Autumn leaves dancing,
Float softly on the quickening breeze,
Tiny ribbons of scarlet and gold drift slowly down,
Rustling plaintive song of farewell.
As the stubborn limbs of the trees,
Reach for the last precious moments of warmth,
From summers fading light,
Cool tendrils and woodsmoke and mist enfold the woods…
In autumn heart we rest.
In Japan, each of the 4 seasons is distinct from one another. From the fresh green buds of spring that gives way to the lush heat of the summer. And in autumn, the forest turns red and yellow. Soon the white snow will blanket these vibrant colours as if preserving the forest for the seasons to come.
When you look at Japans autumn scenery, you cannot help but notice the astonishing huge variety of colored leaves. This has to do with Japan wide variety of vegetation. Most parts of the country belong to the Temperate Zone and there are a large number of broad leaves trees. Some of them, including camphor trees and oaks are evergreen. Others are deciduous, meaning they change colors in autumn. This includes the maples, which turn red, and gingko trees that turn yellow.
Most mountainous areas in Japan have a nice balance of evergreen and deciduous trees. It is this that creates the beautiful multi-colored autumn scenery. Since ancient times, the Japanese have come to deeply appreciate the beauty of autumn leaves. The autumn is mentioned many times in the tale of Genji in the 11th century for instance.
Back then, when the autumn rolls around, the Emperor and court aristocrats would gather in gardens to admire the maple leaves. And they would sometimes make trips to the mountains to admire the leaves. A custom known as “Momiji-Gari” (紅葉狩り) literally meaning `maple hunting` .By the 16th century , momiji-gari had spread to the common people.
It’s not just the colored leaves the Japanese enjoy but they also find beauty in the leaves fluttering down on the ground and the carpet of fallen leaves. The image of the fallen leaves has been used as motif in countless works of arts, paintings and even children songs. The monk Ryokan once wrote in a famous Haiku (Japanese poem) saying that,
Both the front and back of a maple leaf become visible as its flutters down,
And so it is when people die, everything is then revealed,
When the time comes for me to die,
I have nothing more to hide…..
Seeing the fallen leaves many Japanese are reminded of the transience of life and feel a sense of wistfulness. That’s why they have always found a special meaning, even in the fallen leaves. Beauty it may seem but the leaves is a reminder for us of our precious life. What will we be remembered when are no more? Will we be trodden upon and thus forgotten all together? Or will we be seen as a thing to remember by?
p/s: Famous sites for Momiji in Japan : Nikko (Tochigi-Ken), Kawaguchi Lake facing Mount Fuji