Ahhhh … that hiatus felt all too long and all too short! For those of you reading this, welcome back! Thanks for letting me take some time off. We’ve safely arrived in California, have even moved into a new (rental) home, and even started getting accustomed to driving on the right side of the road again. We’re still waiting on furniture (I would pay good money for someone to bring me my bed at this point!) but hey – my rice cooker is here. What else could I need? 🙂
It’s September. Hooray! The heat of the summer is finally abating across Japan (somewhat… sorry Okinawa!) and whispers of autumn are on the breeze. Unless you’re in Hokkaido, you won’t see any changing leaves yet, but there are numerous other things to catch this month around the archipelago. It would be near impossible to list everything here (JNTO does a pretty decent job with their monthly calendars, but even they don’t cover everything), so let’s call the suggestions below a “curated list” of what I enjoy this month. Here are some of my favorite September activities to be on the lookout for:
1. Opening of the Shoto-en (Shoto Garden) in Tokyo’s Ota Ward
If you haven’t heard of Ota Ward, I don’t blame you, but I want you to remedy that. 🙂 Ota-ku wasn’t on my radar either, until a special writing project for the new Ota tourism website had me tramping all over the district last year, discovering some pretty amazing finds. One of my favorite places is Ikegami Honmon-ji, a temple nearly as old (and with about 1/100th of the visitors) as famous Senso-ji. The complex is huge and in the back is a traditional garden. It only opens its doors once a year in September – this year’s dates are September 8-12, 2016. The fantastic and knowledgable Ota volunteer guides will offer free tours of the garden on September 10th and 11th from 10am until 4pm.
Tsukimi, or “moon viewing”, is a celebration of the autumnal harvest moon. Usually occurring around September 22nd or 23rd, it’s not an official holiday per se, though the Japanese sometimes get a day off. If the evening of the full moon is clear, it’s fun to find a tall building, garden with a tea house or simply the balcony of your apartment to view the night scene. Those who mark tsukimi often set up a small display of susuki, or pampas grass, and a stack of tsukimi-dango, or pounded rice dumplings made in the shape of – you guessed it – a full moon. You’ll also see lots of rabbits in shop decorations at this time of year. The Japanese believe that instead of a man in the moon, there is a rabbit pounding mochi. 🙂
3. Spider Lilies in Bloom
Around the same time as Tsukimi, the beautifully delicate red spider lilies come into bloom. They’re also known as higanbana, or equinox flowers, since they are usually in full bloom around the autumn equinox. Spider lilies often grow around Japan’s many rice paddies. The bulbs are poisonous and act as a good deterrent to mice and other rodents. One of my favorite places to see spider lilies is near Tsujunkyo (the Tsujun Bridge) in Kumamoto prefecture. Near Tokyo, the Koishikawa Botanical Garden has a sizable display, or you can take the trip out to rural Saitama to see the impressive acres of blooms near in Kinchakuda Park.
4. Start of the rice harvest
When the spider lilies bloom, it’s a signal that the rice harvest is about to begin. It’s hard to have a sense of this occurring in big cities like Tokyo, Osaka or even Kyoto. Last year, I had the pleasure of attending a rice harvesting event in a tiny paddy on top of one of Roppongi’s skyscrapers. But for those who may just be passing through, try to spend some of your time in the Japanese countryside, even if it’s only on a train trip. Rural Kumamoto, Saga and Fukuoka in Kyushu are great places to see the rice harvest. Shikoku also has numerous paddies. In central Japan, Niigata is a huge rice producer.