Plant Encyclopedia

Japanese maple trees at Raizan Sennyoji Daihioin Temple in autumn


Each fall the people of Japan and thousands of visitors to this country look forward to an annual event – the changing of maple leaves to the vibrant colors of autumn. Starting in the north around the last week of September and extending to as late as early December in Kyushu, various Japanese maple varieties put on a show of color that is rivaled only in a few places in the world.

 

 

 

 

Raizan Sennyoji temple path

These large Japanese cedar trees (Cryptomeria japonica) and close clipped azaleas attest to the beauty of Raizan Sennyoji Temple and its grounds.

Kyushu, despite its southern latitude, harbors some very nice fall leaf viewing from early November up to the first week of December. The best places to look for them are in the remaining natural forests at elevations above 400 meters, particularly along Kyushu’s central mountainous region. Another good option is to look for them at the thousands of shrines and temples that dot the landscape. Even the deepest urban centers are home to these holy places, and almost invariably you can see at least some fall color in the surrounding gardens and woods.

In this pictorial essay the focus is on Raizan Sennyoji Daihioin Temple (hereafter referred to as Raizan Sennyoji) in Fukuoka Prefecture located just southwest of the Fukuoka City metropolitan area. Raizan itself is a 954.5 meter tall summit found along the main ridge line of the Sefuri Mountain group, straddling the border of Saga and Fukuoka Prefectures. The temple is found on its northern flank deep in a valley at around 340 meters elevation near the headwaters of the Raizan River. Among its dozen or so temple buildings is a lovely garden and woods that are home to many maple trees, the subject of this article.

 

Raizan Sennyoji Temple

The immaculate temple buildings of Raizan Sennyoji are surrounded by beautiful natural and human planted forest. In this picture we can see native forest in the background, a dwarfed Japanese black pine in the foreground, and to the left, the garden's centerpiece - a 400 year old Japanese maple.

 

Big maple at Raizan Sennyoji

Raizan Sennyoji's 400 year old maple has intricate branching that spreads horizontally twice the height of the tree itself. Due to their great length and weight the lowest ones are supported by wooden poles to keep them from touching the ground or breaking. Sitting under the branches of this tree in autumn is an experience not soon forgotten.

 

Raizan Maple Top

The uppermost branches of this ancient tree turn color first due to their exposed position. For this reason, they drop first as well, so if you want to see the tree in perfect fall color you have to time your visit carefully. The tree itself has been designated a natural monument by the Fukuoka Prefectural government.

 

Maple leaves at Raizan Sennyoji

Another view of the branches of the giant maple at Raizan Sennyoji. While this tree is indeed old, the temple itself is even older, dating back to 178 A.D. It is also home to a 600 year old thousand armed standing Kannon Buddha statue made of camellia wood, a pond garden that was made in the shape of the Chinese kanji character for "heart" (kokoro), many ancient documents, and hundreds of stone statues. Interestingly, the temple was founded by an Indian Buddhist monk, called Seiga Shonin in Japanese. One of the statues you can see is of him in a sitting position.

 

More maples at Raizan

Japanese maple trees steal the show at Raizan Sennyoji in mid November. Here you can see many maples showing off amongst the temple buildings and artfully crafted stone walls. The Japanese people have a great love for the autumn maple leaf season, known as Kouyou in Japanese, simply meaning "red leaves" in English. In the Fukuoka City area Raizan Sennyoji is one of the most famous Kouyou viewing places.

 

Raizan Temple Maples

More maples scattered around the grounds at Raizan Sennyoji. Their bright colors are accentuated by the lush green of conifers and broadleaf evergreen trees, Buddha statues, and stone pagodas.

 

Slopes of Raizan and maples

The temple is situated on the north slope of Raizan itself. Raizan means "thunder mountain" and is named in honor of the thunder god. Here we see many maples on temple grounds in full color looking up Raizan's slopes toward the summit. For those wanting a good hike, there are excellent trails leading to the top.

 

If you find yourself in the Fukuoka City area in mid November I suggest you make a visit to this beloved temple. You’ll have to pay a 400 yen entrance fee to enter the main grounds, but that will also give you a shot at viewing the thousand arm Buddha, and the inner sanctuary where this statue resides. If you are lucky, you’ll even get to sit in on an actual ceremony with a monk chanting sutra – usually a blessing for children, people in need, and even you! It is an interesting experience especially if you’ve never been to a Buddhist ceremony. All tours are given only in Japanese, but they have an explanatory information sheet in English (that is mostly readable) covering the basics about the temple and its history.

To get there it is easiest if you go by car. Be warned however, in peak fall season (usually mid November) there is a traffic jam halfway up the mountain as early as 10 AM, so go early to miss the crowds. We got there around 10 AM and had to wait a half hour in the car before we could find a space to park on the side of the road. Then we hiked up about one kilometer to the temple. If you wait for a space at the temple (they have around 120 spaces), it could take an hour or more of creeping up the mountain before you get one.

Alternatively, you can take a bus to Raizan from JR’s Chikuzen Maebaru Station. Get off at the Raizan Kannon Mae stop (about 20-30 minutes depending on traffic). The temple’s address is 626 Raizan, Itoshima City, Fukuoka (TEL: 092-327-4948, but Japanese only). The temple’s operating hours are 9 AM to 4:30 PM daily. Their home page is here.

 

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