For almost a decade, I came to Japan as a tourist, spending the summer months hopping between Tokyo and Fukuoka and plenty of places in between. Of course, this summer schedule meant I was very familiar with kakigori (shaved ice) and fireworks in the scorching heat and humidity. But, I was still green to the other seasonal delights that Japan offers when my family and I decided to make the big move, one autumn, to Fukuoka.
Fall harvests, colors and festivals will always hold a special place in my heart, eliciting memories of the joy of stepping off the plane and basking in the refreshing breeze and golden-tinged afternoons and knowing, for the first time, that I wouldn’t have to worry about the sadness of “going home” anymore. Japan became more than my summer getaway from that first fall—it was home.
The Culinary Landscape
Summer in my Canadian hometown was great for the foodie in me––open-air markets were jam-packed with the freshest fruits and vegetables that local farmers could supply. Sure, I could still pick up out-of-season produce in the dead of winter, but they were imported from elsewhere and lacked the juicy sweetness and pleasant aroma of their summer counterparts. Shopping for groceries during that first autumn in Japan meant adjusting to the seasonal nature of meal planning, something I’ve come to love about life here.
Catch of the Season
Compared to the fish you’ll find in your local supermarket in the spring, the ones in the fall tend to be juicier and fatter as they prepare for the colder winter waters. While popular fish like sanma (Pacific saury) and saba (mackerel) can be bought throughout the country, I first fell in love with the Kyushu flavors accompanying these catches. Try stuffing sanma with the Fukuoka prefecture’s specialty, mentaiko (spiced cod roe). Wrap the fish in aluminum foil and grill on low heat for about 15 minutes before removing the foil and turning the heat up to high for the final five minutes—crispy on the outside, fatty and spicy on the inside!
Or, pair Pacific saury with yuzu kosho, a citrusy, mildly spicy seasoning originating from Oita. If you’re lucky enough to be around the southern tip of Kyushu, check out saba sashimi. Although saba is not usually eaten raw, the mackerel caught near the coast of Yakushima in Kagoshima prefecture is specially transported live and killed just before eating.
No musing about fall in Kyushu would be complete without mentioning sweet potatoes and their pleasing ubiquity. My toddlers thrive on yakiimo (roasted sweet potatoes), piping hot and fresh wherever I am roaming, from konbini (convenience store) and trucks parked near our playground to supermarkets and depachika (department store food floors).
First introduced to the Satsuma domain (present-day Kagoshima) around the turn of the 18th century via the Ryukyu Kingdom (present-day Okinawa), sweet potatoes come in wide varieties today, with some of the most popular coming from Kyushu. For example, the beniharuka sweet potato created in Kagoshima and mostly grown in Oita is best enjoyed roasted until its meat is chewy and melts in your mouth.
Autumn Tea Harvests
I love tea, especially as the weather cools off. As I head to the daily school pick-up, I always fill my tumbler with hojicha (roasted green tea) for the park time afterward. Generally speaking, autumn harvests of tea are the fourth of the year, following ones in spring, summer and late summer, depending on the region.
Like another favorite, fukamushi sencha (deep-steamed green tea), autumn teas tend to be produced from early October harvests and come with smooth, sweet, deep notes. Because I try to eat and drink as locally as possible, Ureshino (Saga prefecture) and Yame (Fukuoka) are my go-to regions for quality leaves and warm memories.
The Great Outdoors
A return to comfortable outside temperatures also means a return to nature. In Japan, nature often comes to mind first when considering Canada’s vast forests, Rocky Mountains and abundance of lakes and rivers. Yet, as I tell my friends and family back home who often imagine Japan as high-tech, Kyushu especially is no stranger to nature and is blessed with flora and fauna all year round—unlike a certain snowy wonderland where I am from.
Foliage, Flowers and Festivals
As I scan our family calendar now, I’m on the lookout for our next free Saturday or Sunday for a trek through nature. In past autumns, we’ve made regular pilgrimages up a mountainside lush with red, orange and yellow foliage to see the 41-meter-long reclining Buddha in Sasaguri (Fukuoka). This year, we plan to visit Daikouzenji Temple in Saga Prefecture to see a colorful canopy made from maple, cypress and cedar trees.
Because of the differing climates, Kyushu looks very different from my hometown in the autumn. Of course, the autumn leaves of Eastern Canada attract plenty of visitors, including many Japanese tourists. But, while the leaves change color in late November in Kyushu, the sheer variety of blooms popping up in parks and gardens provide a unique autumn backdrop.
Take, for example, Nagasaki prefecture’s Dutch-inspired theme park, Huis Ten Bosch. In, surprisingly, Japan’s largest theme park, you’ll find a fantastic array of autumn roses, chrysanthemums, dahlias and cosmos, all of which are beautifully integrated into its European backdrop. Nokonoshima Island, off the coast of Fukuoka City, also houses fields of ornamental sage and cosmos and over 300,000 dahlias in the fall.
Fall was my favorite season in Canada, and there is still much to say about its natural beauty and gorgeous foliage. Yet, the charms of autumn in subtropical Kyushu, from access to the freshest of fall’s bounty to the continuing array of blooms into winter, keep drawing me in for more. With a cup of hot autumn harvest tea in hand, I’m looking forward to trying some seasonal recipes and new adventures to chase.
What fall fun are you looking forward to most? Share in the comments below!