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Momiji Festivals


Costumed men demonstrate a centuries-old ball game called kemari at Tanzan Shrine;
the 13-tiered pagoda is seen at upper left. (Isamu Ota)

With the coming of autumn, nature's brilliant reds and yellows make their annual appearance. In Japan, while spring is the time for viewing cherry blossoms, autumn is the season for appreciating momiji, or the changing colors of leaves. Visiting mountains draped in breathtaking color, like cherry blossom-viewing, is a tradition that dates back many centuries, and it's an occasion to appreciate the beauty and blessings of nature.

In November, when the autumn foliage is at its peak, numerous momiji festivals are held throughout the country. One of the most famous is held at Kyoto's Arashiyama. Elaborately designed boats are set afloat on the nearby Oi River, upon which costumed musicians play the koto and shakuhachi (bamboo flute), and traditional dances are performed.

A two-month festival is held every fall from early October to early December on the grounds of Nara Prefecture's Tanzan Shrine, famous for its orange-colored architecture and 13-tiered wooden pagoda. With its abundant maple trees, which turn deep red in autumn, the shrine's compound becomes a place of exquisite beauty.

Another festival is held in mid-November every year at the Kumano Nachi Shrine in Wakayama Prefecture to give thanks for nature's blessings. Short poems expressing autumn's beauty are written on strips of paper and then tied to sprigs and sent down Nachi Falls, a sacred and famous waterfall that's part of the shrine.

Other major festivals are held in early November at the Kotohira Shrine in Kagawa Prefecture and at the Aso Shrine in Kumamoto Prefecture. Many cities, towns, and villages throughout Japan also hold festivals in local parks and gardens.