Cultural Journey

    • November 13, 2020 Autumn Leaves in Japan

      In the traditional crafts in Japan, the four seasons are the precious theme.

      In the Kanji character, "hunting" means hunting or gathering, and people are familiar with it like "strawberry hunting" and "mushroom hunting". However, simply viewing and appreciating the autumn leaves is also called "autumn leaves hunting" because people go into the mountains for viewing the autumn leaves which is similar to the hunting.

      Japanese people used to enjoy autumn leaves by visiting mountains, but after the Heian period, people started enjoying them by planting trees in their gardens. The autumn leaves are not only beautiful, but also it influences the spiritual chords in connection with the impermanence of the coming lonely winter.

      Autumn leaves are a phenomenon that occurs due to the dropping of leaves in the areas having harsh seasons such as cold and dry. It's like hibernation. The color of the leaves changes due to chemical changes, depending on the plant type and the time. "Kaede" is a deciduous broad-leaved tree that has been appreciated by Japanese from ancient times.

      In Japan, deciduous broad-leaved trees are distributed mainly in the plains such as the Tohoku region and in the mountainous areas in the west of eastern Japan, where the natural conditions are not affected by human activities. Plains in western Japan, where many people live, are the area of evergreen broad-leaved trees. Therefore, the colored leaves can only be seen in the deep mountains, and people have to go there to see them.

      The land of Japan is long from north to south and the climate conditions are very different. This has made it possible for many plants to survive under the global climate change by shifting their range of habitats. It if becomes cold, they go to the south and it becomes warm, they go to the north.

      However, Europe and North America were covered by glaciers during the glacial period when temperatures were lower than now, and many plants became extinct in Europe due to the European Alps running east-west, which prevented from evacuating to the south. As a result, there are only about 30 species of trees in Europe, while there are hundreds of species of living trees in Japan. Therefore, the color of autumn leaves in Japan differs from that of Europe and North America due to the diversity of trees.

      Japanese maple viewing is just like the patchwork of various colors and in the Japanese gardens the trees are nicely arranged in consideration of the artificial structures, stones, and the daily changes of colored trees.

      Stay tuned for the next post.

    • November 07, 2020 Harvest Moon - Elegant Moon Event in Japan -

      The lunisolar calendar has been used in East Asia under the influence of China. Since it was changed to the Gregorian calendar in 1872 in Japan, the lunar-solar calendar is called "lunar calendar" and although the old calendar is rarely used today, it still remains as an annual event.

      One of them is August 15 in the old calendar. In various parts of East Asia, there is a custom of appreciating the moon on this day, although it also means ancestor worship or harvest festival. In China, there is a custom of eating geppei in chushusetsu, but in Japan, it is called "harvest moon" and the custom of displaying Japanese pampas grass and offering dumplings was established in the late Edo period. August 15th in the old calendar in Japan is the day of full moon which is from September to October in the Gregorian calendar. 

      At this time in Japan, there were many days when the weather was not good because it coincided with the season of typhoons and autumnal rain, but when it is fine, the clear air enveloped the moonlight and the clear air permeated the moonlight. Susuki (Japanese pampas grass), one of the seven autumn herbs, is a gramineous plant that grows in grasslands. It was also called kaya (thatch), and was a familiar plant used as a material for thatched roofs. Therefore, there was a grassland called kayaba to procure Japanese pampas grass. Japanese pampas grass produces shiny silver spikes in autumn. The pampas grass that fills the meadow is shaken by the wind in the moonlight of the full moon, which is very fantastic, and even today, similar scenes can be seen in the riverside of a large river.

      It is said that the custom of moon viewing was introduced to Japan in the early Heian period. In the Heian period, nobles not only looked up at the moon but also read waka (a traditional Japanese poem of thirty-one syllables) by loving the moon reflected on the water surface of a pond or a sake cup.

      In Kyoto around this time, the sky in the west still has an afterglow of sunset, but the moon rises from the mountains in the east around 18:00 and rises high toward midnight. It is therefore beautiful to view from the west side of the water. Osawa-no-ike Pond of Daikaku-ji Temple, the Saga Imperial Palace, has been a famous viewing spot for the moon since ancient times. From this, it is thought that the reflection of the beautiful moon and the shadow of the mountain on the water surface in the pond was so beautiful. Murasaki Shikibu is said to have written the world's oldest novel, ”The Tale of Genji” at Ishiyama-dera Temple in Shiga Prefecture located on the west bank of Lake Biwa, which is the largest lake in Japan. The great moon from Ishiyama-dera Temple was painted in the ukiyo-e "Ishiyama Akizuki" by Hiroshige Utagawa. Both Ishiyama-dera Temple and Daikaku-ji Temple are still famous sites for Kangetsu-sai (an event to enjoy the harvest moon).

      Stay tuned for the next post.