Monday, December 12, 2011

Maple Leaf Time!

Japan has four distinct seasons.  In the winter it snows and it’s cold enough to need a scarf (This was the first time in my life I’ve ever worn a scarf).  In the spring there are beautiful cherry blossoms (sakura) that fall to the ground like snow.  In the summer it’s sweat drenchingly hot and humid.  In the fall trees light up with spectacular red maple leaves (momiji).  Japanese people tend to flip out a little bit about season changes.  You’ll see blossom and leaf forecasts on the nightly news.  I got to see sakura last time I was in Japan, but this time I was lucky enough to see the height of the fall foliage season.


Awesome Reflection

I actually went to two different “leaf viewing” locations.  First I went to an area called Arashiyama in west Kyoto.  I went on a national holiday(I believe it was day of the aged) so unlike many of my previous adventures, there were some large crowds.  The Arashiyama area is really nice.  There are a bunch of shrines scattered around picturesque ponds, streams, and bamboo forests.  As I was crossing one of the rivers I saw a bunch of people pointing at something in the water.  It turned out to be an over 5ft long giant salamander.  The leaves were pretty amazing.  I started taking pictures right away only to realize that I wasn’t even looking at very good examples.  I visited a couple of temples and saw this awesome cloud dragon painted on the ceiling of the Tenryuji temple.  The surrounding gardens were truly beautiful.  I loved how the leaves reflected in the ponds.  I spent several hours wandering around the hills and running into a bunch of shrines, but there are way too many to visit them all.  I paid $2 to get my fortune at one of the shrines, but unfortunately I can’t read it.  I got a Japanese person to translate and they told me it was a very good fortune, but I still don’t know the specifics.  Eventually I returned through a bunch of little souvenir shops and headed home.

The next week I visited Mino just north of Osaka.  Mino is right up against the hills.  There’s a paved trail that winds through a wooded valley following a little stream.  It eventually comes to an end at a big waterfall.  It feels surprisingly remote for a place that’s so close to Japanese urban sprawl.  I was excited because Mino is famous for having a bunch of wild Monkeys that tend to be fairly aggressive.  However, there didn’t seem to be any Monkeys around when I walked through.  Perhaps it wasn’t the right season.  Everyone I talked to was surprised that I actually wanted to see the Monkeys.  They seem to be a massive pain.  Along the route there are several merchants selling actual battered and fried maple leaves.  I bought a bag and they were actually pretty tasty.

 From the valley floor

 Don't feed the monkeys


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