A trip outdoors, whether for a day hike or to a local park, is a great way to start discovering the natural world. A perfect time to do so is autumn, with its cooler temperatures and the bright flares as foliage changes colour.
The sakura leaves, which replace those beloved pink blossoms of spring, are the first to fade and fall. Soon to follow suit is the verdure of other deciduous trees, including maples.
The momiji (Japanese maple) trees, with their five- or seven-pointed leaves, at first are a brilliant green that dims to yellow over time. But the star of autumn’s show is the red maple—irohakaede, also known as irohamomiji or Acer palmatum. Unlike its cousins, the red maple boasts varying shades of flaming red.
Similar to the spring tradition of welcoming the cherry blossoms, people gather on blue ground sheets under brilliantly coloured branches with friends and family for kouyou (leaf viewing).
There, in the warm glow of the trees, the changing of seasons is celebrated with some drinking and feasting before cold winds chase the revellers indoors.
Weather reports will include a map of the momijis’ red path south, the reverse of the sakura’s slow pink sweep north in spring. Early in Japanese history it was the aristocracy who first picnicked under the branches and developed more than 250 varieties of maple.
As Sumiko Enbutsu writes in A Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo, it was the eighth shogun, Yoshimune (1716–1745), who ordered momiji planted around the edges of the nation’s capital. As a result, members of the general public going about their daily routines found themselves captivated by the brilliant colours along the roads.
It was quite natural for them to find snacks and drinks, call out to friends to do the same, and then together take a moment to admire this short-lived phenomenon.
It is worth noting that Yoshimune did the same for sakura, beginning a tradition of public plantings of these seasonal favourites that continues today.
Five spots for exploring and celebrating autumn
Meiji Jingu Shrine
Built nearly 100 years ago, the shrine and its surrounding forest are full of winding paths, ponds and seasonal plants. It offers visitors an escape into nature in the heart of Tokyo.
Nearest station: Harajuku
Institute for Nature Study
A little-known site absolutely brimming with a diversity of trees, birds, flowers, and wildlife, this park is worth a visit any time of year, but especially in autumn.
Nearest station: Meguro
Kawaguchiko’s Sengen Shrine
Set in the quiet northeast corner of bustling Kawaguchiko, this venerable old shrine is home to seven giant cedars and their not-so-petite siblings, all of which humble and inspire.
Nearest station: Kawaguchiko
Ozawa Sake Brewery
Located on one bank of the Tamagawa river, the brewery’s beer garden is an ideal place to while away an afternoon, admiring the scenery and enjoying a seasonal sake. Nearby hiking trails include an easy loop to the adjacent ridge and back down to this perfect rest stop.
Nearest station: Sawai
Jindaiji Botanical Garden
Adjacent to Tokyo’s second-oldest temple and restaurants selling scrumptious soba, the botanical garden offers beautiful examples of some of Japan’s best and most favoured plants, flowers and trees. (Head to the south-east corner to find a maple grove in all its glory.)
Nearest station: Chofu
Bringing the Forest Home: Hinoki Cypress Bath Pail
Made using thinned wood from Kochi prefecture, the pail takes advantage of the cypress’ anti-bacterial qualities as well as its lovely scent for a practical accessory.
Kochi, like many other regions, is following a programme in its regional forests of thinning out trees to help maintain the integrity of its mountains and watersheds.
Craftspeople then set about finding the best uses for the wood, a newly abundant resource. The resulting economic revival has brought renewed energy and vitality to the region, and made this lovely bath pail once again a part of daily life.
For more sustainable home ideas, please email us mentioning BCCJ ACUMEN at firstname.lastname@example.org