I'm Just Going to Leaf This Here

 --Susan, every other Sunday

Japan is a seasonal country--which isn't precisely the same thing as saying "Japan has seasons" although that's also true. For centuries, Japanese people have celebrated the seasons, and their natural expressions, through culture, food, activities, and other experiences--traditions that continue to this day.

Each spring, Japan goes cherry blossom crazy, and a similar phenomenon occurs each autumn, when trees across the country put on spectacular, colorful shows.

Autumn leaves on Kōyasan, Wakayama Prefecture, October 2020

Kōyō (紅葉), the Japanese term for colorful autumn leaves, are taken so seriously in Japan that there's even an official government forecast to help people know where and when the colors are at their best.

When the tree upstages the World Heritage Site.

Japan is a mountainous country, which definitely helps where colorful foliage is concerned. Cold mountain nights help the trees produce a wide variety of striking hues.

The torii gates at Shintō shrines seem made for autumn photos.

Japan's autumn leaf season lasts well over a month. Peak foliage begins high in the mountains of Hokkaido's Daisetsuzan National Park (usually around the end of September or early October) and slowly works its way south across the rest of Japan's major islands. Tokyo generally sees peak leaves in November (they peaked last week in the mountains surrounding the capital, and are turning nicely here in the Kantō plain this week) and Kyoto's foliage season often lasts into December.

The mountain trees start peaking across Japan in October and November 

Changing leaves are not only a visible sign of autumn, but a reminder of the brevity and fragility of life. The leaves turn color, die, and fall, and human lives are brief but beautiful as well. 

My personal favorite: a tree captured in a rainbow of change

Everyone in Japan has a favorite type of autumn leaves. The vibrant reds of the maples, the golden ginkgo, or--my personal favorite--the maples caught in the all-too-brief but spectacular period when they display a rainbow of colors simultaneously.

Which ones are your favorites? (There's no wrong answer.)

Autumn leaf viewing has been somewhat subdued for the humans this year, but the trees are putting on amazing show, as usual.  

Golden ginkgo peeking through the maples.

All too soon, these vibrant colors will fade to brown, and the leaves will fall. Soon after, snow will fall on many parts of Japan, ushering in yet another season to enjoy.

They seem to be competing with the bridge.

But for the moment, the maples blaze, the air snaps with an energizing morning chill, and kōyō season has arrived in earnest in Japan. With everything going on in the world, I'm especially glad to see the leaves transform this year--and not even primarily because it means that 2020 is almost over.

Why turn all your leaves one color, when you can turn every leaf a different color?

The arrival of autumn leaves reminds me, daily, that there is striking, breathtaking, spectacular beauty in the world--beauty that bursts into life, fades away, and returns again and again with each passing year.

More leaf!

And I think that bears remembering. So, while I could say plenty more about kōyō's influence on Japanese art, poetry, culture, and food, I think, instead, I'm just going to leaf it here.

I'm Just Going to Leaf This Here