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Momijigari: How to enjoy autumn in Japan and the UK

With more than double the varities of deciduous broad-leafed tree than their Western counterparts, Japan and its forests gain a diverse and unique kind of beauty come October with the vibrant ‘kouyou’, autumn leaves, and this year there is no better place to dip your toe than at Kew Gardens' very own Japan festival, supported by Daikin UK. 

Also known as ‘momiji’, the autumn colours are an important part of Japanese culture particularly when Japanese people head off on ‘momijigari’ leaf hunting adventures! Formerly a pastime enjoyed by the higher echelons of Japanese society, by the 18th century it had become widely popularised among common folk. The name ‘momijigari’ consists of two parts, ‘momiji’ - autumn leaves, and ‘gari’ - hunting, and, despite its dramatic name, it actually describes the custom of appreciating the changing seasons and visiting places where leaves have started blushing. People hike Japan’s magnificent mountains, visit historical temples famous for their foliage or combine an outing with a stay at a secluded hot spring town. But where is good to do it and how can I get a slice while in the UK?

When the leaves begin to blush...

You might have heard of the cherry blossom forecast, so you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that there is also an annual autumn leaf forecast which shows you where to go to find areas filled with leaves in various shades of reds and yellows. Just like with cherry blossoms, this wouldn’t be Japan if there was no special food devoted to this natural miracle. The most popular delicacy is the momiji manju which originated on Miyajima Island in Hiroshima prefecture, a place famous for its autumn foliage. It’s a delicious maple leaf-shaped dough hiding a wide variety of fillings. You can buy them at other times of the year but savouring one while taking in the sights has a charm of its own. 

The autumn atmosphere makes visiting Japan’s famous landmarks like Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto a once in a lifetime experience. Combine them with Japan's stunning off the beaten path areas and you will have crafted a near perfect itinerary!
The colours pop as the themometer drops, so starting in the cooler north, one of our favourites in the Tohoku region is the Oirase Stream flowing into Lake Towada on the edge of Aomori and Akita prefectures. The combination of fairytale scenery, shimmering waters meandring through ancient forests and rugged rocky outcrops make for a magical setting. If you’re looking for spots steeped in history and abundant in autumn foliage, Kakunodate a historic samurai town, and Hiraizumi, an 11th century temple complex, are two places you'll need to add to your travel plans.

Heading down closer to Tokyo, Nikko in Tochigi prefecture is a beautiful area which boasts both UNESCO-acclaimed architecture and marvellous mountain views. We recommend staying here overnight to breathe in the mountain air, and spend a while amongst the vast natural beauty beyond the main temple sights.
Moving onto central Japan, Kamikochi in the Northern Japan Alps, is a great location for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels. With towering peaks and dense forests, it's the perfect spot to indulge your inner adventurer, whether that means a gentle afternoon of forest-bathing or a three-day hike up precipitous slopes!

Fan favourite, Miyajima Island, may be well-traversed but is undoubtedly another show stopping destination. Momijidani Valley, housed in its interior, is filled with crimson red maple trees with just enough wandering deer to help you truly feel the fantasy.
And finally, down south in Kyushu’s Miyazaki prefecture lies folkloric Takachiho Gorge. The southern sun makes these leaves some of the last to come into colour but cruising this volcanic canyon in a rowboat while admiring the autumn leaves is an experience no visitor should pass up!

Honestly - we could go on and on and on but, while we’re unable to enjoy Japan’s autumn this year, we can celebrate it here in the UK and we have just the right place to do it!

Momijigari in the UK

One of our favourite locations in the London area for all Japan-fans is Kew Gardens and this autumn they are giving us one more reason to visit. In October, between the 2nd and 31st, they are organising a special Japan festival supported by Daikin UK! 

Explore the 1.5 mile long Momijigari Trail which will take you on a journey through the garden’s autumn foliage and transport your soul to the place we're all begging to get back to. Admire the Chokushi-Mon gate towering over a quaint Japanese rock garden, play hide and seek around the bamboo groves of the Minka House, or fall head over heels in love with the fervent yellows of the garden's Ginkgo Grove. 

© RBG Kew

Japan festival is a celebration of all things Japanese: step into the world's largest surviving glasshouse, Temperate House, to admire the large-scale installation ‘One Thousand Springs’ by Chiharu Shiota. It consists of 5,000 haiku poems submitted by members of the public, suspended from the ceiling on crimson red threads. Take in the 'Chalk Garden', a stunning marriage of Japanese and British landscaping, and marvel at a display of Japan’s national flower - the chrysanthemum. With 100 officially recognised heritage soundscapes, Japan is more than just a treat for the eyes, so be sure to immerse yourself in the natural soundscape created by the self-taught sound designer, Yosi Horikawa, and his fascinating creation incorporating sounds from across the Japanese archipelago.

Visit Kew on a weekend and you'll be in time to catch busker ICHI’s incredible musical stylings in the morning, and watch 'shodo' master KASHUŪ’s artistry in everything Japanese calligraphy.

And the fun doesn’t stop in the evenings! Book your ticket for Japan After Hours and have the chance to see the stunning autumn foliage illuminated at night, as well as an array of events and performances! There is plenty to choose from - watch a dance performance by Butoh UK, join the ikebana master Hanako Motoya while she creates flower arrangements live, listen to a musical performance by Anchorsong, get your hands on a personalised origami creation, and get a taste of Japanese sake from Japan House’s very own pop-up store.

Learn more about the events and book your tickets here. For other Japan-facts and updates follow us on  FacebookInstagram, and Twitter!



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