The Autumn season is a great time to discover the beauty of Japan and learn more about its history and culture. If you are planning to visit Japan this October or November, here are activities and events that we recommend so you can make the most of your trip.
1. Autumn Leaves Viewing (Momijigari)
Momijigari is the simple activity of going out to view autumn leaves. Many Japanese find pleasure in communing with nature and many look forward to visiting parks and gardens to enjoy beautiful foliage turning into bright red and yellow. There are many popular places to engage in momijigari such as:
Kenrokuen Garden is an exquisite 11.4 hectare garden situated near the Kanazawa Castle. During feudal times, the Maeda family, who ruled the Kaga Clan, looked after area for many generations.
The garden features a large man-made pond, and hills and houses that dot the garden. A pond called “Kasumigaike” is so huge it is likened to an open sea. There is an island on it where many believe an immortal hermit with miraculous power resides. The pond was created in the hopes of promoting long life and eternal prosperity for the clan. The garden also has a stone lantern shaped like a Japanese koto (harp) by the pond, which became the symbol of Kenrokuen Garden. Visitors can enjoy glorious views of colorful red and yellow leaves in autumn.
Kenrokuen, literally translates to “possessing six key characteristics” of an ideal garden. These attributes include: spaciousness, tranquility, intrigue, antiquity, water courses, and magnificent views.
In 1687, Ikeda Tsunamasa, a feudal lord (daimyo), instructed his vassal, Tsuda Nagatada, to begin construction of Okayama Korakuen. It was completed in 1700, and it has maintained its original appearance from the Edo Period up to today.
The garden served as a venue for entertaining special guests and was also as a retreat for the daimyo. It was open to the masses on certain days. In 1884, ownership was transferred to Okayama Prefecture thereby opening it to the public.
The garden was damaged during World War II bombings in 1945, but has been restored to its original form thanks to Edo Period paintings and diagrams.
Korakuen is an expansive garden that integrates the common features of a Japanese landscape garden, including a large pond, streams, walking paths and a hill that serves as a lookout point. One can enjoy groves of plum, cherry and maple trees, tea and rice fields, as well as an archery range and a crane aviary.
Adachi is a magnificent garden inspired by the paintings of artist Yokoyama Taikan, whose real name was Sakai Hidemaro. He is famous for helping create the Japanese painting technique of Nihonga. The founder, Adachi Zenko, believed that the garden is also a living Japanese painting. He dedicated himself to gardening until his death at 91 years of age.
The garden is made up of six sections with a total land of 165,000 square meters. They express the natural beauty of the seasons and harmony with the surrounding mountains. Adachi hoped that visitors will be so moved by the garden’s splendor that it would evoke a renewed interest in Japanese landscape artists.
Do also visit the museum that houses an immense Japanese modern art collection.
The Rikugien garden is a typical example of the famous gardens of the Edo Period. It was inspired by Waka poetry by the shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. The name Rikugi-en means “Garden of the Six Principles of Poetry”. Tokugawa’s main accomplishments were in cultural matters where he endorsed Neo-Confucianism of the 12th-century Chinese scholar Chu Hsi, whose philosophy stressed that loyalty to the government as man’s first duty.
Constructed in 1700, it is dubbed as the best and most beautiful in the capital. It boasts of a huge pond surrounded by hills and a network of trails encompassing the whole park.
2. Attend Autumn Festivals
Takayama Autumn Festival, Takayama (October 9 to October 10)
Watch a parade of giant antique floats that display karakuri mechanized puppets entertaining the crowd. Karakuri means “mechanisms” or “trick” because the dolls evoke a sense of wonder and give a feeling of something magical when people see them perform.
The 350 year old autumn festival is held in honor of the Sakurayuama Hachimangu Shrine. The ceremony is attended by hundreds of townspeople wearing traditional clothing. In the daytime, all the festival floats are drawn out and a marionette performance takes place in honor of the gods. By night time, a procession of beautifully decorated floats moves through the main streets. This is a magnificent sight to behold. The highlight of the festival is when the marionette on the Hotei-tai float performs traditional rituals and visits every household while Shinto imperial music is played in the background.
Niihama Taiko Festival, Ehime (October 16 to October 18)
The festival, which is also known locally as Otoko Matsuri or “men’s festival”. It is a parade made up of floats shaped like taiko drums. These are tossed in the air in celebration of team spirit and a show of strength while intense taiko drumming is beating in the background. The floats represent the 47 neighborhoods and each float is carried by men and boys as young as 16. The floats are often rammed against one another to tip the opposing float to the crowd. It’s a celebration of fun, sake, and sometimes, the occasional scuffle.
Nagasaki Kunchi Festival, Nagasaki (October 7 to October 9)
Celebrated only once every 7 years, the festival is a blend of European and Chinese culture over the centuries that make up Nagasaki’s unique history. A total of 59 neighborhoods participate in the festivities, which is put together to celebrate the local deity at Suwa Shrine. The performances in this event are considered intangible Folk Cultural Properties of Japan. Performances range from local folk dances to Chinese-influenced dragon dances, to western exhibitions like Dutch comedies that even features a Dutch Ship.
Meiji Shrine Autumn Festival, Tokyo (November 1 to November 3)
This is a three day exhibition of Japanese culture to commemorate Culture Day or Emperor Meiji’s Birthday. The event typically includes traditional dances, comedy, theatre, music and popular martial arts like the Yabusame horseback archery. It is a type of Japanese archery whereby an archer on a running horse shoots three special “turnip-headed” arrows successively at wooden targets.This activity is a prestigious event featuring people who are at the top of their game.
3. Watch the Sumo Kyushu Basho
Each November, Fukuoka becomes the home of sumo. The sight of rikishi (wrestlers) will be common and the smell of talcum powder permeates the air making them easy to spot among the crowd. The two-week tournament is the Kyushu iteration of six sumo basho (tournaments) held every year. A cornerstone of Japanese tradition, the rikishi participate in a league system embellished with ancient traditions. At the top of the league is the yokuzuna (grand champion). Currently, there are only three yokuzuna out of 650 competing rikishi.
Now on it’s 30th year, the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) is the only film festival accredited by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF). It is one of the biggest international film festivals in Asia. TIFF brings critically acclaimed films from around the world and shows them in Tokyo. It is a chance for fans to see and meet the filmmakers, whether they are legends or emerging talents.
For ten days, a select number of films enter a competition to determine the winner of the Tokyo Grand Prix. A total of 1,502 films were submitted last year alone from 98 countries. The 24th Grand Prix winner was the film “Untouchable” from France which went on to set records for attendance not only in its native France but in Japan as well.
5. Go in Fruits Picking
Many orchards all-over Japan allow visitors to pick and buy their own fruits. They either sell them by weight, per piece or allow you to eat-all-you-can for limited time period. It’s a very popular weekend activity among Japanese people and a great experience for families with small children.
Ringo or apples can be harvested from August until mid-November. The most common apples grown in Japan are Fuji apples. They have bright red skin and a sweet, juicy, crisp flesh. Regions famous for apple production are Nagano and Aomori.
Grapes can be picked from May to November. Some popular varieties are Kyohō or Piōne. These are large, dark purple Japanese grapes that can grow as big as plums. They have a thick skin that’s easily be peeled off. The skin and seeds are quite bitter and are usually taken out before eating. The flesh of Kyohō grapes are sweet and slightly acidic. They are meticulously graded for color, size and imperfections. The best ones are considered a luxury item and can be quite expensive. Regions known for grape production are Yamanashi and Nagano.
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