Leaf Hunting in Japan: Momijigari Can Last Into Early December in the Country’s Southern Regions

November 29, 2021

Leaves have already dropped from the trees across much of the Northern Hemisphere, and once-colorful autumnal landscapes are starting to appear stark, bare, and even snow-covered as the season advances. But in Japan, some areas still displayed autumnal color in late November 2021.

Prime autumn foliage in Japan generally shows up first in Hokkaido, the country’s northernmost region, where colorful leaves are usually in full display by mid- to late-September. But in the country’s more southern regions, colorful foliage can persist into early December.

Momijigari is the Japanese tradition of visiting areas where leaves have turned red in the autumn.

On November 29, 2021, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this natural-color image of north-central Kyushu, the most southerly of Japan’s four largest islands. Colorful vegetation is visible across the mountainsides and lowlands in Aso-Kuju National Park.

It is not possible to know the exact sources of the color based on this satellite image alone, but it is likely a combination of evergreens, deciduous trees, grasses, shrubs, and agricultural fields. Deciduous trees turn various shades of yellow, orange, and red; the region’s grasses are known to turn a brilliant gold.

This autumn, visitors were asked to keep away from Mount Aso—the largest active volcano in Japan—after an eruption on October 20, 2021, sent a plume of ash 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) high. As of November 18, the Japan Meteorological Agency was still asking people to stay at least 1 kilometer from the mountain.

The nearby Kuju Mountains might be a safer location to view fall color this year. According to a Japan travel guide, this area “consists of several mountains, and among them Mount Kuju is the most impressive one that offers you to see striking fall colors in the fall.”

Autumn leaves have been a part of Japanese culture for thousands of years, showing up in poetry during the Nara period (710–794), and sought out by common people who journeyed to see them starting in the middle of the Edo period (1603–1868). Leaf peeping in Japan is known as Momijiari, which translates to “red leaf hunting.”

NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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