10/09/2020

Autumn in Japan: Famous Festivals and Momijigari

Japan's autumn is best known for the beautiful shades of red, yellow, and orange found in the leaves. The foliage of the autumn trees, along with the comfortable weather, make it a fantastic time to enjoy the Japanese tradition of Momijigari and the various festivals that come with the season.


Table of Contents


Autumn Season in Japan

Momijigari

What could be the simplest yet most meaningful way to enjoy Japan’s autumn other than the tradition of Momijigari? The term refers to “red leaf hunting”, coined from the Heian period. Tourists are delighted finding themselves walking around under vibrant colors especially in the unexplored countryside. Imagine setting your gaze upon the warm colorful leaves, well complimented by pleasant chilly temperature, not to mention the uncompromising beauty of Japan itself. This cultural obsession, also a Buddhist philosophy, reminds us of the beauty of seasons and that things in life are only temporary.

Autumn leaves and foliage

The leaves that magically form breathtaking panorama come in great numbers and are often synonymous with the maple tree (although momiji is not limited to maple) attract the crowds. The beautiful changing autumn colors turn into red, yellow, brown, or orange as the leaves adapt to the temperature, timing for the autumn season. Another to look forward to is the brilliant yellow leaves of ginkgo. This tree can often be found around temples and parks in the city. You’ll be captivated by how awesome it appears in photos and much more before your own eyes.

Not only tree leaves but also flowers blend well in the colours of fall. Kikyo (Bellflower), Ominaeshi (Patrinia Scabiosaefolia), Fujibakama (thoroughwort), Obana (Japanese Pampas Grass), amongst others are considered the famous flowers of fall.

Finally, autumnal grasses complete the fall vibe. It covers wide mountain plains and slopes with a delicate play of yellow to red tones.

Perfect time to visit

Fall enters as early as mid September in Japan. But you might want to wait for October and November as these are considered the best viewing months where the leaves’ colors and crisp are seen in full swing. The temperature in September is still warm and will gradually decrease in the weeks after, making the perfect autumn weather. The foliage season starts from the north and follows through the middle and southern regions. For instance, regions of Kanto and Kansai (Tokyo and Osaka regions) experience fall in mid October and November while Kyushu region, the southernmost part, experiences it late November. Nonetheless, they are all beautiful and it gives us ample choices when and where to spend our autumn in Japan.

Famous Autumn Festivals

Japanese people know how to throw entertaining events well. Their festivals, for instance, are year-round. And you’ll get to see some of the most unique and undeniably fun festivals during autumn.

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri

Originally started as a form of ritual to wish for “a bountiful harvest”, Danjiri Matsuri is passionately enjoyed in Japan. Although celebrated in all regions, the Kishiwada Osaka enactment stays the most remarkable. Intricately carved wooden floats designed in the image of temples and shrines are flaunted on the streets. More than just the display of aesthetics, the crowd is engrossed as participants compete in the race of pulling the floats. With the huge crowd it creates, streets are filled with mouth-watering grilled squid, takoyaki and okonomiyaki, turning it into a wild and delicious food expo.

Nagasaki Kunchi Festival

Most prominent for its kaleidoscopic celebration of food and cultural dances, this 400-year old tradition is highly-anticipated annually. Get ready for the town’s delicacies and performances in the parade of Dutch ships. This festival also exhibits the famous Jaodori or dragon dance, a symbol of Chinese influence, showing the city’s international history. Locals gather to witness group performances of the four districts of Nagasaki in four main venues (Suwa Shrine, Yasaka Shrine, Otabisho and Chuo-Park). 

Autumn Grand Festival

Have you ever wanted to see samurai in real life? If you have, you’re lucky you can witness not just one but up to 1000 samurai. That’s what Autumn Grand Festival, also called “Shuki Taisai”, presents. It brings parade viewers back all the way to the 17th century where the funeral procession of Ieyasu Tokogawa took place in Toshogu Shrine. It commences on the 16th, a day before the actual festival (October 17th), where you can take a peek of their horseback archery which gives off strong Japanese noble vibes.

