With the onset of 秋 (aki, autumn), there is a silver lining to the chilly days and nights: the crimson and golden hues of Japan’s fall foliage. This is called 紅葉 (kōyō) in Japanese. 秋が来たら、どうしても紅葉を見たくなる (Aki ga kitara, dōshite mo kōyō o mitakunaru, When fall comes, I want to see the autumn leaves no matter what).

Japan’s fall colors lead into a whole world of rich 文化 (bunka, culture), historic 習慣 (shūkan, customs) and unique 言葉 (kotoba, words/language). A little bit of Japanese goes a long way in being able to make the most out of 紅葉の季節 (kōyō no kisetsu, the season of fall foliage) — so what is the best way to talk about it all in Japanese?

The very word 紅葉, unfortunately, is more complicated than it seems. While it can be read kōyō, referring to fall leaves in general, it can also be read momiji, meaning “maple trees.” With their vivid red hues, 紅葉 (momiji, not kōyō), which turn in November and December, are perhaps the most iconic fall tree in Japan.