Saturday, November 17, 2007

Let's こうよう Enjoy!

The Japanese are serious about the fall, so much so that they have a special word for autum leaves: こうよう (kouyou). And they go to the ends of the earth to see them: on a recent weekend, a math teacher at my school told me he was driving 7 hours each way to take in the こうよう. That's a little hard-core for my tastes (especially with the hard-core gas prices around here). I told him that I'd be sure to spend some quality time admiring the trees across the street from my apartment. For free. He laughed at my sarcasm. Apparently some gaijin just don't get it.

But this weekend, I caught a bit of こうよう fever. I drove a modest-by-comparison 90 minutes to meet some fellow JETs at the base of a mountain, and then hiked another hour or so to arrive at Karikome Ike, a mountain-top pond. The drive through the mountains to get to the mountain was breathtaking, and the hike was lovely.

Unfortunately, upon arrival we discovered that Karikome's prime こうよう season had come to a close, so the majority of the leaves we saw were of the brown-and-dried-and-crunchy-on-the-ground variety. But the day was crisp, and a pond-side picnic with a view of a neighboring snow-covered mountaintop made the trip all worthwhile.

But the Japanese love affair with autumn doesn't stop at こうよう. They have a "special" word to describe the fall air, one for a light rain shower on a fall evening, a word that describes a fall breeze, and even a word to talk about the way that fall leaves, um, fall and spread themselves over grass.

I'm in linguistics heaven, but my enthusiasm for the language doesn't necessarily cross over to the subject itself: I'm still not so sure about driving 14 hours to see a few leaves. But to each his own...

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