Novelist Fumiko Enchi (1905-1986) once mused about the toughness of ginkgo trees. "Their leaves remain glossy with strong veins (even after they have turned yellow in autumn)," she wrote. "There is nothing brittle about them."

Even as a child, the writer recalled that she gazed at stately ginkgo trees on temple grounds and the properties of her neighbors.

Perhaps their toughness derives from their shape, which has not changed since the earliest times.

Having existed for 200 million years, the ginkgo is sometimes referred to as a "living fossil." The fan-shaped leaves are said to retain the characteristics of primordial plants.

Finding myself under a row of ginkgo trees yesterday, I was mesmerized by their golden leaves that formed a vivid contrast with the blue sky.

In the past, kanji often used for ginkgo implied that its growth was so slow after planting, and that it would not reproduce until one's grandchildren's time. The tree lives a long life, dignified and unhurried.

Now that this year's autumn leaf season is here, there are many reports of foliage changing color across Japan--not only ginkgo leaves, but also those of graceful "momiji" and "kaede" maples.

In the mountains, valleys and gardens, trees that have started preparing for winter are getting "dressed up" in their seasonal finery.

People travel in droves to view autumn foliage, and perhaps this is a uniquely Japanese thing.

But the desire to revel in its beauty is perhaps universal. French philosopher and author Albert Camus (1913-1960) famously said, "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."

I imagine many people are now thinking, in happy anticipation, where they should go this year. There will be traffic jams and overcrowding to contend with, but the unforgettable beauty that awaits is well worth the hassle.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 31

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.