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.
Written by Yoshimi Matsuta