You might’ve alredy noticed that Japan is one of my favorite countries I’ve ever visited. Exactly this time last spring I went to my first trip to Japan – and have completely fallen in love with this country. Last autumn I was lucky to return there once again – thanks to the kind invitation from the Japanese government who sponsored my trip to Tokushima.
Both trips were in many ways similar: intense in many different aspects, culturally overwhelming, exploratory, intensively gastronomical and overloaded with the appreciation of Oriental heritage and traditions. But one thing was completely different: the scenery in terms of natural landscape.
Japanese people appreciate nature a lot. For instance, when you read a traditional poesie such as haiku, you immediately notice that plants, animals, scenery and weather conditions are always visibly present in one’s perception of the world.
In addition, there are some inevitable markers that unmistakably symbolise different seasons such as for instance plum and cherry blossoms for spring and red maple and persimmon for autumn. The best illustration of how Japanese people put it I would call a seasonal food treats: think cherry blossom cookies and persimmon-shaped sweet and maple-garnished dishess, how good is that!
I chose these examples on purpose because now we’ve reached the main topic of today’s blog. Although Japan’s nature is very rich and varies a great deal (see more about different plant symbols in my previous blog about Japan), two of them are much more popular than others, up to my modest knowledge. These are: Sakura blooming season combined with hanami and Momiji season when maple leaves turn red.
Sakura and Hanami
There is no secret that sakura is a national flower of Japan. Its gorgeous flowers that bloom for a few days symbolize not only the beauty and purity, but also the strong spirit, ephemerality of life, inevitable death for everyone – for instance, it was the emblema for kamikaze during the Second World Word.
But sincerely, all I could think of when I first saw a blooming alley of sakura in Kyoto is – Oh my goodness, this can’t be real! It was much much better than I expected, and no photos and videos can share the same feeling.
You have to see it yourself – hanami, or cherry blossom and plum blossom viewing, is a must do experience in your life. Many Japanese people just make picnics with food and alcohol right under the trees, why not to join them?
Depending on the region and weather conditions, sakura blooms from late March to first half of April, and you can check how the blooming front advances on special websites. It helped us a lot to plan our trip through a dozen of Japanese cities!
Momiji and Momijigari
Momiji, or red Japanese maple leaves, is different. You also observe it in a particular season when the leaves of a very particular sharp shape – with acute lobs! – turn into rich wine red but in this case you don’t need to hurry that much. You can enjoy it for over a month: usually momiji start changing color in October, and I was blessed to witness the best of them at the beginning of December in Tokyo and Kamakura!
Besides that, for some reason it’s less popular among tourists. The obvious consequence of these facts is that you can enjoy momijis much more quietly and tranquilly. Finally, if you have sakura viewing hanami for spring, you have Momijigari for autumn which requires you to travel and ‘hunt’ for the best red foliage.
Admiration of autumn leaves is also deeply rooted in the Japanese culture: for instance it’s even mentioned in the monumental piece of Japanese literature The Tale of Genji written in 11th century (btw, the author of it is a woman as well as the author of The Pillow Book completed a century before that – which country can be equally proud to have female writers succeed so early in history?).
Interesting: You can also meet the term koyo which means the autumn foliage that changes color.
The contrast between a cherry blossom and a maple tree leave is obvious. One is round, gentle in colour and structure, easily destroyed and transient. Another is sharply shaped, rich in colour, long lasting and geometrically perfect. I sincerely loved both – but I believe that during my next trip I’d prefer to see momijis again, for some reason they agree a tiny bit more with me. And what about you?
P.S.: please enjoy a video produced by a talented Japanese team of videographers during my trip to Tokushima last December for a glimpse of momijis in motion!
I hope you enjoyed my today’s blog!