It's all about Autumn in Japan

It's all about Autumn in Japan

by .
Stripes Okinawa

Editor's note: Folks, it's time to check out the beautiful fall colors of Japan. So head to the mountains.

The Japanese have sometimes been called “90-day people” because their lives are circumscribed by the country’s four distinct seasons, each three months long. The climate changes, the landscape changes, the food eaten daily changes, and even the color and style of traditional clothing changes as the seasons give way to each other.

This is certainly true of autumn, generally running from mid-September to mid-December, when the leaves turn beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange. Stews and other hot dishes are introduced to keep you warm as the temperatures start to dip, and certain holiday events take place to mark the passage of time.

LEAVES: Where to view the hues

One of the delights of autumn in the U.S. (at least in those parts of America with the right types of trees) is seeing the leaves change colors. But unlike in the U.S., where people can witness the change in their own neighborhood (and then have to rake up the leaves in front of their house when they fall), the metamorphosis in Japan is best experienced at a famous temple, shrine, or nature spot.

The autumn foliage is called “kouyou” in Japan, which literally means “red leaves.” Below is a list of the some of the best places around your base to revel in this changing of the seasons.

Mount Hakkoda, Aomori
About an hour and half by car from Misawa Air Base, beautiful Mount Hakkoda is the most popular spot for tracking down scenic fall foliage in Aomori. There is a ropeway to get to the mountaintop from where you can see autumn’s splendor on 10-minute ride. The peak time for viewing foliage is mid to late October, however, you can often see amazing views of snow and fall foliage at the same time in early November.

Aza Kansuizawa Arakawa, Aomori-shi
Ropeway roundtrip fare: Adults, 1,850 yen ($18); Children, 870 yen

Rikugien, Tokyo
Rikugien is a garden built by a Tokugawa Shogun in 1702. Beautiful scenic spots from all over Japan are recreated here via landscaping with trees, ponds and bridges – Including a 400-maple-tree-strong forest right in the center of Tokyo. Nighttime illumination of some trees is also available from Nov. 20 to Dec. 7. There are also two garden teahouses where you can enjoy seasonal sweets and green tea for 500 yen ($5) while gazing at the pond amid beautiful autumn leaves.

6 Chome, Honkomagome, Bunkyo-ku (7-minute walk from Ko¬magome Station; JR and Tokyo Metro Namboku lines)
Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., until 9 p.m. for night viewing (Nov. 20 to Dec. 7)
Admission: Adults and junior high school students, 300 yen ($3); 65 or older, 150 yen

Hasedera Temple, Kamakura City
Only 30 miles from Tokyo, the popular Ten-en Hik¬ing Course is ideal for beautiful vistas with many colored autumn leaves, the many temples and shrines of Kamakura are also good place to ap¬preciate the autumn beauty. Hasedera Temple is especially well known for this. The garden will be lit up from Nov, 22 to Dec. 7; visitors can enjoy fantastic views of autumn leaves and old temples. As this temple is only 7-minute walk to the famous Daibutsu (Big Buddha), it is convenient for a town walk in Kamakura.

3-11-2 Hase, Kamakura City (5-minute walk from Hase Station; Enoshima Dentetsu line)
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. for night viewing (Nov. 22 to Dec. 7) weekdays open Saturday, Sunday open until 7 p.m.
Admission: Adults, 300 yen; elementary school students 100 yen

Hakone Museum of Art, Hakone-cho
Autumn colors can be seen across the Hakone re¬gion from early November to early December, depending on the elevation. Less than 60 miles from Tokyo – and home to many hot spring resorts – this is one of the most popular holiday des¬tinations on the Kanto Plain. Lake Ashinoko, Horai-en Garden and Ha¬kone Museum of Art are some of the best places to view autumn leaves in Hakone. Hakone Museum also displays mainly Japanese ceramics from prehistoric times through the Edo Period (1602-1867) as well as a pretty moss garden with stone paths that’s ideal for communing with autumn in November. There is also a teahouse and Sekirakuen Japanese.

