PHOTO BY MICHAEL GEORGE
Japan’s springtime cherry blossoms peak and flame out in a fleeting display that lasts just a few short weeks. While the sakura get all the attention, locals know that the country’s fall foliage—especially the blazing-red leaves of the momiji (Japanese maple)—can be equally dazzling. And thanks to Japan’s nearly 2,000-mile north-south range, leaf-seekers can see fall colors from mid-September (in northern Hokkaido) to early December (in southern Kyushu).
“Autumn is an event in Japan unlike anything I have seen before,” says Brooklyn-based photographer Michael George, who snapped this photo last November at Kyoto’s Kitano Tenmangu shrine. “Endless lines of locals walk patiently through the trees, snapping portraits of little dogs and families and friends and bridges and shrines. It’s a spectacle of joy and color.” For this shot, George focused his lens on a guzei, or “red bridge,” a mainstay in Japanese gardens that represents the route the blessed take to the spirit realm—or, as he describes it, “crossing over from one world to the next, from the profane to the sacred, cleansing yourself to enter the pure world of nature.”
George goes on to note that in Asia, humans are seen as a part of nature rather than mere observers—a feeling that’s especially salient in the fall. “Much of Japanese culture is intertwined with nature and operates in harmony [with it], as opposed to against it,” he says. “Because the architecture and colors of the beautiful buildings complement autumn hues, it feels like the season that Japan was meant for.”