Fall Colors and Leaf Hunting in Japan

If there’s one thing the Japanese are really into, it’s the seasons. Each season has its own array of activities, foods, and natural wonders for you to behold. It’s widely known that in Spring you have the cherry blossoms. In the Fall, you have leaf peeping, or leaf hunting. Having grown up in the perpetual summer that is Florida, I never really experienced the changing of seasons (other than wet to slightly less wet). Knowing this, I resolved to take a hike and enjoy some traditional Japanese autumn viewing.

Koyo and Momiji

Koyo and Momiji both share the same kanji and mean the same thing: the changing of leaf colors. There are a ton of beautiful trees that change colors here in Japan. I went out in Saitama to Okutama to check out some nice leaves. Okutama is a beautiful gem about two hours from where I live: It has great nature and even a lovely craft beer bar near the station. We hiked up to Shirotaebashi Bridge and Hikawa Gorge. There are apparently limestone caves further up the way but we didn’t learn about this until the end of our day. Another time, perhaps! Protip: If you take the bus, expect it to be jam-packed. It’s always full!


Momijigari: Leaf Hunting

Branching off of Koyo and Momiji is Momijigari, or leaf hunting. or leaf peeping. This is a new concept to me, but an intriguing one: It follows in the tradition of admiring nature and the passage of time, which is something I can get down with. I wondered about how long this had been going on, if it was an ancient Japanese tradition or just a nice modern marketing strategy to encourage travel.


Well, it turns out that it’s been around for quite some time! Back in college, I read The Tale of Genji, which was written back in the Heian period (around 1000 CE), and it is rife with talk of autumn leaves. I also learned from the railway company JR East of all places that there is even mention of hunting autumn colors as far back as the 8th century CE. It seems that I am participating in a centuries-old tradition!

Many thanks to my wife, 2blueeyes, for pointing out momijigari to me!

If you come to Japan in the fall, be sure to check out this autumn color tracking map (there are many others available online as well). It’s been super useful for me and my own pursuit of momijigari, so hopefully it will help you as well!


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