One great thing about Japan is that the splendor of all four seasons can be appreciated wherever you live. And this heightened awareness of seasonal beauty is complemented nicely by Japan’s plentiful mountains, forests, beaches, and even a desert (!) meaning that a change of scenery is a simple train or bus ride away.
In the autumn season, the trees become an explosion of bright colors signaling that the cold of winter is on its way. Just like in the springtime with “hanami” cherry blossom viewing, the Japanese also enjoy “kouyoh,” or fall foliage viewing throughout the month of November and into early December in some areas.
Ask anyone here in the Tokyo area where to see some good autumn colors, and they’ll tell you places like Hakone; an hour south of Yokohama, Mt. Takao; about 2 hours west of Shinjuku, or Nikko; around 2 hours north of Ueno Station. These places are certainly beautiful and widely-known fall “leafing” spots, but they are also a good distance from the center of town, making them prime candidates for perhaps a daytrip on the weekend (be prepared for crowds!)
However, there are some pretty good spots in town where you can catch the fall colors without having to plan nearly as hard.
Meiji-Jingu/Yoyogi Park: This is my personal favorite because it’s a true oasis in between the Shinjuku and Shibuya “downtowns” on the western side of the Yamanote loop. Since the shrine grounds are a sacred place, it’s a very tranquil and serene place. Yoyogi Park is one of the largest parks in Tokyo, and its easily accessible location near Harajuku Station and Meiji Shrine in Shibuya make it popular for many outdoor adventures among Tokyo’s population.
Koishikawa Korakuen is situated just to the south of the Tokyo Dome, and is a traditional Edo Era garden that has survived to this day. The period’s architecture along with the bright red maple leaves during peak season will transport you back in time. The park is one of two surviving Edo period clan gardens in Tokyo and one of the oldest and best preserved parks in Tokyo, which is especially impressive considering construction started in 1629!
Inokashira Park is just outside of the Yamanote loop and south of Kichijoji Station, but shouldn’t be overlooked. The lakeside setting lends itself to lounging around and watching the bright yellow oak leaves fall onto its surface. The park contains a small shrine dedicated to Benzaiten, a petting zoo and small aquarium if you have children to entertain, and on the southwest side you will find the Ghibli Museum. The park’s crowds on weekends and holidays, especially during koyo, bring vendors, musicians, artists and street performers, lending the park a lively atmosphere.
Meguro Riverwalk: located just north of Naka-Meguro station on Tokyu’s Toyoko Line and the last stop on the subway Hibiya Line, this tree-lined stream is popular for cherry tree blossoms in the spring; about 800 cherry trees line the river for almost 4kms between Gotanda and Shibuya, but there are just as many colors to be found here in the fall as well. There are lots of fancy shops and hidden eateries around to enjoy in between gazing at trees so take plenty of time and bring your walking shoes.
Ueno Park: Of course, no inner Tokyo nature article is complete without mentioning the crown jewel in Tokyo’s park system. There are some 8,800 trees, including cypress, maple, oaks, and 800 famous cherry trees to be found here, as well as Shinobazu Pond, a small lake whose central island houses a shrine to Benzaiten, goddess of fortune. You’ll also find large crowds at this popular park as well, so be prepared.
Rikugien Park: This is one of Tokyo’s most beautiful Japanese gardens; perhaps second only to Koishikawa Korakuen. Built around 1700, Rikugien reproduces in miniature 88 scenes from famous poems, and is an excellent example of an Edo Period strolling garden featuring a large central pond surrounded by manmade hills and forested areas connected by trails.
The Meijijingu Gaien cultural complex hosts a variety facilities including Jingu Stadium, which is the venue for Tokyo Big6 Baseball League games and hallowed ground for student ball players; besides the golf range, ice skating rink, and tennis courts. The avenue leading to the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, to record the virtue of the Meiji emperor and Shoken empress dowager for posterity, is spectacular—a walk through the tunnel of golden leaves created by 146 gingko trees will not be forgotten.
Mount Takao: Of course no list of metro Tokyo fall nature spots is complete without the inclusion of this mountain sitting due west at the other end of the Tokyo Metropolis. Thelush landscape which explodes into a sea of gold and oranges at this time will remind you that all of the Capital Region used to look exactly like this, and makes it very hard to remember that the people living around this idyllic setting still have Tokyo addresses! Only 45 minutes by special express train from Keio Shinjuku station; there’s even special discount tickets you can purchase for the cable and lift cars if you do it ahead of time here when getting your train tickets. Inquire at the ticket vendor’s booth for instructions.
— By Jason L. Gatewood
Photo:FoxyStranger Kawasaki [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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Photo: By Jason L Gatewood (own work)