Japan’s fall foliage is beautiful at this time of year, but it definitely doesn’t look like this.

One of the most popular times of year to travel in Japan is autumn, when the temperatures are just right and nature puts on a remarkable display as the leaves change colour, creating bright hues of orange, yellow and red on the landscape.

So it’s only natural that companies in the travel industry are currently sharing photos of the autumn leaves at popular tourist sites in an attempt to get people out and about. That’s what Japanese map publisher Zenrin did on 10 November, sharing this photo below of Goryokaku, the famous star fort in Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, with the caption:

“Goryokaku in autumn is so beautiful…”

The swathe of bright red leaves in and around the fort is truly breathtaking, and if you were to take the photo on face value, you’d be crazy not to pack your bags and navigate your way up to Hokkaido to see the awesome display in person.

However, you’ll want to hold off on packing those bags for a hot minute as there’s nothing natural about this photo when it comes to those amazing autumn leaves. Eagle-eyed Twitter users were quick to point out a different photo, from the official Twitter account of Goryokaku Tower, taken from the same vantage point at the top of the tower that the Zenrin photo was taken, which showed the trees at the fort looking completely different.

The photo above, taken at 8 a.m. on 11 November, came with the caption: A photo of the fall colours at Goryokaku by a certain company has become a hot topic online but…I’d like to tell you that it looks like this now due to the storm last night.”

So what happened? Did the storm strip the trees of their bright red canopies, leaving them totally bare overnight? Well, no, because Zenrin explained exactly what happened, with an apology online.

The apology above reads:

“A lot of people pointed out our post yesterday. The photo was taken by an employee, who processed things like the colour tone. We sincerely apologize for the misleading post. We will avoid doing this again in future.”

A report by national broadcaster NHK showed just how different the doctored photo was from the actual scene.

There’s a fine line between bumping up the colours on a photo to match what your eye naturally sees, and pushing the colours to their absolute limit, creating a dazzling scene that doesn’t match anything you could ever see in real life.

As a result, some commenters took issue with the misleading image, saying:

“You can’t trust landscape photography when major companies do this.”
“The processing is too unnatural – even the buildings are pinkish.”
“Autumn leaves are a mixture of yellow and orange. There’s no such red-coloured scenery like this in reality.”
“They should’ve included an annotation about the alteration with the image.”
“People would be upset if they flew to Hokkaido after seeing this photo.”

Other commenters, however, couldn’t really blame Zenrin for wanting to enhance the image, saying:

“It’s rare to see unprocessed photos from travel agencies and the tourist industry.”
“Everybody does it so what can you do?”
“If they apologise for this, Instagrammers should apologise for their enhanced photos.”
“Goryokoku is filled with sakura trees and they don’t go red like maple trees in autumn so they need some enhancement.”
“People should know the processing here is obviously unnatural.”

While opinions were divided over the misleading image, the controversy surrounding it did at least work to remind everyone about the beauty of Goryokaku. The unusual fortress was built in 1855 by the Tokugawa shogunate to protect the Tsugaru Strait against a possible invasion, and today its unique, star-shaped construction makes it a fascinating place to visit…with or without the autumn leaves.

Source: Hachima Kikou
Featured image: Pakutaso

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