It’s that time of year. Autumn has come and Japan is one of the best places to see the change it brings to nature. The Japanese found the transformation of colours so beautiful and mesmerising, they named the act of viewing this ephemeral phenomenon “momiji.” If you’re wanting to experience “momiji” while you’re in Japan, chances are you’re based around Tokyo at some point. That’s why I’ll be telling you the best places nearby to see them.
Mid-November to mid-December is generally the peak time to see autumn colours. There are several festivals based around this time, so it’s key to be able to travel there on these days. Aside from the festivals, there are many beautiful parks which can be just as picturesque. Here are what I consider my lucky seven.
1. Rikugien Gardens
This traditional Japanese landscape garden can be extremely popular for maple leaf viewing. The upside of this garden is it can be relaxing to stroll around its great network of footpaths. Upon entering, you truly get the feel for Japan as the native trees and garden style retain the essence of the Edo Period, when it was constructed. You can also observe the red and orange flames of leaves in the evenings as the garden hosts autumn illuminations from dusk. The illuminations are also run during spring when the renown weeping cherry tree is in blossom. You’ll be able to access the garden in five-minutes by foot from Komagome station on the JR Yamanote line. Entry is 300 yen.
2. Hachioji Ginko Festival
A short journey west of Tokyo you will find some 770 ginko trees that light up a bright yellow colour during November. The leaves of ginko trees are famous for completely falling in as little as one day, although sometimes can last fifteen. Timing is everything if you want to see these leaves in all their glory before they diminish. Aside from the trees, there are also countless food stalls and carnival games, as well as an old car show that has the unique automobiles driving down the avenue throughout the day. This year the 38th Ginko festival will be held on November 18th and 19th near Takao station on the JR Chuo Line.
3. Mt Takao
One station along from the Hachioji Ginko Festival, you can give climbing Mt Takao a try! This is a relatively easy climb, only 599 meters. During your hike you can see an array of autumn yellows, oranges, and reds, and try out some delicious Japanese sake. The closely compacted foliage emanates a sense of wandering through a sea of colours. The summit of the mountain welcomes you with excellent views of the surrounding landscape, exemplifying the experience. After your ascent, a rejuvenating, traditional hot spring awaits you back at the bottom on the mountain. The other nearby mountains are as equally beautiful. Late November is the optimum time to visit.
4. Shinjuku Gyoen
This park is split into three main sections, but during autumn the English landscape area undergoes the greatest change. While is garden is usually very popular, because of the spacious area you can enjoy the trees without having to worry greatly about the presence of others. The rest of the park is also spectacular to walk around. There are less trees here to experience, however this is one of the best gardens you’ll find within Tokyo’s city limits and can easily fit into the rest of your itinerary. Shinjuku Gyoen is about a five-minute walk from Shinjuku’s South East JR exit and costs 200 yen to enter.
5. Yoyogi Park
The biggest park in Tokyo, Yoyogi is enormously expansive. People come here all year around to play sport and drink. Having no alcohol ban makes it perfect for picnics while checking out the scenery. There are different ginko, maple, and zelkova trees to see, offering all the different hues of autumn. One common problem is you might have to compete for blanket spaces during the weekends. However, this park is conveniently situated next to Meiji Jingu Shrine, which hosts a festival with three days of cultural demonstrations at the beginning of November every year to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday. This is a special event and a must see if you’re available.
6. Meiji Jingu Gaien
Arguably the most famous spot, the 300-meter stretch of road has hundreds of ginko trees. Famous Japanese dramas have also been shot here. Despite the length of the road, Meiji Jingu Gaien can get uncomfortably busy. But don’t let that deter you completely. You’ll get similar views here as in Hachioji, the streets fabulously littered with golden leaves, and they even have an annual festival in late November to early December too. Various food stalls sell cuisine from all around the world, responsible for the huge crowds. The leaves will also be illuminated at night, so it might be a good idea to avoid the mob depending on your schedule.
Last is the furthest away from the city. About two hours by train, the traditional hot spring town of Hakone has a seemingly endless sea of autumn shades. From Lake Ashi to the Museum of Art, and Mt Hakone, you will be engulfed in a sea of scarlet, gold, and bronze. Better yet, this town is renown for its view of Mt Fuji. Closer perspectives can be accessible via cable car to nearby lookouts, although a day trip could have you at the mountain’s base. Hakone just about needs its own post, but I’m purely summarising the best spots. I’d recommend coming here if you have a couple of days to spare; there’s just that much to see and do!
For autumn leaves there are more than just these seven places. However, I would try and see at least one of the above. Timing can make the difference too, so keep an eye out for “momiji” forecast maps showing the dates for each area. Leave any questions you might have in the comments and happy chasing!