I have been dreaming of Kyoto. After six months, I have been itching to travel, and autumn is, in my opinion, the most beautiful season in Japan.
I’m sure most people who are reading this are longing for a bit of an adventure too. That got me thinking about ways we can travel from home and experience the beauty of autumn in Japan from anywhere in the world.
Following are some autumn traditions from Japan that I am looking forward to in creating a splendid fall.
Color Hunting: Called koyo in Japan, the changing leaves are perhaps the highlight of autumn. The term color hunting refers to time spent seeking out this stunning foliage. In Japan, people take trips to appreciate the colors of leaves and greet weekend days with child-like enthusiasm.
To experience this at home, go on a long walk, a drive, or even camping. Get out in nature with nothing more than the goal of appreciating the beautiful colors that we are so lucky to have.
Seasonal Food: There is a saying in Japan that autumn is the most delicious season. I couldn’t agree more. Here are a few of my favorite foods, most of which are readily available here in the US.
- Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes: Known in Japan as satsuma imo, these delicious gems are usually available in most stores, including Whole Foods. Often served roasted and wrapped in newspaper on the streets of Japan during the crisp autumn weather, these treats can easily be made at home. Just cut a slit in a sweet potato and bake it at 450 degrees for about an hour. The longer you bake these, the sweeter they get. Once they’re done, just eat them plain – they taste like pound cake. I have to admit that I am addicted to these and eat them all year round.
- Chestnuts: Another personal obsession of mine, chestnuts are in season and eaten all over Japan during the autumn months. I usually buy them dried, as they are easier to prepare that way. One of my favorite ways to prepare them is to soak them in water overnight and then cook them with brown glutinous rice, using the soaking water as the rice cooking water. This makes a gooey, sweet side dish that borders on dessert. This is delicious for breakfast, too – just add raisins and cinnamon.
- The Matsutake Mushroom: Perhaps the most revered autumn food in Japan, this mushroom is hard but not impossible to come by. Check if your area has a Japanese grocery store and ask them if they will be carrying these mushrooms. Their season is brief, and they are very expensive, but what a treat they are. Matsutake mushrooms have faint pine notes, hence the name matsu, which means pine. I stick to easy recipes with this, as you want to let the taste of the mushroom shine through. Here is one that I make every year: https://www.justonecookbook.com/matsutake-gohan/
Moon Viewing (Tsukimi or Otsukimi): The Moon Viewing Festival is a tradition in Japan that dates back to the Heian Era. Put simply, this is a festival to celebrate the harvest moon. Typical decorations include pampas grass. A sweet dessert called dango is served.
This year, the day of Otusukimi is Thursday, October 1. Celebrating this at home is simple: Find a good view of the moon, put together some snacks (preferably round to tie in with the moon theme), and sit back and enjoy the beauty.
Soaking While Enjoying the Foliage: Bathing among the foliage is perhaps one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced. Imagine the warmth of the bath coupled with a slight chill to the air, the scent of fresh pine, and the beauty of colors everywhere.
This time of year, I tend to gravitate toward the Rotenburo Air collection. This fragrance contains three types of coniferous essential oils: white pine, balsam fir, and hemlock spruce.
Rotenburo Air will transport you to Japan for an outdoor soak among the mountains, trees, and fresh, crisp air. Take your time with this ritual and allow your imagination to take you on a journey.
I would like to close with a breathtaking haiku by Patricia Donegan. This was written as an entry to a haiku contest last year when Amayori partnered with Kyoto Journal last autumn. The theme was bathing. I love this haiku and think it captures the spirit of bathing in autumn perfectly.
autumn dusk —
a woman’s song
mingles with the bath water
In the spirit of bathing,