (often shortened to Momiji) where Momiji translates to “red leaves” while gari translates to “hunting”, this activity is known as “red leaves hunting”.
Why is this activity important? This tradition actually stems from back in the Heian period where to the Buddists, it was spiritual and symbolic to remind us that life is ephemeral. Momijigari also played a role in 8th century Manyoshu poetry and in the novel “The tale of Genji ”.
Therefore, Momijigari involves a stroll, biking, picnics, camping trips or even rowing on a beautiful lake to look at the fall foliage, as it holds a special place in the hearts of the Japanese. One of the most famous spots is Arashiyama, Kyoto. And guess what? If you are feeling adventurous for a nighttime stroll, get mesmerized under trees of illuminated Momiji!
Similar to Hanami in Spring, people tune in to the news on when is the best time to go see Momiji, as it differs across the country. Enjoy what is seen in the moment, before it goes, let’s go enjoy Momiji! (yay!)
To eat Momiji treats
Since you are now familiar with Momiji (just like myself…lol), it is vital to note that the Maple leaves are those that turn into the vibrant Autumn colours in which people go to see. It symbolizes the fall season and similar to Sakura Cherry Blossoms, it is incorporated in fall foods.
So the leaves are incorporated into this Manju? No, not entirely. In fact, they are based on the shape instead, for example, Momiji Manju filled with over 30 filling options are shaped like the Maple leaf. Nama Momiji, unique to the Hiroshima Prefecture, are Maple leaf shaped cakes filled with anko.
However, if you happen to be in Osaka, Momiji Tempura is sold, with real life Maple leaves fried in Tempura batter for you to enjoy! (let’s go eat some leaves!)
To eat classic Autumn delicacies
In Japan, the people look to appreciate each season especially when it comes to seasonal produce. If you are strolling the streets on a crisp Autumn evening, it is quite common to see vendors selling roasted Satsumaimo (sweet potatoes) or a bag of roasted Kuri (chestnuts). Not only will it warm you up, but these are seasonal treats you can only get around this time of the year.
Find other delicious fruits such as Ichikiku (figs), Nashi (Japanese/Asian pears) or enjoy some Kabocha in a soup (Japanese pumpkin). A hot item on this list that you must try once is Matsutake (pine mushrooms); a highly-prized delicacy of the Autumn season with a distinct spicy aroma. It can be greatly enjoyed in Chawanmushi; a savory egg custard dish with matsutake mushrooms!
Participate in the Otsukimi festival
Celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Lunar calendar is the Mid-Autumn festival;, or as it’s called in Japan, Otsukimi (お月見), which also means “moon-viewing festival”.
The tradition of this festival dates back to the Chinese Tang dynasty as it later made its way into Japanese culture, as the people used to observe the Autumn moon and recite poetry while dancing to music. These activities are not so common to this day anymore, but people still gather together to give thanks for the Autumn harvest; the rice fields are ready for cultivating during this season.
Pampas grass decorations are placed which represent the rice harvest, but also traditional foods are offered such as taro, chestnuts and pumpkins. When families gather for this event, a common practice of eating Tsukimi dango is observed, which are round, white rice dumplings that represent the moon. Eating this on the night of the Autumn moon is said to bring you good health and happiness in the coming year.
If you notice a lot of rabbit shaped items as this festival approaches, it is actually associated with an old Japanese folktale, and if you look really closely, you can see a rabbit pounding mochi on the moon. I for one have yet to find the rabbit as I try really hard each year, but maybe you will see it!
Hike Mount Takao like one of the Locals
Located in Metropolitan Tokyo, with about an hour’s train ride from Shinjuku, you can visit one of the closest, recreational hiking sites in Tokyo. With over 2.6 million annual visitors, it boosts with the Autumn colours as the temperature cools down, making it ideal for hiking its various trails. However, if you’re not into walking much, there is also the cable car or ropeway for your use.
Despite the level of hiking difficulty, there are many sights along the way for you to enjoy. Stop by at the monkey park or quietly step into the temple grounds, but don’t forget to gaze at the Tokyo views on your way. If you get hungry along your trip, grab a snack at the middle or at the summit.
