All The Leaves Are Brown

Mark Guthrie

“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey. I went for a walk on a winter’s day.”

Had the Mamas and Papas not wasted their spare time being miserablist hippies and choking on ham sandwiches well, possibly, they would have written songs about things of real beauty.

Much like dead stoners from the 60’s, the Japanese public are far too busy to spend their time frolicking in nature and enjoying their surroundings. There are bills to pay, children to berate and countless hours of borderline pedo-porn cartoons to read. However, at two points every year they make the effort. The first is hanami, when families gather together, go to their nearest park and get drunk under the whites and pinks of the delicate sprinklings of cherry blossom. The second is now, autumn, and if you can see at least one tree from your window, you should be able to tell why. Right now, the Japanese trees are a glorious representation of every colour in the spectrum of autumn’s palette. Burnt blood reds, sunshine yellows and golden browns pepper the landscape as far as the snow capped mountains and the tumultuous, stormy seas.

There are few natural sights on earth that can match the sheer abundance of beauty that are the Japanese hillsides during this short window of opportunity – a mere two to three weeks every year – and as such the locals see it as their official duty to witness this phenomenon. Which, in a perverse kind of way, is a shame. Not that they take this time to bask in this autumnal glory, of course, but that it is seen as a duty, a chore.

Inuyama Castle, being an elevated point amongst a sea of trees, is a prime example of the mania and madness that surrounds Japan when the leaves begin to change. At other parts of the year, the castle is a serene, majestic area, a place of contemplative beauty. Now, however, it’s fucking crazy. Outside, afood stalls offering the usual assortment of fried goodies – custard fish, fried potato swirls and karaage as golden as the leaves themselves – are served up by young men with long sleeves, tattooed fingers that are in absolutely no way connected to Yakuza money laundering schemes. Within the castle gates, queues, sometimes up to an hour long, snake around the grounds, for the pleasure of a hurried, three minute fumble at the top observation deck, where they are ushered around by unsmiling caretakers, so inured to the view, they treat the daytrippers in much the same way a contestant on One Man and his Dog would see his heard.

Downstairs it’s even worse. Hordes of families parading around, led, in most cases by the father, to pose here before a red tree, there before a yellow tree, now before a golden one. Tripods are extended and leveled. Cameras, worth hundreds of thousands of yen are in place. Lenses, powerful enough to give the Hubbell telescope a run for its money, are attached. Once mounted, these preposterous machines are pointed and aimed at peace-signing children and unsmiling loved ones, and shot with all the expertise of a virgin at the Playboy mansion.

And the result? Nothing more than joyless, mirthless documentation. For this is not a labour of love. This is not for the appreciation of nature at its finest. No, this is nothing more than simple ‘I was there-ism’, evidence they can show their friends and families that they have had the cultural experience, yet again, of seeing the leaves change, before packing the photo album away, never to be seen again.

Which is a real shame, because the changing of the leaves is truly a thing of beauty, something that you really should capture and cherish, and it is really worrying that this documentism is becoming a real problem for the Japanese. There is a real concern that it won’t be long before it is a case that everything that they do in their lives will be presented as evidence of existence, as if the action of documenting it alone is the thing that is making it real, making it worthwhile, which is a really sorry state of affairs.

You can follow all of my Japanese exploits on my Twitter page, get updates for what I am doing at any time on Facebook, and if you want to know what I had for breakfast, you can now follow me on Instagram too.

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