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What is Momijigari? All About Japan’s Fascinating Autumn ‘Leaf-Hunting’ Tradition

Autumn is the most colorful season of the year in Japan. Mountains are dyed in beautiful reds and yellows. Maples become a blazing crimson hue, and golden ginkgo trees paint the tree-lined roads. You can truly feel the depth of autumn by simply walking around and admiring the colors of the trees.

This tradition is known as momijigari, or “autumn-leaf hunting,” and during the fall season, it’s not uncommon to be invited by friends and family to go on an “autumn leaf hunt!”

Here, we talk to Yutaka Miura, an active forest guide who has visited more than 3,000 forests and natural attractions in Japan. Here he will introduce the various ways you can enjoy momijigari and the beautiful autumn leaves of Japan.

What is Momijigari?

The Japanese word momijigari, or “autumn-leaves hunting,” can translate literally to “maple-leaves hunting.” It refers to the activity of viewing the red-and-yellow painted trees while strolling around fields through the crisp autumn air.

Although the word “gari” means “hunting,” you won’t be breaking off branches and taking them home. This hunt involves simply looking at and appreciating the beauty of nature.

The lengthy Japanese archipelago differs in altitude from north to south. You’ll usually notice the colors gradually change starting from the mountaintops, even within a single region, so peak foliage viewing seasons may vary.

Generally, the best time to see autumn leaves in Japan is between early November and early December.

Autumn in Japan: When & Where To Enjoy The Fall Foliage Season (+Forecast, Nearby Hotels)

Why Japanese People ‘Hunt’ for Autumn Leaves

There are said to be about 1,200 species of trees in Japan. Their appearances visibly change in each of the four seasons. Mountain trees, normally green in the summer months, bring out their own unique colors once autumn arrives.

Viewing the autumn leaves makes one appreciate the deepening of fall, the changing of the seasons, and the colorful trees as their leaves change brilliantly one last time before dropping for winter.

Momijigari is a unique tradition that many Japanese people hold close to their hearts, as they admire the warm red and yellow trees before the dark, cold winter.

Brief History of Momijigari

There are various theories about the origin of momijigari. Many believe the custom spread amongst aristocrats of the Heian Period at the end of the 8th century, during the time of the samurai, until the Muromachi Period of the 14th century, where people held banquets and wrote waka poems while admiring the autumn leaves.

Originally, people only used the word &quo…

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