When you get to the summit, it is highly rewarding. The views are breathtaking, but also if you happen to go on a clear day and look out to Shizuoka prefecture, you may just catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji!
To see the Kochia shrubs
Finding flower parks in Japan is not uncommon, but instead, these are popular tourist destinations for those who especially love to relish in nature. Hence, when the weather gets cooler, you will find hillsides painted in fiery red as the Kochia shrubs.
To find this beauty, take a trip outside the Metropolitan Tokyo area and head towards the Ibaraki prefecture to a city known as Hitachinaka. Standing atop a hillside and bordering the Pacific Ocean is Hitachi Seaside park. Boosting in floral elegance, you will discover large fields of well-kept flowers throughout the year.
Immerse yourself in the red vibrant Kochia shrubs this Autumn while you catch a glimpse of the Pacific ocean, hearing the roaring waves in the distance. As the wind blows onto your cheeks, enjoy a lovely stroll here with family/friends, rent a bike and go cycling or head to the nearby amusement park with a 100m tall Ferris wheel.
Experience nature at Iwayado park
In keeping with nature, let’s take a trip down to Aichi prefecture and visit the beautiful Iwayado park. A common sentence used to describe this area is “a natural park filled with unusually shaped rocks and waterfalls”.
When you go during the Autumn, it gets absolutely stunning as you unearth the beauty of the nature surrounding you, but also listen to the sounds of the waterfalls rushing nearby.
Here you can also find the much-sought after Tokai nature trail which covers 11 prefectures from Tokyo to Osaka. Its well loved by many hikers and trekkers who enjoy the sightseeing sceneries along the way. If you travel about 40 minutes on foot from Iwayado, you will reach Mt. Iwasu’s observation deck which offers some breathtaking views.
To learn more of the arts and culture
Deeply interested in the culture of the Japanese? Then join in on the Bunka no hi festivities; also known as Culture Day. This is a national holiday held annually on November 3rd with events such as parades, art exhibitions and award ceremonies which promotes and acknowledges the arts and notable figures in society.
Enjoy both the fresh air and the atmosphere of the street parades as you can witness traditional style dances and comedic theatre style acts. But the highlight of this day is the ‘Order of Culture Award Ceremony’. Invited are professionals, scholars and others in academia in which awards are given to notable figures making contributions to Japan’s advancement through culture, arts, science and technology.
To see more of the arts and culture, take advantage of this day as most museums open their doors to the public for free, so you can join in and also learn more behind the “land of the rising sun”.
Experience Halloween in Japan
If you didn’t know (so did I), Halloween is actually a largely celebrated event in Japan, but this isn’t your usual “trick or treating” event. Instead it is highly anticipated for cosplaying in which they hit the streets to join in costume parades.
You can also find other events such as street parties, flash mobs or even a zombie run to scare your night away! And if you’re hungry, the treats get even spookier. You can find many cafes, or even hotels with a creepy menu up their sleeves for you to enjoy. Which monstrous treat will you pick?
Halloween in Japan does not only take place on October 31st, but in fact the celebrations begin as early as the beginning of the month. You will see lots of decor strung up within stores and lots of Halloween themed goodies and snacks being sold ahead of time.
Catch the open air at outdoor sporting and recreational events.
Are you a Sports enthusiast? Then the cool weather and low chances of rain makes this season the best time to catch these events.
Head to the Suzuka Circuit in Mie prefecture, where the most thrilling racing event known as the ‘Japanese Grand Prix’ is held. It is a notable Formula1 race where cars battle the most difficult curves, all vying for the champion title. Loads of fans and energized sports goers flock into the stadium with a chance to learn from the professionals themselves.
If you are the Athletic type who would like to get your blood pumping and energized, then join in on the Kobe Marathon in mid- November. Beginning at City hall, the route stretches all the way to Kobe Harbour as it offers stunning views of the streets and the bay along the way.
Now the finale appears in a few months as we will approach the most frigid season of all, AKA, Winter! While I hope you enjoyed learning of the crimson painted season, please look forward to the winter wonderland finale next!
Featured photo by ItaliansinJapan on Instagram
Planning a trip to Japan in Autumn? Make sure to book a local guide to have the best culinary experience of your stay!
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