Koyo, Yo: Autumn Leaves in Tokyo

Autumn Leaves in Tokyo
Ginkgo trees pic via Shutterstock.

Koyo time is here! 紅葉, meaning the changing of the leaves, is an important seasonal marker in the land of FOUR (count ‘em!) seasons! While perhaps not quite as widely celebrated as cherry blossom season, autumn leaves in Tokyo is still an excuse to get out into the great outdoors and marvel at the stuff that Mother Nature does with her pigment palette. Here are some of the best koyo spots in Tokyo.

Rikugien

Rikugi Gardens (“en” means garden) is trying to have it all, and most probably succeeding, with their combination of autumn foliage and “light up” or “illumination”. Its Edo-era landscape garden, a beautiful place to stroll while you mentally compose the next cryptic scroll message to your kimono-clad lover, is resplendent in this season and is artfully arranged for you to be able to snap that perfect picture.

Autumn Leaves in Tokyo
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Meiji Jingu Gaien

The roads around Meiji Jingu Shrine (the outer gardens) are gloriously lined with flaming golden gingko trees, the falling nuts of which smell rather fecal special. The distinctively shaped leaves are found on many a Japanese school and family crest, notably Tokyo Univeristy (Todai) and Osaka University (Handai).


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Autumn Leaves in Tokyo
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Imperial Palace East Gardens

If you want a really regal experience, head down to the palace. The Ninomiya Garden, a sub-garden of the East Gardens, is replete with Japanese maples (momiji) and a few gingkos, bending gracefully over ponds and meticulously manicured topiary.

Mount Takao

Get out of the city into the REAL nature and leave behind all those manufactured parks. Mount Takao is only somewhat manufactured, and by that we mean it’s well tended and carefully managed, but it’s still at least 35% wilder than any of the parks within spitting distance of downtown Tokyo. Also, if you’re impatient to get your koyo on and Tokyo is just still too stinking warm, the mountains are sure to be a couple of degrees chillier and the leaves don their autumn robes earlier. Be careful you don’t miss it!

Autumn Leaves in Tokyo
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Mount Mitake

For more out-of-the-city koyo reveling, Mount Mitake is another great option. Its popular hiking trail is peppered with shrines, a temple, a village, waterfalls and a great view of the surrounding landscape.

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mt. Mitake
Photo by Chris Kirkland
Mount mitake
Mt. Mitake | Photo by Chris Kirkland

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Maples at Koshikawa Korakuen
Maples at Koshikawa Korakuen | Photo by kanegen used under CC

This Japanese garden in the heart of Tokyo is a picturesque winner—so much so that on any given day you might find an artist perched on a flat stone by the pond finding her muse under a weeping cherry tree (whose leaves are certainly bright and pretty in their fall incarnation, though not as come-hither-y as the neighboring maples and gingkos) or brilliant scarlet maple. The whole scene is reflected in the glassy surface of the pond, and the skyscrapers in the near distance remind you that this kind of beauty exists side by side with the urban jungle that is Tokyo. Ah. Now to Instagram it all.

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