I Left My Heart in Kyoto’s Fall Foliage

kiyomizuToday I was driving down my street in St. Louis, and I glanced up to see the number of trees that were changing color. It was a crisp, beautiful fall day.

The sight filled me with an intense longing for the year I spent studying abroad in Kyoto, Japan (2001-2002). You see, Japan’s spring cherry blossom blooming may be well known in the US, but even more radiant are the several weeks when the maple and cherry trees change colors in the fall. It’s referred to in Japanese as “fall foliage” or “changing colors.”

It’s tough for me to find the words to describe how beautiful it is. There really is no comparison, even on the most beautiful fall day in the US. Even the picture to the right of a temple about 10 minutes from my school in Japan can’t get close to doing it justice.

I think what it is for me, at least in my memory, is that I wasn’t there as a tourist or spectator to observe the changing colors. Because I rode my bike to school every day, I was lived within the leaves, among the trees (not literally. I lived in an apartment). It’s like if you were able to step into the most beautiful painting and walk around for a few weeks, experiencing the swirling colors in 4D.

It really has left quite a mark on me, living among the leaves for those 2-3 weeks in 2011 before the leaves turned brown and fell off the trees. On this blog I’ve written about those moments–particularly in nature–when beauty is too much to comprehend, and you can really feel it in your chest. That’s what it was like when the leaves changed colors in Japan in 2001, but that moment lasted for 3 full weeks. It’s like falling in love for the first time, even if it’s fleeting and irrational. Something like that tends to leave a mark you.

If you haven’t been to Japan this time of year, I hope you’re able to make the trip sometime in your life. Stay for a week and rent a bike. It will, of course, leave a gaping hole in your heart that can never be filled the same way, but it’s worth it.