Although the slow pace of summer is wonderful, autumn’s cooling temperatures stimulate us to move, to travel - and of course to move to a “prepare for winter” frame of mind!
The starting line is the end of o-bon, in mid-August. That sounds early, but up on the mountain that’s when you begin to notice the underbrush thinning, the dragonflies slowing, and the crazy-long summer days shortening.
September offers one last look back at summer, but now, in mid-October… this is autumn!
So of course the colours of the leaves on the mountain are changing. The beech on Mt. Kenashi turns a bright yellow, and from the village you can see the yellow creeping down the mountain day by day. The grasses on the meadows are higher than you are, waving in the wind, and the rice fields are part-harvested, part-ripened and waiting for the farmers.
The wild grapes are ripe, the mountain chestnut trees are dropping their fruit, and there are more fungi in the woods than you can imagine. Everyone is trading fruits; we receive crates and crates of grapes, apples, pears… chefs in the ryokan kitchens probably enjoy this season more than anyone. If, for you, the point of a Japanese holiday is to eat, well, autumn is when you should be here!
It’s one of the favourite times of year for our Japanese guests to travel, too. Almost every weekend there’s an arts and crafts fair in one of the nearby towns, and it’s the perfect season for outdoor sports activities. Last weekend in Nozawa Onsen, for example, we not only had a long-distance mount trail running race and a downhill mountain bike competition, but also a dramatic 13km, 1,000m ascent, bicycle hill climb event.
Fairly soon the trees at the top of the mountain will lose their leaves and the first early snows will fall. The first few snowfalls are the test run: they’re a dress rehearsal for the big switch, when our six months of green turns into the six months of white. They’ll melt back as the temperature fluctuates, waiting for that moment in late November or early December when the first really big storm comes in to lay the winter base. But before then, everyone has to busy themselves preparing their houses for the winter, checking boilers and heaters, servicing the snowmobiles, and the myriad other tasks we have to do before our world changes.