Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Japanese Autumn Sunsets, Falling Foliage, and Red Dragonflies

I have to apologise in advance - university entrance exams and student theses have combined to bury me in work so a short post this month! Anyway, after a cold spell a couple of weeks back, the nice autumn weather has returned. We've still rarely had to put the heating on: the sun being lower in the sky heats up the apartment in the daytime! It really is a lovely season with gloriously coloured leaves falling like confetti, spectacular sunsets (pictured), and delicious fruit: we received a box of La France pears from Yamagata last week and persimmon (kaki) the week before, known as the Queen of Fruits and the Divine Fruit of Autumn respectively.

The other morning, while standing on the balcony, a red dragonfly (tombo or, in old Japanese, akitsu) - a symbol of strength, good fortune, and happiness - landed on the railing right beside me. Whereas in England the dragonfly is often dismissed as just another insect, here in Japan it has a special place in Japanese hearts; Japanese are very fond of the critter with its large compound eyes and two pairs of beautifully latticed transparent wings and children even try to catch them using various clever techniques. As a fast predatory insect that apparently never gives up it is also known as katsumushi (winning insect) and appeared on samurai armour as a symbol of determinedness and victory. In fact, Japan itself was even once called Dragonfly Island (Akitsu-shima) because of its shape! The insect has inspired generations of poets: in haiku poetry, the dragonfly is a season keyword (kigo=季語) for autumn, capturing the essence of the season, as seen in the following stanza by Scott King: "The red dragonfly; a small amount of sunset; trapped in its wings"

As mentioned earlier, another spectacular feature of the season are the changing colour of the leaves, fondly known as kōyō (紅葉) in Japanese which includes both the red/orange Japanese maple and the yellow Ginkgo trees. Much like cherry blossom-viewing, Japanese take this very seriously and will travel for miles to visit a nice spot. One of the most popular places in Tokyo central in both spring and autumn has traditionally been the Imperial Palace grounds and a few days ago (November 26th) Inui Street was opened to the public for autumn foliage viewing through December 4th (here). I don't have time to even travel that far at the moment, but fortunately my university has some spectacular maples and other trees in magnificent shades of red, orange, and green. Almost makes it worth going into work - almost! What does autumn mean to you? Let us know in the COMMENTS!

Thank-you to David for the amazing pictures!