You know, my favorite season is Autumn, and it's also one of the most frustrating in Japan. Because it's at this time of year that the Japanese love to prune their trees down to nubs, and sweep up every single fallen leaf as soon as it falls.
There's something very odd about that. They never sweep up sakura petals, which are far more slippery than wet leaves. The leaves? They're rounded up religiously. It's horrible. It's a rare sight to see nice golden brown autumn leaves on a street or sidewalk. You have to go to a park to see them, like a zoo. The hilarious thing, well, not funny sad, is that they put up these plastic fake Fall leave bundles along main streets in most city centers. The real trees are gone, chopped, mutilated, amputated and incapacitated, only to be replaced by the synthetic, waaaay too orangey plastic versions. Mind boggling.
Forget about walking down a suburban or city street and seeing Fall leaves. Nope. Ain't gonna happen. And trees are either chopped down or pruned so drastically that no leaves will fall for years to come. Many trees around my house were cut to stumps because, as the city worker said, "They are bothersome", "They have to be cleaned up often", "They get in the gutters".
I could say that about some people I know, but no one cuts their limbs off.
But seriously, I've asked very well educated Japanese why they do this, why they are so anal about fallen leaves, and I'm never given a satisfactory answer. I don't think Japanese know either. It's just following blindly things that were done in the past, that now are still done for reasons unknown. I even saw a man near where I work down on his hands and knees picking up leaves with chopsticks. Simply mystifying.
And when I look at old photos of Japan, the trees are all fine. No chomping to stumps. So, what happened? When did this practice start, and for what reason? Even taking away the aesthetic value, which is uncountable, trees serve so many purposes that are utilitarian and just plain good for towns and cities.