The season of harvest, sports and fall foliage in Japan

Autumn ni akinai! – The season of harvest, sports and fall foliage in Japan

Mina-san, konnichiwa! As all of you know, Japan is a land of four seasons, unlike here in Singapore where we have only two – hot or rainy. For this month, I want to focus on the season currently in season (heh) – autumn, or aki in Japanese!

To those of us who have not lived in a country with seasons, the image we might have of autumn is that of trees cloaked in flame and gold, and of nights growing increasingly longer as winter approaches, the latter encapsulated in the phrase “aki no yonaga”, or “the long nights of autumn”. Indeed, when I was studying in Japan, I was always surprised to step out of the classroom blocks at 5pm and find that it was already dark all around.

Perhaps some of you might have heard one of the many variations of the phrase “〇〇 no aki”, or “autumn of 〇〇” – autumn is associated with a variety of things in Japan, hence the various phrases about this particular season. In a survey conducted on university students, the top five words students used to fill in the blanks were, in order: “appetite”, “reading”, “sports”, “sleep’, and “the arts”! 

Looking at the order, it makes perfect sense – after all, autumn, being a time of harvests, is when many foods are at their best. Things like persimmons, sweet potatoes, chestnuts and Pacific saury (or sanma) are all at their tastiest during these few months – in fact, so valued are these seasonal harvests, that there are even sayings such as “Keep the daughter-in-law away from autumn eggplants” (“akinasu yome ni kuwasu na”)!

Chestnut rice and grilled sanma, two quintessential treats of autumn!
(Image credit: Kevin Koh)

For some of these ways to spend autumn, though, there are scientific explanations! For instance, the shortened daylight hours of autumn means that there is less production of serotonin, a chemical that modulates our mood, and it is hypothesized that we seek out foods rich in carbohydrates (coincidentally, things like sweet potatoes and chestnuts) to make up for this imbalance. 

Another reason postulated is that due to the lowering temperatures and shortened daylight periods, we eat more in order to prepare for the cold winter ahead, not unlike bears or other mammals stuffing themselves with food before entering hibernation in order to survive the long, frigid winters.

As for others, though, the reasons are far simpler – autumn is a season of sports simply because it is far cooler and more bearable than the muggy heat of summer, while the longer nights of autumn mean we are far more likely to spend time curled up under a blanket at home with a good book than outdoors. In fact, most primary schools hold their annual sports meets, or undoukai, during this period, especially since the 10th October has been designated as Sports Day, a public holiday in Japan!

Autumn foliage is also, coincidentally, caused by the cooler weather, which causes the chlorophyll in leaves to cease photosynthesis and break down, giving rise to the vibrant colours we associate with this season. 

Beautiful autumn foliage taken at Kawagoe, Saitama, in 2013. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)

There is a children’s song titled “I found myself a small autumn” (“chiisai aki mitsuketa”) – with so many ways to enjoy this season, I hope all of you have found ways to give yourself the experience of autumn in this tropical country!

About the author

Loves cats, music, and alcohol. Dedicated to spreading the good word of Japanese and Japanese culture! 猫と音楽とお酒が大好きです。日本語と日本文化についていろいろ教えちゃいます!