Saturday, 3 December 2011

Momiji Madness!

Autumn is supposed to be the most beautiful season of the year in Japan. The leaves on all the Momiji (red maple) trees turn red, the sky is by turns deep blue and a bright grey that makes colours stand out like children's lollipops in photos, and thousands of people flock to parks and mountains and woods to admire the scenery. Viewing the autumn leaves has a word all its own: Momijigari.

Photo by Crystal Japan

This year, though, Autumn came so late to Tokyo that there were hardly any red leaves in sight at Mount Takao's famous all November-long Momiji Matsuri (Maple Leaf Festival) until its very final week - and there still weren't many even then, when I finally made the trip there.

But I was delighted anyway. Tokyo has everything but open space; I hadn't really seen anywhere that wasn't full of buildings and people since I went to Hanno in September. So the forest on the mountainside alone was like paradise to me...

...but I had to admit that the leaves that had turned were utterly spectacular

 ...and thanks to the chair lifts (the mountain is so small it really doesn't need them, but I wasn't complaining) our Momijigari was the easiest thing in the world.


The maple leaves weren't the only red foliage to see on Mount Takao. These cute bushes looked like they'd been spray-painted...

...which reminded me of those super-cute good-luck dolls, also called Momiji. Sadly the word similarity is just a co-incidence, but this one is dressed very appropriately anyway - in a demure autumn-coloured kimono:

All kinds of art in Japan IS inspired by the autumn Momiji though, including Noh. One of the most famous Noh plays ever written is actually called Momijigari. It starts innocuously enough: on a woodland hunt the great soldier Taira no Karemochi bumps into a noblewoman and her party who are, like everyone else in Japan at this time of year, in the mountain woods to view the turning leaves. Or at least, that is what they tell him...

The woman is beautiful, important and flirtatious: Karemochi can't resist talking to her. But as in so many old stories, the Forest is a place where nothing is ever what it seems. Things start getting stranger very quickly. Karemochi is blissfully unaware, even as he is being lulled into an enchanted sleep by beautiful dancing and far too much sake...

 ..that the beautiful lady is actually a demon in disguise. Later, the demon returns in its true form to create who knows what kind of mischief, and Karemochi shows no sign of noticing the danger. So, an Old Man - really Takeuchi, a retainer of the great Boddhisattva Hachiman, in disguise - has to save the day by appearing to Karemochi in a dream, leaving an enchanted sword by his side, and talking him into waking up. When he does, he finds the demon right infront of him

getting closer all the time

With his enchanted sword, Karemochi fights the demon... 

a spectacular fight, the most dynamic I've seen so far in Noh - made all the more spectacular coming straight after a long period of almost total stillness on stage.

Back in Tokyo, in the real world, now, with only 20 days to go until Christmas, the real-life Momiji leaves have really only just started falling. The weather is as unpredictable as the Forest here: winter might appear for a few hours (the temperature plummets and people start wearing woolly hats) but then it quickly hides again behind autumn sun and warm rain. Crazy!

No comments:

Post a Comment