Japan: Cherry Blossom vs Autumn Leaves

Japan is a magnificent destination to explore whatever time of year you decide to visit, but we’ve all heard about how exceptional beautiful the cherry blossom season and the autumn leaves season are. So, which one is best? It’s a fierce battle of soft pinks and fiery reds and could go either way – both have strong ties to Japan’s culture and identity; each is celebrated for its natural beauty, and both are all-out spectacular.

All of our Japan tours have dates that visit during both seasons, so read on to discover which one might be right for your Japan adventure. 

Cherry Blossom

What’s the story?

Every year, as spring approaches, cherry blossom fever takes hold of Japan. It’s so highly anticipated, the Japanese Meteorological Agency forecasts its arrival! Known in Japan as sukura, these beautiful trees are not simply for admiring, they also have strong connections to Japan’s history, culture and identity. From late March to early May, depending on whereabouts in Japan you are, shades of soft whites and pinks carpet the country, blooming for about a week before the flower petals drift gracefully to the ground. To many, this symbolises the transience of human life and something that should be well and truly celebrated.  

How does it feel?

The art of watching, celebrating and cherishing the cherry blossoms is known as ‘hanami’ which roughly translates as ‘flower watching’. As the season approaches a great enthusiasm builds as locals prepare for large picnic parties beneath the blossoms with their friends and family. They will drink sake, known as hanami-zake as this time of year, and feast on special hanami bento boxes and pink themed sweets and drinks such as sakura mochi, hanami dango, strawberries and even sakura flavoured chocolate bars, like KitKats!

History

The frenzy around cherry blossom stretches back 1,200 years to when its appearance signified the start of the rice-planting season. As time passed, its popularity grew alongside the philosophical beliefs of the Japanese, where appreciation of nature and the natural order is rife. Today, the few weeks where cherry blossoms bloom are the most popular time to visit Japan, and perhaps the most spectacular.

Autumn Leaves

What’s the story?

Around 70% of Japan is covered in forests of deciduous trees and as temperatures drop and autumn sweeps south through the nation, the country explodes into a fiery tapestry of reds, oranges and golds. Not as fleeting as the cherry blossoms, the autumn colours stay for around two months, starting in September in the far north of Hokkaido, reaching Tokyo and Kyoto in November, and continuing south into early December. Like with the annual cherry blossom forecast, the progress of the autumn leaves are tracked across the county; they go at a much more leisurely pace than the sakura!

How does it feel?

The art of following the autumn leaves is known as momiji-gari, ‘hunting red leaves’ and generally involves a walk with family and friends through forests and fields to find the best fall colours to appreciate. It’s a celebration of the start of autumn, and one which is now ingrained into Japanese culture; many locals will wear kimonos with maple leaf patterns while enjoying momiji tempura – delicious, deep-fried maple leaves. The anticipation might not be as frenzied as the cherry blossoms, but don’t underestimate the beautiful array of leaves – they’ve been the subject on many Japanese poems and novels.

History

The tradition of momiji-gari has its roots in the Heian Period (794-1185AD) where noble families and scholars would enjoy nature’s shift from green to gold. It only became more widely popular much later, in the Edo Period (1603-1868AD) when avid leaf spotters would travel vast distances to see a particularly spectacular display. A tradition that continues today!

Conclusion

Japan in either cherry blossom or autumn leaves season is vibrant, colourful and unforgettable. If you love your pink and want to experience the country abuzz with excitement, we say plump for cherry blossom. If the fiery reds and oranges call to you and a more tranquil visit – then autumn leaves might be just the thing.

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