If you think about Japan soon the pictures of the Chureito Pagoda with the view of Mount Fuji and gardens during cherry blossom season come to your mind. But Japan is one of the most chosen destinations also during this period of the year and that’s all thanks to momiji. Momiji or kōyō are the Japanese words for “autumn colors” or “leaves that change their colours” and they referer specifically to maple trees. During this time of the year, approximatively from the mid of October to the mid of December Kyoto’s most famous shrines are visited each day by thousands of tourists and some of them like Kiyomizu-dera and Kodai-ji are opened also outside regular visiting time to held special light-ups at night.
When I decided to move to Japan I was already prepared for summer in Kyoto. Actually I must admit that even if I already knew that it was gonna be hot and humid, I didn’t expect that it would be that hot, but this year it was a surprise also for the Japanese. However, I couldn’t wait for fall to come soon. Even if my favourite time of the year has always been spring, I’d heard from my Japanese teachers at university that along with cherry blossom season, Japanese have a fancy also fall, especially November. Having always been living in the North of Italy up to now, November for me meant basically two things: fog and rain. Not that I hate it, but imagine you have this kind of weather almost every day from November to February, you’ll probably start feeling melancholic, and you’ll be wishing that none of your friends invite you out on the weekend so that you can enjoy your hot tea and a good tv show.
In Kyoto, it seems to me that there’s a different vibe. It might be cause the city its crowded with tourists, both Japanese and foreigners, but it gets even more lively and way more charming (if that’s possible). I’m not exaggerating, for me Kyoto is everyday a surprise, it’s like walking in a living painting. As a good foreigner visiting Japan during autumn for the first time, I din’t want to lose the opportunity of visiting the shrines I hadn’t visited during summertime. In case you’re not as lucky as me to be in Kyoto at the moment, I’ll show you some pictures. If you still have doubts about visiting Japan, I hope my pictures could help you take the right decision. So here’s the list of places I’ve been visiting lately.
In the ward of Fushimi, on the east side of Higashiyama mountains, there’s a complex of shrines called Daigo-ji. This World Heritage building was founded in 874, during the Heain period, and its name comes from daigo, a philosophical concept representing the ultimate truth of Buddhism, the Nirvana. As a matter of facts it’s a temple related to the Shingon Buddhism.
It’s a complex of three shrines, Sampō-in, Shimo Daigo, and Kami Daigo. The emperor Toyotomi Hideyoshi fell in love with Daigoji, that’s why he ordered the renovating and the rebuilding of the complex (the lower buildings had been destroyed a century before). Here he held a famous cherry blossom viewing known as Daigo no hanami, that’s why the shrine is popular during springtime.
Differently from other famous places, such as Kiyomizu-dera or Fushimi-Inari that are crowded with tourists the whole year, Daigo-ji is visited particularly during spring and fall. I came to know it just because I went there on a school trip a couple of weeks ago. Besides the beautiful paintings that decorate the inner walls of the Sanpō-in, it’s worth visiting to enjoy the autumn foliage.
Unfortunately we couldn’t climb up to the building on the top of the mountain cause after the strong typhoon that hit Kyoto in September the path is not safe. Also, it was a pity that we just had no more than a couple of hours to visit it, I wish I could have taken my time to explore it.
The fee is a bit expensive if you want to visit it during fall or spring, it’s 1500 yen for the combined ticket. There’s a discount for Senior-high student and Junior-High students, and primary school students get in for free.
This is one of the shrines I went for the illumination. I heard that from mid-November to the beginning of December there are lots of light ups in the temples and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see most of them. Well, I saw just a couple but there’s still the light up in Arashiyama and I was thinking about going. As momiji season was approaching, I made a few research on Internet to decide where to go. Kodai-ji was on the list of shrines that I hadn’t visited yet, so I chose it and I dragged my boyfriend there.
The official name of Kodai-ji temple is Kodai-ji jushozen temple and it belongs to the Rinzai sect of Buddhism Zen. It lays at the foot of Higashiyama Ryozen mountains and it was built in 1606 by order of Kita no Mandokoro who wanted to make a mausoleum in memory of her husband Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Once she became a preistess she took the name Kodaiji Kogetsuni, that’s where the name of the shrine comes from. Also the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu decided to finance Kodai-ji. The main building (Hojo) is accessible to the visitors and it’s surrounded by zen gardens, one representing the ocean, the other it’s a tsukiyama style garden with artifical hills, a pond and last but not least, maple trees.
I must admit that I was a bit disappointed, not about Kodai-ji itself but because I was expecting more from that kind of event. It might be cause I picked up the wrong day (it was the 23rd of November, national holiday in Japan) but it was so full of people that you could barely move. That’s why our visit lasted no longer than an hour. Besides, I couldn’t take so many pictures cause everyone else was trying to do it, so I preferred appreciate it through my eyes. At least once we got out we could admire te view of the Kyoto tower at night framed by red maple trees. Anyway, I’ll be in Japan until the end f June for sure, so I’ll surely visit Kodai-ji on another occasion.
TESTUGAKU NO MICHI (THE PHILOSOPHER’S PATH)
The philosopher’s path is a stone path stretching from Nanzen-ji to Ginkaku-ji, it’s called like that because it’s said that Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosopher of the 20th century, used to walk through it while commuting from university to home. It’s a very popular spot during cherry blossom season cause along the canal that lines the path there are hundreds of cherry trees. Even if they’re not maple trees, their leaves turn redish during fall, so it’s totally worthy visiting also in autumn. Also there are some shrines along the path so you can take the chance to visit one of them to admire “actual” momiji trees. Anyway, if you don’t feel like paying a fee or sharing your momiji experience with other tourists, you can just take a walk in the nearabouts, there are houses with with these fascinating trees.
That was the first part of the article, if you want to know the other places I went to see the momiji, please read also the other part of the article 🙂