Embracing this Japanese concept is the perfect way to step into autumn

Struggling to get into the autumnal spirit? The Japanese concept of ‘momijigari’ could be exactly what you’re looking for.

The autumn equinox has officially been and gone, and as we approach the start of October, it’s time to fully embrace everything this transitional season has to offer.

Sure, autumn has its downsides – the days grow gradually shorter, and catching a glimpse of a blue sky becomes increasingly rare – but it’s got a lot going for it, too. There’s a reason why so many people romanticise autumn, after all; from the brilliant TV to the return of the pumpkin spice latte, there’s plenty to enjoy.  

But the best part of autumn isn’t manmade – and as tempting as it can be to curl up on the sofa under a mountain of blankets as the temperatures fall, stepping outside into nature is the best way to truly appreciate autumn in all its magic.

In particular, embracing the Japanese concept of ‘momijigari’ – also known as ‘leaf peeping’ – is a great way to soak up all the beauty this season has to offer. Keep reading to check out everything you need to know about this ancient tradition.  

What is momijigari? 

Momijigari is all about appreciating the beauty of the autumn leaves as the seasons change.

Momijigari is a portmanteau of the Japanese words momiji – which means ‘red leaves’ or ‘maple tree’ – and gari – which means ‘hunting’.

The term refers to a long-standing Japanese tradition in which people travel to specific hills, valleys and forests to get a glimpse of the country’s autumn foliage and appreciate the changing of the seasons.

There is even a dedicated annual autumn leaf forecast that shows where the most colourful spots will be that year, so people can plan their hunts.

Seeking out the bright red hues of the Japanese maple tree is a particularly famous aspect of the momijigari tradition, but those who practise momijigari also enjoy the yellows, browns and golds that are on display at this time of year. 

Where does momijigari originate from? 

There are many theories about the origin of momijigari, with some suggesting it dates back as far as the Nara period (710-794 CE), when several waka (a type of poem in Japanese classical literature) about the autumn foliage were compiled.

At this time – and throughout the Heian period (794-1185 CE) – the tradition remained one enjoyed by the aristocracy.  

In fact, it wasn’t until the Edo period in the 18th century that people from across all areas of society adopted the tradition and travelled to certain areas of Japan to appreciate the autumn leaves.  

How to embrace momijigari in the UK 

Richmond Park is home to an impressive Japanese maple tree.

While the UK isn’t home to as much forest as Japan – 67% of Japanese land remains forested, compared to just 17% in the UK – there are still lots of places where it’s possible to enjoy the autumn leaves in all their glory.

As we move into October, one of the best places to visit in reach of London is Richmond Park, which becomes home to a variety of different autumnal colours, including the striking red of the Japanese maple tree, which can be found near the Still Pond in the park’s Isabella Plantation.

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are also home to a wide range of colourful foliage, including a variety of Japanese plants.

Further afield, some of the most celebrated autumnal spots include the King Alfred’s Tower Walk at Stourhead in Wiltshire and Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire. 

Images: Getty

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