Momiji: The Spectacular Japanese Red Maple Tree

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A picutre of red maple (momiji)

“Momiji” (紅葉)refers to the brilliant red maple tree which has the same kanji as “koyo” (紅葉). Koyo references the autumn season where the leaves change to beautiful colors like purple, gold, and especially red. Similar to the crowds that gather for hanami in spring, many people in Japan also enjoy the autumn foliage called “momijigari”. 

It is a popular tradition for Japanese people to celebrate one of the most beautiful features of autumn. Let’s take a closer look at what makes momiji special.

What Makes Japanese Maple “Special”?

The Latin name for the Japanese maple tree is “Acer Palmatum”. “Acer” means “sharp”, which references blades of the leaves. While “Palmatum” means “hand-like” which refers to the leaf’s shape.

Although the Japanese maple tree is native to Japan, China and Korea, the herb has been mostly cultivated in Japan for a long time. The Japanese maple tree is a small and slow-growing species which grows at the rate of one to two feet per year. Moreover, they can only grow to four to thirty feet in maturity.

A large red maple tree in a garden.
Maple trees can grow to be very tall. Image via Shutterstock

Maples in different countries appropriate to grow in different zones. The zone is a geographical area where a given plant is capable of growing based on climate and particularly temperatures. For example, Japanese maples prefer (hardiness) zones 5 – 8 which are in the range of middle and higher temperature areas. 

They can live to a hundred years or more if they live in a favorable environment. In addition, Japanese maple trees are popular choices for home decor, particularly as bonsai trees. Bonsai trees are conmonly present in Japanese homes for reasons related to art and spirituality.

The Symbolism and Meaning

There are many symbols of Japanese red maple trees such as abundant blessings, peace, beauty, patience, survival, the arrival of autumn and so on. It is common to see Japanese people plant maple trees in their house to bring luck and add good value to their house by believing red maple trees’ spiritual meaning.

Abundant Blessing

Japanese maple trees produce fruit known as “samara” which in large amounts during the months of September and October. This is because samara is a winged seed that scatters via a northwesterly wind at that time of year.

Samara seeds are also edible during the springtime.  However, also consult a physician before ingesting anything in the wild.

Peace

The Japanese maple tree is a very significant tree in nature, or “kito”, which means calm, rest, or at peace. The symbol for peace keeps people staying calm and avoiding stress and accidents, in order to to create a safe and happy life.

Beauty

The Japanese maple tree is known for its elegance and tastefulness, which many people find appealing. Even its shrubs have beautiful colors. LIke most trees in the autumn, momiji leaves turn red, brown, purple and gold.  

Because of their beauty, maple leaves are a common motif in traditional Japanese clothes.  Kimono in particular sport this lovely look and it’s a perfect design for both autumn and winter.

Momiji leaves against a blakc background.
Red maple leaves are a common beauty motif. Image via Shutterstock

Looking to enjoy the upcoming koyo season with momiji? Check out Sakuraco! Sakuraco sends traditional Japanese sweets & snacks from across Japan to your door, so you can explore traditional Japanese taste at your most convenience!

Patience

Because maple trees, take so long to grown to their most mature height, they are a common symbol of patience. For instance, the maple trees need to take about twenty to thirty years to reach their required length or height. 

To humans, momiji further represents that we need to take our time to reach our goals. Rushing to our goals will only make things worse. This is why we appreciate the timeless beauty of the Japanese maple tree.

Endurance

Red maple trees in Japan are famous for their association of partial shade areas so that they can still grow mature and beautiful even though there is just a little exposure to sunlight. These trees reflect to humans the ability to survive without giving up no matter how difficult the challenge they have encountered or how bad the environment they have existed.

Arrival of Autumn

The red maple leaf represents the end of summer and the coming of autumn. The Japanese maple tree leaves usually start to emerge in summer with green coloration and the color varies from red to reddish purple to orange to yellow in autumn. They are a beautiful shade of red, representing the warmth and vitality of autumn.

Some autumn scenery with a lot of red leaves.
Momiji is a symbol that autumn has arrived. Image via Shutterstock

Momiji Food

The momiji tempura is sold at the several shops of the “taki michi” leading to the waterfall in the Minoh Park area. It is a local food in northern Osaka which is not only sold in Minoh areas, but also only sold during the koyo season. 

The ingredients include flour, sugar, sesame seeds, momiji leaves and vegetable oil which the recipe was made over 1300 years ago on Mt. Minoh appreciates the color leaves in the fall season. It takes one year or longer to eat after collecting the leaves from the trees and washing and preserving with salt.

Someone holding up deep-fried maple leaf in teh sunlight.
Momiji tempira is an unexpectedly delightful snack. Image via Shutterstock

Speaking of the taste of momiji tempura, it is lighter and thinner compared to regular tempura. Moreover, it is deeply fried with sugar and sesame. It  tastes slightly sweet, salty and oily which is really appropriate to have with a beer for enjoying this great snack.

People deep frying maple leaves in oil.
Sugar and sesame seeds are common ingredients found in momiji tempura. Image via Shutterstock

Momiji-shaped manju is also very popular. It’s a local speciality in Hiroshima Prefecture. It’s a sweet bun made of buckwheat and mochi, usually with a red bean paste filling. Similar to taiyaki, this manju’s filling can vary from custard, chocolate and even cheese.

A table with momji manju. It's a sweet bun shaped like maple leaves filled with sweet bean paste.
Momiji manju is a popular delicacy from Hiroshima. Image via Shutterstock

What are your thoughts on momiji? Have you ever had momiji themed food before? Let us know in the comments below.

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