Maples And Matcha: Autumn Leaves In Arashiyama
It was only 10am but already one of the temple's first visitors was outside, waiting for a friend to emerge. "She's been in there an hour," she said, "but it's so beautiful that you could stay in there a whole day if you wanted to."
We had arrived at Daikaku-ji just as it was losing the chill of the autumn dawn. Sunlight glowed through the small-leafed momiji maples as if the growing warmth came from the treetops themselves. Looking up into the higher branches, delicate scarlet leaves shivered in the crisp blue morning.
Passing through the gate, we left our acquaintance in the outer garden. Immediately to our left, ikebana flower arrangements of buds and blooms captured the essence of the season in a single glance, telling us that this was koyo, the time at which the autumn colors would be at their most vibrant.
But no reminder was necessary, having seen numerous fronds of plastic maple leaves adorning the platform at Arashiyama station as well as shopfronts and signboards en route.
Autumn leaves in Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
Arashiyama offers some beautiful views of its natural environment
Aided by the expert touch of generations of gardeners, it was easy to understand how Japan could be entranced by this annual transformation. Ranging from crimson reds that upstaged even the torii gates of Shinto shrines, to eye-catching yellows, it seemed as if every tree had its own distinctive hue.
Some of the maples had turned red only in their higher branches as if it was the crisp autumn sunlight that prompted them to turn. A handful had opted out of the show completely and simply darkened to purple-brown.
Without a doubt, weekday mornings are the best times to visit Japan's most famous sights. I was assured that later there would be orderly queues for the temple's tatami rooms housing its painted screens and other treasures.
As it was, there were a few occasions when we allowed others to pass on the raised wooden walkways, but on the whole we were undisturbed and took in views from every angle. It seemed that wherever we stopped to gaze at the courtyard gardens of stone, moss, trees and water, they seemed to whisper different meanings.
On the best of autumn mornings one would be well advised to take things at a slower pace. Don't try to "do" too many temples or gardens. Let each one reveal its full beauty and serenity in this most colorful of seasons and the "temple fatigue" that so many visitors to Buddhist countries complain of is neatly avoided.
Daikaku-ji, like many other temples, has anticipated the desire to linger and offers hot matcha green tea and o-mochi rice cake sweets with views over its pond. Staving off thoughts of lunch, I watched the shadows shorten and felt the sun's gentle warmth on myself and the stone and wood around me.
In an age when we can ski indoors in summer and whisk ourselves to warmer climes in winter, it was heartening to see this seasonal spectacle draw gasps of wonder. Intensifying to their most vivid red just before they expire, the maple leaves of autumn are a spectacular final flourish to nature's annual performance.
A reminder not to forget the fleeting beauty of the moment at a time for contemplating both the passing year and the year to come. A single leaf falls as poignantly as a teardrop.
A view of the Sagano Romantic Train on the Hozukawa River, Arashiyama, Kyoto
How To Get To Arashiyama
San-in Line from Kyoto Station and Nijo Station to Saga Arashiyama Station, the journey takes 12 minutes. Or take the Keifuku-Arashiyama Line from Shijo Omiya Station to Keifuku-Arashiyama Station.
There are also city buses from Kyoto station - take bus #28. Alternatively bus #11 runs from Sanjo Keihan Station to Arashiyama and bus #71 from Daikakuji Temple in north west Kyoto to Arashiyama.
Take a walk in Arashiyama