Autumn really is a most wonderful time of the year in the northern hemisphere and in Japan it has a language all of its own too.
Koyo: refers to the natural process of the leaves changing colour in autumn, from golden yellows to fiery reds.
Momiji: is the word for the maple leaves tinted red and the symbol of fall or autumn.
The palmate shape of the maple leaves look like little hands waving; hello to us in spring and then goodbye in autumn. The Maple leaf itself is seen as a symbol of strength and endurance. It can be found decorating so many things from seaonal silk Kimonos and ceramics to stationary. Their aroma is captured in incense... as I write, I'm burning Kyoto Autumn Leaves... something I found in the Shoyeido Incense company shop, when I first visited Kyoto in 2014.
I've always loved seeing them... from the feathery Acer palmatum dissectum varieties to the broad leafed maple trees and delicate dwarf shrubs. In Japan they think of them as frogs hands, kaede.
Here in Cornwall, our climate is gentle enough for them to thrive and we have a few growing in pots in our garden. For us here in the West, they are perhaps one of the key plants of a Japanese garden, along side the lovely pines and the bamboos. The Japanese maple tree is also a symbol for Peace and Serenity. They are called kito in Japanese, which means "calm", "rest" or "at peace." Gazing at the beauty of Mother Nature, is totally absorbing don't you find?
Watching the trees and leaves dancing; listening to their beautiful swishing song in the breeze and seeing the leaves magically transform in colour, is a joy from spring to autumn. The whole tree can change colour in a day! Yes, in one beautiful day... what you see in the cool morning may have transformed from their deep red by sunset to golden glow. Maybe that's why they are so revered and hunted, by the "red leaf spotters" some of whom, dress in their best Kimono as a family just to go and look at their transient beauty... that reminds us nothing lasts forever.
Noticing how the leaf colour rapidly changes day by day, is one of the spectacular gifts of autumn. By taking photos and comparing the various seasons, we can see the yearly changes to any tree and plant in our gardens, local parks and forests. It helps us to be in touch with the seasons and natural rhythms of life around us… even spending just 20 mins outside in nature, has been proven to lower the cortisol levels in our body, reducing our stress levels. At the same time we can tune into ourselves when we take a step back... listen to our heart and breathing pattern. we too have natural biorhythms, that get soo easily disrupted, in our online blue screen worlds.
Over the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, when we couldn't travel far from our homes, we were extremely grateful to have a garden to enjoy and to be living in a Cornish village. Being surrounded by green fields had a soothing effect on us and certainly helped us to slow down... and we also found the Luxulyan valley a wonderful place to walk, sit and meditate. Chanting the Gokai outside, seemed to open us up to all the natural energy around us and reminded us of the continuous circle of life.
A leaf may look dead as it flutters to the ground, but it becomes food for the tree roots… A shelter for other animals and the fruiting bodies of fungi, hide under the leaves as they collect around the base of the trunk. In the spring and summer, those same leaves turned the sunshine into food for the tree through photosynthesis. Drank in the rain and shaded the trunk form harsh sunshine. Each year the tree lets go of the leaf and the cycle of death and rebirth begins once more.
As the Autumn leaves fall they are also a reminder, it's time for us to let go of old things and habits, that no longer serve us well... Which allows us to make space for the new and start afresh, just for today... for our achievable wellbeing.