The two most popular times to visit Japan are spring and autumn – spring for the cherry blossom (桜 / sakura), and autumn for the coloured leaves (紅葉 / koyo). In spring, people have hanami (花見 / literally, flower viewing) parties, and in autumn people do momijigari (紅葉狩 / literally, hunting red leaves or maple leaves). Here in the UK, we would call ‘momijigari’ ‘leaf peeping’.
Missing Japan as I do, I decided to combat my feelings with a little leaf peeping of my own, and here in Bristol there’s no better place for a spot of leaf peeping than Westonbirt Arboretum. Westonbirt Arboretum, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, has a huge collection of trees, including a collection of Japanese maples (acer japonicum and acer palmatum).
As I don’t really know anything about trees, here’s some information about these Japanese species from the Forestry Commission:
Downy Japanese maple (Acer japonicum)
This species of maple is native to the islands of Honshu and Hokkaidō in Japan. Like the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), it has given rise to a number of cultivated varieties (cultivars) including ‘Aconitifolium’, a striking form with deeply cut leaves.
Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
Japanese maple is native to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and eastern China and was introduced to Britain in 1820. It is not a large tree, often growing as an understory plant in shady woodlands. The Japanese maple shows considerable variation, even in nature – which has led to the selection of hundreds of cultivars each with their own leaf size, shape and colour. The arboretum has over 250 Japanese maple cultivars. Acer Glade (Old Arboretum), Maple Loop and The Link (Silk Wood) are the best places to see them.
I really enjoyed my leaf peeping day – it was nice to just wander through the trees and remember the coloured leaves I’ve seen in Japan before. Here’s a sample of what I saw…
For those of you interested in leaf peeping in Japan, there’s a great guide to autumn leaves here on Japan Guide and also here. I’d recommend Kyoto – especially Arashiyama – but you can see beautiful leaves just about anywhere in Japan if you time it right. In many places you will still be able to see coloured leaves right through November and even into early December. I remember once visiting Tokyo at the beginning of December and being pleasantly surprised that I could see coloured leaves in Ueno Park.
Happy leaf peeping, everyone! (*^_^)v