Where to See Kouyou in Tokyo
By Eric Burton
And just like that fall has made its not so gracious return. It seems like just a few weeks ago I was wearing T-shirts without a jacket. Shorts just a few more weeks before then. Man I’m missing that weather! Not only do I long for the fairer temperatures, but the scenery in Japan during the spring and summer too. The beautiful cherry blossoms in April, followed by Golden Week in May, and then almost weekly festivals and fireworks from June onwards.
Although the cold seems to slow things down around this time, Japan is still as beautiful as it was in warmer months. If spring is known for hanami, fall is the time for kouyou.
Kouyou is the Japanese word to describe autumn foliage: the changing of leaves to different shades of reds, oranges, browns, and yellows, and greens. You might have already begun to see these changes in your own neighborhood. But the most popular scenic spots don’t begin to show their full colors until Mid-November. Here are a few I’d suggest checking out.
Meiji Jingu Gaien ParkPhoto by humbletree
This park is great to explore year round. It’s home to the famous Meiji Memorial Gallery. Additionally, there’s an ice-skating rink, batting and driving ranges, and various other sports facilities hidden around every turn.
A great place to walk if you enjoy that feeling of wandering around (but don’t want to get lost). In fall though, people flock to the main entrance, just north of Aoyama-Itchome Station. Here is Icho Namiki (Gingko Avenue). Huge Gingko trees in autumn colors line the long road into the park. The best time to view these golden giants is from late November to early December.
Access: Aoyama-itchome Station is the closest to Gingko Avenue, Exit 1. Check the map for more details. http://www.meijijingugaien.jp/english/access-map.html
Mount TakaoPhoto by Ari Helminen
For those further out in West Tokyo or centralites looking for a nice day trip, Mt. Takao holds some great views of the changing leaves. Get some light exercise and climb the way up or take the cable car. The best views are from the top, overlooking the slopes, or from the window of the cable car as it climbs up/down the mountain.
Access: If coming from Shinjuku take the Chuo Line west towards Takao. Transfer to the Keio Line and get off at the next stop, Takaosanguchi. Directions
Probably the most popular on this list. Rikugien is located in the northern part of the Yamanote; right by Komagome Station. Another truly beautiful park to visit year-round, but especially popular during the kouyou season.
Rikugien is very traditional; its landscape heavily inspired by Edo era parks and greenspaces. There’s even an ancient tea house on the grounds, in which guests are welcome to relax in. Since the grounds aren’t public, there is an entry fee. Fortunately it’s only a mere 300 yen. Best time to visit is from late November to early December.
Access: If taking the Yamanote, get off at Komagome Station and go through the South Exit. Walk along Hongo Avenue and make a right Shinobazu Avenue. Directions
Honorary Mentiion: Mount Tsukuba
For those living much further north of Tokyo, Mt. Tsukuba offers some very scenic views of the colorful foliage. And on a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji, and surprisingly Sky Tree. Leaves have already begun to change color, with peak viewing time expected to fall in mid/late November.
Access: If you don’t have a car, no need to worry! From Tokyo, take the Tsukuba Express Line at Akihabara Station to Tsukuba Station and then transfer to the bus heading for Tsukuba-san Shrine. More info, maps, and things to do in Tsukuba available here: Directions
Well these are just some of my favorite spots to take in all the colors of autumn and enjoy nature, without feeling lost among the concrete busy streets of Tokyo. Bundle up and get out there and enjoy the scenery!