Travel & Culture

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Japanese culture and lifestyles through the eyes of NHK WORLD personalities

October 13, 2016

Fall in Japan: Foliage, Food and Festivities

Lisa Wallin / Writer, Translator
Lisa Wallin

Lisa Wallin appears as a reporter on TOKYO EYE 2020. She first came to Japan in 2007, curious about the culture and attracted to the alternative music scene. She still enjoys searching out new acts, when she's not busy in her work as a writer and translator.

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Japan is well known worldwide for its beautiful fall foliage - in particular the vibrant reds of the Japanese maple trees - and it's true that fall in Japan can be absolutely stunning. The vibrant reds, oranges and yellows fill me with peace and wonder, especially when complemented by a bright blue sky and a cool breeze. But if you think Japan only has pretty leaves to offer in the fall, then you'd be dead wrong.

Once the hot, muggy summer days have passed, the brief typhoon season hits and finally the temperature drops. Fall is known as "shokuyoku no aki", and means something like "the healthy appetite of fall". Many people experience a loss of appetite during the summer, and regain it back once the weather settles down. There's also wider variety of seasonal fish, and freshly harvested fruits and vegetables readily available in the cooler months.

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Appetite for food isn't the only thing that increases as the days and nights cool down. Fall is also known as "dokusho no aki"—"fall is for reading". This is reportedly because people tend to focus better on reading and mental tasks at temperatures around 18 degrees Celsius. Coupled with the lack of the sticky humidity that plagues you all summer, fall has the perfect conditions for sitting comfortably in a chair with some tea and a good book. If you're a fan of onsen (hot springs) then fall is one of the best times to go. I'd highly recommend going somewhere with a rotenburo, which is a stone bath outdoors. The contrast of the cool air and the hot water is absolutely divine. Couple that with a view of splendid golds, green, oranges and reds covering the tree tops and you have yourself a winner.

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Having said that, fall isn't just about sitting around and eating or reading—far from it! Though summer seems to get most of the attention when it comes to traditional matsuri (festivals), these go on throughout the season all across the country. If you time it right, and you're lucky, you may even be asked to join in on some of the festivities! No doubt it'll be an experience to last a lifetime if you do. The number of music and fireworks festivals is growing too, even though these are historically more of a summer event. Traveling is a breeze in fall—it's actually when I do most of my exploring, both locally and further afield. I love walking around exploring new neighborhoods and can spend hours meandering down alleyways in search of a new favorite café, an interesting shrine, or even a friendly stray cat.

For those reasons (and many more!), fall is my favorite of the four seasons while I'm in Japan. It often feels fleeting, as it's sandwiched between the hot, sweltering days of summer and chilly winter nights, but that only makes me want to make the most of it even more. It's truly one of the most comfortable and versatile times of the year—whether you prefer outdoor or indoor activities, the conditions are just ripe for it.

Photographs by Lisa Wallin

photoAsagiri Jam Music Festival, Shizuoka Prefecture
photoAsagiri Jam Music Festival, Shizuoka Prefecture
photoKitazawa Hachimangu Fall Festival, Tokyo
photoKitazawa Hachimangu Fall Festival, Tokyo
photoKuramae Shrine, Tokyo
photoFloating torii gate, Miyajima, Hiroshima Prefecture
photoA view of the floating torii gate, Miyajima, Hiroshima Prefecture
photoAoshima Shrine, Miyazaki Prefecture
photoAoshima Shrine, Miyazaki Prefecture
photoUdo Jingu, Miyazaki Prefecture
photoUdo Jingu, Miyazaki Prefecture
photoKiyomizudera, Kyoto

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Lisa Wallin / Writer, Translator

Originally from Sweden, Lisa grew up traversing the globe as she immersed herself in various cultures, driven by a deep-seated need to learn more about the world around her. Japan ultimately became her home with its lure of scrumptious cuisine and surprising dynamic underground music scene. Her work as a writer, translator, and periodic reporter for TOKYO EYE 2020 on NHK WORLD has availed her access and appreciation of Japanese culture far beyond the common fare. Outside of her busy work schedule she makes time to find and eat delicious foods, visit shrines, make friends with every Shiba dog she comes across, and participate in awaodori dance practice.

Question How long have you been in Japan?
I've been in Japan for a total of about 7 years now. During that time, I've lived in Osaka, Miyazaki, and now Tokyo.
Question What was your original reason for coming to Japan?
Like many people, I first came to teach English. I ended up staying for a number of reasons, including enjoying the lifestyle I lead here, the friends I've made, and so on.
Question What's your favorite scenic spot in Japan?
My favorite scenic spot in Japan has got to be Udo Jingu, a beautiful shrine tucked inside a cave on the coast of Miyazaki, on the island of Kyushu. The shrine faces the open sea, and waves crash against the rocks just meters away. It's a fascinating example of human ingenuity working with nature.
Question What's the one thing that's essential to your life in Japan?
I don't think I'd survive without the train application on my phone. All I need to do is input my starting station and destination, and it tells me the best route to get there, as well as how much it'll cost and how long it'll take. It also gives me alternative options that may require fewer train changes.
Question What is your favorite Japanese word? Please briefly describe what it means in English.
My favorite Japanese expression is "ichigo ichie". 一期一会
It loosely translates to "carpe diem", or "seize the day", but with an emphasis on treasuring the moment you're currently experiencing. More literally it means this moment will only ever happen once, and therefore it makes sense to make the most of it.

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