My two favorite seasons in Japan are spring and autumn. Cherry blossom season in the case of the former and autumn leaf (koyo) season in the case of the latter have a magic quality that has to be experienced rather than described. These are times of the year when people marvel at the beauty of nature and take a million photos to capture the moment forever. I find it impossible to choose one of these seasons over the other, but one point that autumn has in its favor is the absence of allergies, in the form of hay fever, that descend upon Japan in spring.
One might also argue that the weather in autumn is more pleasant. It is a time when the summer humidity has been left far behind, but the chill of winter has yet to set in. Instead, the climate remains on the cusp of winter, without ever falling into it. Days may be gloomy and overcast or full of glorious expanses of pure blue sky. As the season progresses, sidewalks become littered with leaves that have been unable to cling to their branches any longer, after which they acquire a delightful crunchiness underfoot.
Autumn leaves are slightly less accessible than cherry blossoms, in the sense that they rely on colder climates to reach peak technicolor brilliance. Accordingly, rural and mountainous areas tend to provide the best spots for autumn leaf viewing. This is not to say that urban areas are devoid of autumn leaves, however, even if we limit ourselves to the Kanto area. For example, Gingko Avenue in Central Tokyo is a magisterial road lined with dazzling shades of warm yellow at its peak. Similarly, Rikugien is a traditional Japanese garden located in the heart of Tokyo, at close proximity to Komagome Station on the Yamanote line. And yet, the peace and tranquility within the garden transports visitors to an autumn wonderland that couldn’t feel further away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
A less heralded, but equally impressive landscape garden in autumn is Sankeien Garden in Yokohama. Here, the leaves mesh beautifully with the surroundings, with red leaves foregrounding gently undulating paths and winding streams. One can also venture further afield to the traditional city of Kamakura, whose temples boast the best features of every season. If visitors get their timing just right, they have the opportunity to view the mighty Great Buddha statue of Kotokuin temple framed by the warm autumn hues of a single gingko tree that stands nobly to the right of the statue.
As I alluded to earlier, photographing autumn leaves in copious quantities is part of the fun of the season. The subject offers a plethora of possibilities, from up close and personal shots of sunlight filtering through a single leaf, to wide-angle views of entire hillsides that resemble rainbow cascades. For variety, one might photograph fallen leaves to capture the transience of nature.
In summary, autumn leaves are the heroes of the season because of their beauty, diversity, the atmosphere they produce and the photographic opportunities they afford.
on the cusp (idiom) – at the point when something is about to change to something else
tranquil (adj.) – calm, still, and quiet
undulate (v) – to gently move up and down in the shape of waves on the ocean
transience (adj.) – existing or happening somewhere for a short period of time only