It’s the time of year in Kyoto when the rice starts hanging heavy in the fields, gradually browning. The grains brush against each other, the winds from the mountains cooling the city, harkening the last, lingering days of summer. Fall is upon us.
The maturing of the rice brings with it a general sense of excitement in Kyoto. The first rice harvest is always the best, and with so many fields speckled across the prefecture, it’s hard not to be reminded of how short the distance is from the field to one’s rice bowl. As far as the harvest goes, timing is everything.
While farmers in America use farmer’s almanacs, there is a slightly more obscure method in Japan, and especially in Kyoto, where September also brings higanbana, otherwise known as lycoris, the cluster amaryllis. Higanbana, while considered one of the most beautiful flowers of late summer and early autumn, has an interesting set of superstitions attached to it.
Farmers use this flower to gauge when is the best time to harvest the rice grain. When the flowers die, the rice should be cut. But while this flower is beautiful and cultivated for its ornamental qualities, Kyoto-ites would warn you not to cut the flower and take it home. The higanbana is a famed flower of Buddhist Hell, and to bring it into your home would be to invite a calamity of fire.
I find the flower quite beautiful, and it excites me as the first real swash of red for autumn. In a month or so more, this city will be aflame with kouyou, the autumn colors. The lycoris begins the season with its short, spider lily fireworks.
In some places, the leaves have already begun to change.