Autumn Leaves


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

The Japanese take great pride in the fact that they have four seasons. No, seriously—I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the sentence, “Here in Japan we have four seasons.” And there are particular events associated with each season—hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in the spring, hanabi (fireworks) in the summer, momiji (maple leaves) in the fall… and matsuri (festivals) all year round, of course. Anyway, I decided to get in the spirit of the season and visit one of the local Tokyo parks to see the beautiful fall foliage for myself. Japan-guide.com provides a useful list of places to see autumn leaves and also posts up-to-date autumn color reports for some of the biggest cities in Japan, to help people time their visits in order to maximize their viewing pleasure. (This is also very common in the spring, when the daily news tracks the “sakura front” as it moves north from Okinawa to Hokkaido and lets you know where the blossoms opened up that day.)

Anyway, I chose to go to Rikugien, one of Japan’s beautiful landscape gardens. The park was just a short walk from Komagome Station on the Yamanote line, making it a very convenience place to drop by for a short stroll. Rikugien literally means “six poem garden,” in reference to a system for dividing Chinese and Japanese poetry into six categories. The park reproduces 88 scenes from famous poems in a spacious setting of ponds, islands, forest, hills and teahouses.


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

The park was created in 1702 by Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, a daimyo and trusted confidante of the shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. It is a typical example of the famous gardens of the Edo period. During the Meiji period, the garden became a second residence of the founder of Mitsubishi, Iwasaki Yataro. In 1938, the Iwasaki family donated the garden to the City of Tokyo.


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

The momiji were in fine form that day, with many leaves radiating vibrant colors from their trees. I suspect that they’ll all be on the ground soon. As I recall, this feeling of impermanence is one of the things the Japanese find so appealing about both autumn leaves and cherry blossoms. Both are fleeting bits of beauty that should be appreciated while one can. This is a common theme in early Japanese poetry, as I learned back in college.


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

There were a fair number of other spectators around taking in the scenery, but not so many as to make it annoying, as sometimes happens. I saw many couples (young and old) out for relaxing strolls, as well as senior citizens, children, and photographers. The park probably contained more cameras than it did people. Beautiful scenery tends to bring out the amateur photographers, myself included. But the pace of the day was slow and relaxing, and even the most avid photographers were content to wait their turn as everyone wandered through the many paths, exploring the nooks and crannies of the gardens.


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

There was an additional treat, however. The park extended its normal hours in order to provide a special “light up” after the sun went down. The photographers broke out their tripods, and many more people poured into the park to enjoy the illuminated landscape. The park gained a totally different atmosphere as the sun set, and the effect was quite beautiful:


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

I didn’t have a tripod to work with, so I did the best I could with a steady hand. I think that a similar picture of the bridge above must have been featured in one of the newspapers recently; I heard people murmuring something to that effect throughout the evening.

All in all, it was a very worthwhile outing; I’m glad I took the time away from work to note the changing of the seasons. Fall will soon give way to winter, and then spring will be here before I know it. I’ve now been in Japan for over two months, though it seems like I arrived just last week.

And now, because I’ll take any excuse to listen to Bill Evans play:

The falling leaves
Drift by my window
The falling leaves
Of red and gold

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