Autumn in Japan is a magical time when the summer heat mellows into cooler, crisper days and nature transforms into a vivid display of red, orange and yellow. This season is cherished by both locals and visitors for its breathtaking foliage, cultural festivals and delectable foods.
In this article, I'll explore what autumn signifies in Japan, its cultural celebrations and the mouthwatering seasonal dishes that make it a unique and beloved season.
The significance of autumn in Japan
Autumn holds a special place in the hearts of Japanese people where it's seen as a season of reflection and gratitude.
The cooler weather brings relief after the sweltering summer, making it a time for outdoor activities and appreciation of the changing landscapes.
The term "koyo" is often used to describe the changing colors of the leaves and it's a popular pastime to embark on momijigari which means "autumn leaf viewing." Similar to viewing cherry blossom in the spring, Japanese people flock to parks and mountains to witness the stunning autumnal transformation of nature.
As well as momijigari, there are several other Japanese cultural celebrations that take place during the autumn months, here are some of the more well known.
Tsukimi (Moon Viewing): One of the most cherished autumn traditions is Tsukimi, the Japanese harvest moon festival that takes place mid September. During the festival, people gather with family and friends to appreciate the beauty of the full moon and take part in traditional dancing, music and poetry reading. They may decorate windows and balconies with offerings of rice dumplings and other seasonal foods such as chestnuts and edamame.
Tori-no-Ichi: This traditional festival, held during November at shrines and temples across Japan, is dedicated to good fortune and prosperity. People purchase ornate rakes, known as "kumade" decorated with auspicious symbols and pray for success in their businesses.
Jidai Matsuri: This historical parade in Kyoto, held on October 22nd, celebrates the city's rich history. Participants don period costumes from various eras, creating a magnificent spectacle that showcases Japan's heritage.
Halloween: While not a traditional Japanese holiday, Halloween has gained popularity in recent years, especially among younger generations. You'll find costume parties, themed events, and even some spooky decorations in various parts of Japan during this time. It's a lot of fun being in Tokyo at Halloween as all the shops and restaurants are decorated and the kids look really cute in their costumes!
Autumn is a culinary delight in Japan. Here are some of the seasonal foods that make this season extra special:
Matsutake Mushrooms: Of course all mushrooms are in season in the autumn however matsutake mushrooms in particular are highly sought after and considered a delicacy for their spicy, aromatic smell and flavour. They are often used in soups, rice dishes, and hot pots.
Chestnuts: Roasted chestnuts are a popular snack during the cooler months. They're also used in both savory dishes where they are known as 'kuri' and in sweet dessets where it's called 'maron', They add a unique, nutty flavour that's really delicious.
Sanma (Pacific Saury): This fish is at its best during autumn. Grilled and seasoned with a touch of salt, it's a favourite dish among Japanese people.
Sweet Potatoes: Roasted sweet potatoes are a common street food during autumn, filling the air with their irresistible aroma. Known as 'yaki imo', they're a comforting and sweet treat.
Nabe (Hot Pot): As the weather cools down, hot pot dishes become a warming staple. Ingredients like tofu, vegetables and meat or fish are cooked in a flavourful broth, creating an enjoyable communal dining experience.
Autumn in Japan is a season of natural beauty and cultural richness. The vibrant foliage, traditional celebrations, and delectable foods all contribute to the enchantment of this time of year.
Whether you're exploring ancient temples, savoring seasonal delicacies, or simply enjoying the breathtaking scenery, autumn in Japan offers an experience that captivates the heart and soul. So, when the leaves begin to turn, consider embarking on your own journey to appreciate the wonders of autumn in this captivating country.