Momiji-gari: Chasing the Red Leaf
Much like the cherry blossoms in the spring, the turning color of fall leaves has a special place in Japanese culture. For hundreds of years the changing leaf colors have been a source of inspiration for Japanese creatives, with a great many classical pieces of art and poetry dedicated to showcasing their beauty. Red Japanese maple leaves are even deep-fried and eaten as tempura for an autumn treat. The ubiquity of Japanese maples means that Japan ushers in its autumn season with a brilliant flash of red. So much so that the tradition of viewing fall leaves is called “momiji-gari” or “maple/red leaf hunting”.
As with most seasonal events in Japan, the changing of leaves is not without a national “leaf forecast” which uses climate data to predict the best viewing times for fall leaves based on region. In northern Hokkaido, leaf changing is relatively early and reaches its peak around the end of October. However, further south, around the latitude of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, leaves turn much later, with their peak colors being in the beginning of December.
Of all the places in Japan where changing fall leaves can be seen, the most famous places with the most well-regarded viewing spots are in and around the city of Kyoto. The abundance of temples, shrines and gardens makes for many natural spaces in Kyoto-- basically all of which harbor at least a few trees. The larger temples, however, make for some of the best leaf viewing spots, with eye-scorchingly bright foliage and striking natural landscaping. Tofuku-ji Temple, Takao Village in the mountains, and Okochi Sanso Villa in Kyoto proper are all excellent locations to view leaves in autumn and attract many visitors during the season.