1300 Gora, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun (5 minute walk from Koen-Ue Station; Hakone Tozan Tetsudo Cable Car)
Open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Admission: Adults, 900 yen ($9); 65 or older, 800 yen; high school and col¬lege students, 400

Just 5 minutes walk from Iwakuni’s famous Kintai Bridge, the park includes beautiful gardens and a temple. The best time to view and capture autumn colors is about mid-November. Don’t forget to take fall snapshots of picturesque Rokkakutei, a very exotic Japanese building on site. You can also take a walk along the Kintai Bridge, which is about 4.5 miles away from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

1 Yokoyama, Iwakuni-shi, Yamaguchi
Open: 24 hours, Admission: Free

Ohashi Kannon, Sasebo
About 30 minutes by car from Sasebo Naval Base, Ohashi Kannon or Ohashi Kannon Temple is located in a beautiful forest. It is a famous spot for cherry blossom during the spring as well as its change of foliage colors during autumn. The peak time for its autumn vistas is from mid to late November.
Yoshiichonaoya Sasebo-shi, Nagasaki
Open: 24 hours, Admission: Free

FOOD: Seasonal treats a la Japan

Autumn is known as the “season of healthy appetites” in Japan. It is the time of the harvest, and many ingredients are in season.

Satsuma-imo, or sweet potatoes, make their appearance in autumn. Similar to yams, the outside skin is purplish in color and the inside is more yellow than orange.

Used in tempura or candied as a dessert, they are often eaten steamed, boiled or baked.

They can be purchased from the store or the yaki-imo (baked sweet potato) man, who drives his truck around residential neighborhoods while making his presence known through a taped salespitch he broadcasts that can be heard several streets away.

Kuri, or chestnuts, can be roasted, peeled and eaten as is for a snack or dessert. They can also be boiled or cooked in rice to make kuri gohan (rice with chestnuts), a popular autumn dish.

Sanma, literally “Autumn sword fish,” and which is known in the U.S. as Pacific saury or mackerel pike, can be found in abundance off the coast of Japan in autumn. Grilled sanma is lightly seasoned with a pinch of salt and then served in the skin with soy sauce and grated daikon radish on the side.

Matsutake mushroom, known for its unique aroma, is often eaten in a dish called dobin mushi, which consists of a clear dashi broth, egetables, small shrimp, and other additions. Dobin mushi is traditionally prepared in a teapot, with the broth poured out into a small dish and the rest eaten from the pot with chopsticks.

Ginnan, or ginkgo nuts, are often eaten as an appetizer and accompaniment to beer or Japanese sake. They are also found in chawanmushi, or egg custard, a popular side dish to the main course of an autumn or winter meal.

Kaki, or persimmon, has a brown-orange color that symbolizes autumn. The somewhat hard peeled fruit is eaten as a snack or after-meal dessert.

Rice, Japan’s staple food, also has a seasonal component, because it is autumn when the first of the rice crop is harvested.

Called “new rice,” it is softer, whiter and shinier than rice harvested more than a year earlier.

The autumn influence is not restricted to food. Brewers, like Sapporo, introduce special versions of their beers, giving them names like “Colors of Japan” or “Good Fortune of Autumn.”

With all that abundance, it is understandable why autumn is called “the season to eat.”


“Bunka no Hi,” or Culture Day, is a national holiday celebrated on Nov. 3 to promote culture and the arts and academic excellence. It was first held in 1948 to commemorate the announcement of the postwar Japanese constitution two years earlier.

Activities such as art exhibitions and parades are held throughout the country. One such notable event is the Hakone Daimyo Gyoretsu, or Feudal Lord’s Parade, which takes place in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture. People dress as samurai and aristocrats in a display of clothing from the Edo period (1603-1868) of Japan. Other activities may include kimono wearing, Japanese tea ceremony and martial arts demonstrations, and “yabusame,” or horseback archery, such as at Meiji Jingu Shrine in Harajuku, Tokyo.

On this day, distinguished scholars and artists are presented with awards by the emperor for their contributions to the Japanese culture.

“Shichi-Go-San,” or 7-5-3, is held annually on Nov. 15 as a traditional rite of passage for three- and seven-year-old girls and three- and five-year-old boys. It is not a national holiday, and if it falls on a weekday, it is usually celebrated on the nearest weekend.

Traditionally, children could start to grow out their hair at age three. And among the samurai classes, boys could wear the traditional “hakama” clothing you see in period dramas for the first time at the age of five, and girls could wear obi sashes with their kimonos at age seven.

Around Nov. 15, you can see many children wearing traditional hakama and kimono walking with proud parents to Shinto shrines and photography studios, whose windows are full of sample pictures of children in bright costumes.

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