I apologise but this post gets a wee bit poetic and flowery in the middle.
Momijidani is one of Japan’s two famous “viewing” seasons, the other being hanami in Spring. Momijidani means to go view the beautiful maple leaves that turn Japan’s forests into beautiful vistas of red and gold every autumn.
One of the most famous sights for Momijidani is Miyajima Island near Hiroshima. The island is covered in a wide variety of maples and even has a park dedicated to maple trees.
My girlfriend being wiser and more sensible than I rightly thought that it would be a great place to spend a long weekend. And she was right.
I don’t really have a lot to add about Miyajima since the last time I wrote about it. The floating torii is still a truly amazing sight. The view from the top of the mountain still offers a stunning panoramic vista of the surrounding area and the dramatic, moody mountains that burst from the sea like monsters rising from the depths. The climbed down is still pleasant and calm and takes you through beautiful primeval forest. There are still monkeys, deer and monkeys and deer together. The town of Miyajima is still charming and old fashioned and a delight to stroll through. It is, basically, still my favourite spot in Japan.
The main changes this time were to the climate and the amount of people in attendance.
Obviously it was autumn and as I said we had gone there to admire the autumn leaves. And they are definitely worthy of admiration. Autumn has always been my favourite season in Britain for the combination of the nicest temperatures of the year (September is warm but not so warm that you sweat from walking), the confluence of several festivals such as bonfire night and Halloween (which obviously isn’t a big thing in Britain but is to a horror movie buff like me) the beautiful crisp quality to the air and the glorious colours of the trees.
Japanese Autumn lacks the festivals and is still so wet that it jumps from hot to cold almost immediately but it more than makes up for it in the quality of its leaves.
I mean, wow! Words fail me.
The amount of forest in Japan helps this effect too. Japanese cities are largely devoid of trees (although Hiroshima is an exception) but just beyond every Japanese city is a dominating mountain range covered top to bottom in ancient forest. These forests are mostly a lustrous dark green but they are dotted here and there with bright apple reds, fiery oranges and sunflower yellows. In autumn every view in Japan gains a breathtaking multi-coloured backdrop.
Chief and most important of the autumn trees are the maples, the momiji which the season gets its name from. Not only do these trees effect the most dramatic change and most exciting of colours (just look at some of those reds and let your jaw hang loose in wonder) but the shape of the leaves further enhances their beauty. Symmetrical, angular, intricate, eye catching the classic maple leaf shape is the perfect canvas on which to display these autumnal compositions.
Autumn also grants the surrounding view a wonderful mist. From the top of the mountain the surrounding islands which rise so magnificently from the waters are draped in a mysterious fog. Thin enough that it doesn’t obscure the view but just thick enough to lend the islands an air of mystery and a vague ethereal quality.
Put basically Miyajima looks really pretty in autumn.
However, unfortunately, the Japanese people are well aware of this and they flock, in their thousands, to come see it.
This is a constant problem for the traveller in Japan. There are just a lot of Japanese people. And lots of these Japanese people want to do the same things as you. The Japanese are very good at enjoying their own country, much better than Brits are, and they love to travel and see the sights in Japan.
So you can be sure that at any major festival or any scenic spot that is particularly associated with a season there will be other people there in their thousands getting in your way and spoiling the view and the quiet.
Frankly I’m used to this by now and having to struggle through enormous crowds of people no longer bothers me quite so much as it did but it can still rankle sometimes, especially when we had to wait more than an hour for the cable car to the top of the mountain. Nor did I have the island entirely to myself last time either but whilst last time on my climb down the mountain last time I saw 3, maybe 4 people in total this time around I passed a group of 3 every 10 seconds.
The food is still awesome too. I introduced Fran to the delights of barbequed oysters. She didn’t like them and so I got to eat hers as well. She has no idea what she’s missing, they were tasty and juicy and perfect and meltingly delicious. I want some more just thinking about it.
And momiji-manju, basically tai-yaki but in the shape of momiji leaves, is still the finest invention in the entire history of Japan.