We here at Auto Europe, based in the lovely New England city of Portland, Maine, embrace everything autumn and autumn-related, be it apple picking, hay-rides spent pigging out on cider donuts, or even pumpkin beer-chugging contests. But above all, autumn in New England is known for its postcard-worthy fall colors and foliage, arguably amongst the best in the world. For any New Englander, hordes of excited tourists pointing and marveling at the wonderful fall foliage in an obscure cemetery are suprisingly common sights.
Recent studies have shown that the number of Asain travelers visiting New England is on the rise, infact, it has been reported that Chinese visitors to Boston have increased over 70 percent in the last year, and tourism officals expect Chinese visitors to the U.S. to increase nearly 140 percent in the next five years. Is it possible that these travelers are coming to New England in autumn to witness a climate very much like their home country with natural sights familiar to them, but are also intrigued by the allure of experiencing drastically different culture?
With autumn now upon us, travelers in search of the best fall foliage in New England have undoubtedly leafed through the farmer's almanac and other resources to determine the best places to catch fall foliage this season. Spoiler alert: Despite the influx of tourists, in 2014, fall will be "furious rather than fabulous" in New England, with unrelenting rain predicted between Halloween and Thanksgiving. So where should travelers go this year to see the best fall foliage if New England out of the picture? Think Asia.
Fall Foliage in Japan
The admiration of trees and leaves in Japan is sacrosanct, from the ancient art of Bonsai to the national observance of cherry tree's blossoming (known as sakura). Thus, it's no surprise that koyo (colorful leaf) culture in Japan is absolutely huge and attracting a record number of tourists in autumn of 2014. When fall finally arrives in Japan, the entire nation is engulfed by what is referred to as the "front of autumn colors", when green leaves change to a diverse range of reds, oranges, and yellows. Although the admiration of nature's beauty certainly cannot be pinpointed to a specific date, the unofficial Japanese Fall Foliage Club was founded in earnest over 1,200 years ago, when the Emperor collected the brightly colored leaves to decorate his throne.
The following haiku is an appropriate representation of koyo season in Japan:
During autumn rush,
Squirrels fight for scraps
Seeking meaning, peace
In other words, there are TONS of people seeking the best fall foliage in the world, especially in Tokyo and Kyoto, fighting for Japan's premier vacation accommodations and tours that perfectly characterize koyo in a Japanese context. In early November, when koyo season is at it's peak, Japan is still relatively warm (floating around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, Japanese meteorologists are predicting mild weather this year), so we'd recommend you ditch the big cities and the millions of tourists and head north to the winter resort region of Yamagata Prefecture.
Japan's Best Fall Foliage: Okama Crater Lake
Yamagata Prefecture is immensely popular among Japanese visitors seeking winter recreational sports, but autumn is a totally different season here. In the Dewa Sanzan district, Shinto pilgrims can be found making their way through the colorful leaves to the Gojudo (a five-story pagoda) found at the base of Mount Haguro. Journey up the foothills of the mountains, and you'll stumble upon the famous Okama crater lake, also known as Goshiki Numa (Five Color Lake, named after the autumn foliage), where spectacular panoramic views combine with the changing colors of the season. If you want to see pretty colors, experience local tradition, and not deal with dozens of fellow tourists on goofy, themed tours, Yamagata is the place to go to see fall foliage in Japan.
Fall Foliage in China
Li Bai was a poet and philosopher in service of the Chinese Tang Emperor nearly 1,300 years ago, famous for his immortal writings and also his tendency to compose many of his masterpieces while spectacularly drunk. In the context of fall foliage, Li Bai notes that the change from summer to fall colors is the first step in the rejuvenation of the natural landscape, which is ultimately heralded by spring blossoms but invited only after the falling of dying leaves, and thus the celebration of spring and the living is incomplete without celebrating the beautiful fallen.
Essentially, he found autumn to be the most important season (he'd be a big fan of the carbon cycle), as well as the most beautiful and relevant to Chinese identity. Although we may not be qualified by to make judgments on Chinese identity, we here at Auto Europe are apt to agree with both sentiments, autumn is without a doubt the best time to visit China, particularly due to its breathtaking fall foliage landscapes found throughout the country. Unfortunately, the rest of the world seems to agree.
China's Best Fall Foliage: Lake Kanas
Over 45 million tourists from across the world visited China during the fall of 2013, many of those clamoring to see the Great Wall of China and Beijing, China's most popular fall foliage destinations. China's undiscovered fall foliage destination of 2014 is without a doubt the Kanas Lake region in the Xianjiang province, where travel bans have previously prohibited non-Chinese citizens from visiting. Despite the on-going sectarian conflict occurring in Xianjiang, Lake Kanas is far removed from the violence and strife and a model conservation park. The best time of year to visit Lake Kanas is in September, when the leaves on birch trees turn almost neon yellow, and dance in the wind with the dark greens of the evergreen trees. The result is a flushed foreground dominated by snow-capped peaks in the distance, truly a picture perfect scene worthy of a Li Bai epic. Travelers who are overwhelmed by the dense and chaotic nature of Chinese cities would be delighted by the never-ending expanses of unoccupied land, and the spectacular views of the mountains and nearby Mongolia, Russia, and Kazakhstan.
New England Fall Foliage: Better Luck Next Year
For centuries aristocrats have admired the hues of New England's autumn, but long neglected other premier foliage destinations, especially in Asia. As you seek to avoid the stormy New England weather we're bound to encounter this upcoming fall for redder foliage pastures, consider a foliage-oriented road trip around Lake Kanas or across Yamagata Prefecture and experience an oddly familiar climate, but a vastly different cultural landscape that is sure to excite adventurous travelers.