TsukuBlog

A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Fallen Gingko Leaves (銀杏落葉) Give Tsukuba ( and much of Japan) Glimmering, Golden Groundscapes

Tsukuba`s Doho Park in late November 2009

Tsukuba`s Doho Park in late November

By Avi Landau

The most commonly used expression for AUTUMN FOLIAGE in the Japanese language is KOHYOH ( 紅葉), which literally means- RED LEAVES. This is a testament to the fact that since more than a thousand years ago, the residents of the old capital Heian-Kyo ( now Kyoto), out of all the colorful autumn trees, have had a strong preference for the deep red hues taken on by the Japanese Maple (kaede, 楓). And despite the fact that the mountains which surround Kyoto turn a wide range of blazing colors, the Heian aristocrats and literati referred to a foliage-viewing excursion specifically as MOMIJI-GARI ( 紅葉狩り)- red, maple-leaf hunting.

Fallen gingko leaves at a small Kashima Shrine, Shimo-hiratsuka, Tsukuba 2009

Fallen gingko leaves at a small Kashima Shrine, Shimo-hiratsuka, Tsukuba

This association of autumn with RED LEAVES is so strong that when talking in English, Japanese people, even the best speakers, will incorrectly use the expression- RED LEAVES ( in English) when referring to what native speakers would call autumn leaves, changing leaves, autumn colors, or autumn foliage.

This has always seemed strange to me, living in contemporary Japan. For though there are certainly a few spectacular maple trees here and there, the dominant autumn (and early winter) color of Tsukuba is surely YELLOW, with various trees turning that color- most outstandingly the ITCHOH- or as we say in Engish, the GINGKO TREES.

A carpet of ginkgo leaves in Matsushiro, Tsukuba (Nov. 26th 2013)

A carpet of ginkgo leaves in Matsushiro, Tsukuba – in November

A path in Tsukuba`s Matsushiro goes GOLD

A path in Tsukuba`s Matsushiro goes GOLD

A miniature maple tree turns red at a community center in Hojo, Tsukuba

A miniature maple tree turns red at a community center in Hojo, Tsukuba

These trees are commonly found within the precincts of temples and shrines, and abundantly in parks, as well. In Tsukuba, they have also been planted as a roadside tree, most famously lining the important Tsuchiura-Gakuen Line.

Not only do these trees create beautiful glowing tree canopies,but as their leaves fall away, they turn the gound around them into a golden carpet. There are some famous spots in Japan, such as the Jingu Gaien Park in Tokyo, where two long rows of gingko trees form a tunnel over the fallen leaves creating a spectacular gilden walkway. The padded feeling of strolling on the soft leaves adds to the surreal experience of passing through it. A miniature version of this can be seen, and walked through, in Tsukuba`s very own Doho Park.

The Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Shoso-In in Nara are also famous for their fallen gingko leaves.

Gingko leaves are fan-shaped
Gingko leaves are fan-shaped

 

A careful examination of an individual gingko leaf will reveal its FAN-like shape. It is because of this shape that in Japanese cooking, slicing vegetables into thin half-circles is called ITCHOH-GIRI ( 銀杏切), literally- gingko slices.

These leaves have also been traditionally used to prevent insect damage ( by keeping the pests away) to Japanese style books ( of washi paper) by placing them between volumes.

I have written about the delicious and nutritious ( though very strange smelling) nuts of the gingko tree before. See-http://blog.alientimes.org/2008/09/tsukubas-gingko-nut-nuts-putting-their-gloves-on/

And dont forget to remind your Japanese friends that autumn is not exclusively RED !

( and if you are a Japanese student of english to use the expression AUTUMN FOLIAGE instead of red leaves)

Golden-leaved Gingko trees line the worshippers path leading to the RAIJIN-SAMA shrine in Kamigo, Tsukuba

While you are enjoying Tsukuba`s autumn leaves you might note the unique way in which the roadside trees have been planted ( it is in fact called the Tsukuba Method)- trees are planted in pairs 3 meters apart, with the next pair 8 meters away!

And if you have grown tired of merely enjoying the foliage with your eyes, I have written about how some people have another way of TAKING IN the leaves:

http://blog.alientimes.org/2011/10/taking-in-the-autumn-leaves-literally-with-momiji-no-tempura-%e3%82%82%e3%81%bf%e3%81%98%e3%81%ae%e5%a4%a9%e3%81%b7%e3%82%89-maple-leaves-deep-fried-in-batter-snacks/

 

Maple-leaf tempura- a seasonal snack

A packet of autumn leaf motifed rice crackers from Kyoto

A packet of autumn leaf motifed rice crackers from Kyoto

The leaf-shaped rice-craclers inside - note the gingko-leaf shaped one

The leaf-shaped rice-craclers inside – note the gingko-leaf shaped one

A grand old gingko tree at the Yasaka Jinja Shrine in Karima, Tsukuba- the fallen leaves have been swept away for  the SHICHI GO SAN Festival (November 15, 2014)

A grand old gingko tree at the Yasaka Jinja Shrine in Karima, Tsukuba- the fallen leaves have been swept away for the SHICHI GO SAN Festival (November 15, 2014)

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