Seasonal Maple Hunters

Do you know the phrase “maple hunting”?

It is the seasonal tradition of people going to see maple trees which turn red in fall. It became popular among aristocrats more than 1000 years ago. At that time, people had to go to a mountain or a canyon to see the changing colors of maple trees because there was no custom of planting maple trees in their gardens.

The phrase momiji-gari or maple hunting originated from people visiting a mountain to enjoy autumn foliage, instead of hunting animals. Japan has four distinct seasons and people also enjoy seeing hanami or cherry blossom viewings in spring. But hanami is not called “sakura hunting” since there has been no need to go to a mountain to view sakura or cherry blossoms.

The best season for viewing autumn leaves depends on the region in Japan. In Hokkaido, the northernmost island, autumn leaves turn red or yellow from mid-September to October; whereas in Kyushu, southwest of Japan, you can see the changing colors from November to early December.

Not only Japanese but also many visitors from foreign countries enjoyed maple hunting until quite recently. The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. Maple hunting is no exception. Significantly fewer people, including international visitors to Japan, will go to famous spots for autumn leaves.

But I have a plan to visit Kyoto in mid-November to enjoy seeing autumn leaves. I bought a new mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, so I’m going to post some beautiful pictures on Instagram which will be taken in Kyoto at the height of the season for autumn foliage.

I live in Saitama, next to Tokyo, and here, let me introduce some famous spots for autumn leaves in eastern and central Japan where I took pictures.

  1. Kamakura City, Kanagawa
    Kamakura was the seat of the first samurai-dominated administration from 1185 to 1333. There are so many temples and shrines, but in particular, Engaku-ji and Meigetsu-in Temples are my recommendation.
  2. Chichibu City, Saitama
    Mitsumine Shrine, located in Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, is the most popular “power spot”, a Japanglish phrase which means a place where you can feel spiritual energy, in eastern Japan.
  3. Nagano City, Nagano
    Togakushi Shrine, located in Myoko-Togakushi-Renzan National Park, is one of the most famous power spots in central Japan.
  4. Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo
    The contstruction of Rikugien, which is currently a Tokyo metropolitan park, was headed by Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, lord chamberlain of the 5th Tokugawa shogun Tsunayoshi. After Yoshiyasu’s death, the garden was neglected. The founder of Mitshubishi Group, Iwasaki Yataro, bought the garden in the late 19th century and began to restore it. It was dominated to the Tokyo City government in the early 20th century and has been designated as a special place of scenic beauty by the Japanese government.

When the corona wreck has converged, I would like to guide you to a famous spot for maple hunting in my favorite season.

Yuki Takano, a member of iTWS japan LLP

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