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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of The Asahi Shimbun.
November 15, 2022 at 12:20 JST
Autumn leaves on Mount Mitakesan in Ome, western Tokyo, in November 2013 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
Wearied by the sight of drab, gray buildings, I climbed Mount Mitakesan in western Tokyo the other day.
It stands only 929 meters tall, but it has been a Shinto holy place since ancient times. A cable car, packed with visitors, dutifully worked its way up and down the mountain. Since I was in no hurry, however, I hiked the old approach to the shrine on the summit.
Firmly stepping up the steep slope and stopping to catch my breath from time to time, I recalled a Chinese poem by Du Mu (803-852), a poet of the Tang Dynasty.
It goes to the effect: “Climbing a mountain in late autumn/ A pebbled uphill path meanders on/ Far away, where white clouds hang low/ I see human habitation/ I stop my vehicle/ And take my time enjoying the sight of a maple forest at dusk/ The leaves, reddened by frost/ Blaze far brighter red than the blossoms of February.”
The laws of nature have not changed since Du Mu’s time 1,200 years ago–the summit of Mount Mitakesan was ablaze with magnificent fall foliage.
It is a stunningly beautiful sight when all the leaves are in just one color as far as the eye can see. But just as captivating is a rich color palette of greens gradually merging with gold and eventually with deep scarlet.
Turning my eyes to the ground, I found little blue buds of gentian flowers and berries of “murasakishikibu” (Japanese beautyberry), which appeared as if modestly asserting themselves into the view.
The palette of the god of nature must be loaded with paints of all colors.
Japan’s traditional kimono culture has always focused on “kasane no irome,” which translates as a “combination of colors created by the layering of garments.” The idea is to suggest the seasons through the colors of kimono, including the lining.
Some combinations actually have names. Those containing the word “Momiji” (maple) include “hatsu-momiji” (combination of yellow-green and pale yellow-green suggesting colors of maple leaves at the beginning of autumn), “ki-momiji” (combination of yellow-green and yellow suggesting colors of maple leaves in mid-autumn) and “haji-momiji” (combination of dark red and yellow suggesting colors of maple leaves in late autumn).
This sort of sensitivity has been nurtured through the Japanese appreciation of the four seasons.
On Nov. 15, Japan celebrates “Shichi-go-san,” a traditional rite of passage for children aged 3, 5 and 7.
But the day is also said to be “Kimono no Hi” (kimono day), and I understand that workers at the Kyoto city government office can work in kimono if they wish.
The mountains of the ancient capital of Japan are probably in autumn colors now. I imagine Mother Nature and humans sharing the stage.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 15
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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