This past weekend I volunteered to participate in the local akimatsuri (Autumn festival) at a nearby temple. Alongside some other fellow foreigners (mainly from Thailand, China and Vietnam), we carried and shuffled around with a mikoshi on our shoulders. Meanwhile elderly people “sang” the latest pop tunes to give thanks to the gods and usher in the new season. Autumn, or Fall, has finally arrived here in Japan to my delight. It’s my favourite time of the year, not simply because the temperature is manageable, but because another beautiful side of Japan is revealed. The Japanese maple (momiji) leaves change from the greens of Spring and Summer, to the browns, reds and oranges of the new season. At the same time, the rice fields turn vibrant shades of yellow right before the harvest starts. Closeup camera-shots of hands brushing against rice and wheat in fields of gold come heavily to mind. Even the unfortunate haze that plagues the scenic landscapes dissipates due to the cold breeze and fresher conditions. Now when I travel to work, I can clearly see across the bay and see Miyajima from the train.
That being said, the temperature has turned perfect. While Japanese people start to complain about “being too cold” and “missing summer”, I saunter along comfortably with a smug look on my face. The temperature is a manageable 20°C, which is still pretty mild by British standards. Of course with any sudden drop, Japan determines that the heating systems in public transport and retail establishments needs to be set on high power. Sogo Department Store in Hiroshima is by far the worst culprit. Therefore choosing clothing becomes a challenge of foresight and awareness. You don’t want too many layers, so I usually stick to three (jacket, hoodie and t-shirt) until the winter months. My unfortunate, but occasionally useful, thick layer of body hair offers sufficient insulation to constitute another layer just in case.
Of course, Autumn and Winter are the seasons associated with “comfort eating”. The ice-cream and cold soba season is over, and in comes sukiyaki and warm soba. I tend to indulge in my sweet tooth during this time with Japanese sweet potatoes and zenzei (sweet bean soup). In conbinis (convenience stores), warm cans/ plastic bottles of coffee and tea can be bought alongside oden, and hand warmers. The selection at vending machines starts to include warm coffee, tea and even soup. Meanwhile restaurants start to serve tea instead of iced water, alongside toasty hand towels.
The season also sees many Japanese people taking advantage of three-day weekends to visit the likes of Nara and Kyoto. My girlfriend and I are travelling to Kyoto during the month of November. We’ll be in the middle of an annual migration as people flock there every year to see the famed autumnal colours and traditional aesthetics. While Tokyo is the hectic, metropolitan heart of Japan, Kyoto is the other, symbolised by tradition and serenity. The combination of historical temples and shrines with the maple trees and fallen leaves, is quintessentially Japanese. Kiyomizu-dera is lit up by night illuminations, while Kinkaku-ji and Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji are surrounded by the autumn foliage making it a photographer’s dream. Yes, it’s fair to say that Autumn in Kyoto is a special sight to see. But for now, it’s time to dust off the kettle and break out the Yorkshire Tea I’ve been saving from my last trip home. Put the shorts and summer clothes into their storage space, and put on the hoodie. I will enjoy it while it lasts.