Sawara Grand Festival

Included as one of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Sawara Grand Festival will surely make it to your list of “must-see”.  It is named as one of the top three most celebrated events in the Kanto region as attendees watch the 14 giant elaborately-designed floats in awe.  It has evolved in the last 300 years, nonetheless remaining historically symbolic. Seen on these floats are wood engravings and high-rise figurines all made and carefully assembled by the residents themselves. 

Things to note

Recommended Autumn Wear           

Since fall is in the middle of summer and winter, you may experience unforeseen change in temperatures. During September, wearing casual thin layers is fine for warm afternoons. But don’t forget to bring cardigans and long-sleeves for mornings and evenings that tend to be a little chilly. For the ladies, you can wear t-shirts, comfortable tops, dresses and skirts with your sneakers or flats. For men, you can wear short-sleeve shirts, thin pants or shorts paired with your sneakers too. September is also a month of typhoons so keep with you an umbrella just in case. 

For October, you might opt for longer sleeves and pants for both men and women as drops in temperature soon start.  Sweaters and jackets are now preferable to wear for cold mornings and evenings. November and December are months for adding layers on your clothing. It’s time for coats, thick sweaters and jackets, knitted shirts, jeans, boots, hats and gloves. Make sure to bundle up well while making your fashionable outfits on point, as they always are in Japan. Also make sure to check the weather by location, as the temperature will vary across the country.

Best places to sightsee in autumn

Kyoto

Kyoto is home to many historical sites and the vast landscapes of russet leaves make it picture-perfect. It offers you the amazing sight of Enrian Temple which is said to have the reddest color of leaves during fall and the Kiyomizudera Temple which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Other temples to see are Shoren-in, Kodai-ji and Chion-in temples in Southern Higashiyama that are illuminated at night. Just be prepared for the crowds as autumn in Kyoto is peak season not just for tourists internationally but domestically as well.   

Tokyo

Despite its busy streets, Tokyo’s gardens and parks are unbeatable. Enjoy walks or read a book at Yoyogi Park or simply be mesmerized by the picturesque Rikugien Garden. Make sure to strike a pose while strolling along Icho Namiki Avenue, a street notable for the lined-up giant ginkgo trees. Go around in the spacious Imperial Palace East Garden, or ride a boat, visit the zoo and watch weekend performances at Inokashira Park. With all of these and much more, it’s just impossible for anyone to skip seeing Tokyo especially in the time of fall.

Hokkaido

For nature lovers, Hokkaido would never disappoint. As the place to first welcome fall, it grants you fascinating sceneries of mountains, freshwater lakes and forestry. Mt. Asahi is a top recommendation where hike trails and ropeways are available to reach the spectacular view at the summit. You might also want to check the town of Jozankei. Unwind and soul-search in its attractive valleys, bridges and rivers. Lastly, prepare yourself to see a real life work of art in the famous Shirogane Blue Pond in Biei, Hokkaido. Its sky-colored water, fresh air and dazzling trees are a sight to behold.

Moon Viewing

Japan’s autumn activities are wild and vibrant to the brim. But if you’re the type of person who takes delight in simplicity, why not just appreciate the moon together with friends and family? During autumn, groups look for spots where the moon is widely seen and decorate the area with pampas grass. Rice dumplings and other food that have symbolic meaning or relation to the moon and harvest are then shared. This tradition is better known as “Tsukimi” or “Otsukimi”, literally meaning “moon viewing”.

Summary

Japan’s autumn is just as lovable as its other seasons. There is beauty in every corner, a wide array of activities to engage in and rich culture to observe. The country continues to evolve, but preserves well their roots through traditional festivities that are highlighted during this season. Without a doubt, Japan’s autumn is nothing short of amazing. 

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