If I tell you Japan, you are probably thinking “cherry blossoms”. This beautiful and ephemeral season loved by the Japanese and tourists alike. For me, however, fall is one of the best times to walk around the country. The weather is certainly cool, but generally sunny and perfect for enjoying the Japanese landscapes which are adorned with red and gold. It’s momiji, maple leaf season. The Japanese go to the mountains to contemplate nature. An activity that bears the name of momijigari (“maple leaf hunting”).

Japanese autumn rhymes with the momiji period, also called kôyô, that is to say maple leaves which are adorned with a flamboyant red. More than spring, it is this season that seems to me the sweetest and most pleasant to live in Japan.

No doubt I fell in love with Japanese autumn because when I arrived in Japan at the end of August 2013, I quickly followed this period, all dazzled as I was to discover Japanese daily life. Punctuated by public holidays (Silver Week, in particular), autumn offers a good opportunity to breathe. The Japanese who can then take the time for a weekend to get lost in Kyoto, Nikko or Okayama… Camera in hand and nose in the air!

Momiji, kôyô kezako ?

These two little words may not be unfamiliar to you. The height for those who learn Japanese, being undoubtedly that they write… exactly the same: 紅葉. One, however, refers to the red leaf (kôyô), while the other is the Japanese name for maple (momiji). You are set!

The Japanese aristocracy (probably not having much to do) was a great admirer of the seasons. The nobles of the Kyoto region had a tradition of walking in the heart of nature, absorbed by the beautiful color changes that take place in the fall. Thus from the word momiji was born momijigari, “the hunt for maple (leaves)” that one can otherwise and more poetically translate by the contemplation of autumn leaves.

In order to satisfy their passion for this activity, the aristocrats modeled nature. They planted large forests of maple trees that the Japanese still visit today. With the flamboyant glow of the maple trees, the golden yellow of the leaves of ginkgo biloba, a tree with a thousand crowns and symbol of Tokyo, is sometimes mingled, in a magnificent marriage of colors.

ginkgo - autumn Japan

A cleverly orchestrated contemplation of nature

The Japanese have the art of magnifying nature. Whether in autumn, spring or winter, they are keen on lighting effects enhancing the beauty of trees. This is particularly the case near certain particularly beautiful temples.


The Japanese are waiting for this season firmly and the national meteorological agency never fails to announce very seriously the leafing periods are announced weeks in advance with day-to-day precision.

From Hokkaido to Kyushu, the whole country sees red from late September to early December. And as with sakura in spring, the vocabulary is military. The agency announces a “leaf front”, the kôyô zensen., from north to south, and comments on its progression. And good news for travelers, unlike cherry trees, this period lasts a long time and it is less complicated to just aim for your sightseeing.

Interactive map of the leaf front – www.travel.gaijinpot.com/

Japanese Romaji French
紅葉 Momiji maple (and by extension this leafing period in the fall)
紅葉 Kôyô red maple leaf
Aki autumn
紅葉 前線 Kôyô zensen leaf front

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