Here in Japan, we are coming to the end of an era. The Heisei era. The traditional way of counting years in Japan is based on the length of reign of the emperor. Emperor Akihito took over the throne in January 1989, marking the end of the Showa Period and the beginning of the Heisei Period. In Heisei 31 (2019), the emperor has planned to pass the baton onto his son, making way for a new era.
Heisei’s final autumn was slow to arrive, with most places changing colours at least a week or two later than last year. We also had some incredibly warm days at the beginning of December. I couldn’t believe it when the weather forecast said 23 degrees – that’s about 10 degrees higher than usual! So of course I had to make the most of it! Over the first 2 weeks of December, I went back to a few old favourites and explored a few new ones. These were some of the highlights.
A few minutes walk from Meguro Station, the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is one of the lesser known museums in Tokyo. The enormous garden is split into different sections. There are two spacious lawns with some outdoor sculptures and tables and chairs… perfect for picnics or just laying on the grass. And there’s a gorgeous Japanese garden complete with pond and tea house. The great thing about this place is you won’t find crowds of people. It’s a very chill place where you are encouraged to stay a while and relax.
Teien Art Museum gardens
Splattering of red
Happo-en is down the road from the Teien Art Museum. It’s actually a wedding venue, so different parts of the garden get closed off to the public when wedding photographs are being taken. The gardens are free to visit, and though they’re not too big, I think they’re one of the best in Tokyo. The garden covers a slope, with a maze of paths leading down to a koi-filled pond at the base. At the top is a collection of bonsai, some of which are over 500 years old! Dotted around the garden are a few different huts and a tea house. The gardens are kept in immaculate condition and are phenomenal in autumn!
The Tokyo Imperial Palace moat is a pretty awesome place to visit any time of the year. The northern and western side of the moat is lined with huge cherry blossoms which flow dramatically over the stone walls. The eastern moat, on the other hand, is famous for its stunning reflections. The footpath is low enough that you can get a mirror image of the Marunouchi office buildings – which is particularly breathtaking at night. In autumn, the ginkgo trees change colours and look as though they’re dripping yellow paint into the water!
Imperial Palace moat
Next door to the Imperial Palace is Hibiya Park. There are events at Hibiya all throughout the year – Obon dances, Oktoberfests, Christmas markets, to name a few. But for the nature alone, autumn is the best time to visit. Surrounded by what seems like every colour under the rainbow, Shinkei Pond is particularly sublime this time of year.
Setagaya is the biggest ward in Tokyo so just getting from one side to the other can take a while! Along the southern border near the Tama River is an area called Todoroki. This place is famous for a ‘valley’ that makes you feel like you’re far away in the mountains rather than in the middle of a big city. Todoroki Fudoson sits at the southern end of the valley. It’s a peaceful temple tucked away in a forest of momiji and ginkgo trees. Under the warm afternoon sun, the whole place glows a spectacular shade of red!
Todoroki Fudoson Temple
Girls celebrating the 753 Festival
About 15 minutes on foot from Todoroki Valley is a temple by the name of Kuhonbutsu Joshinji. This impressive temple has been around since 1678, with many of the current buildings dating back to the Edo Period. The huge gate ‘Niomon’ was built 225 years ago and houses a pair of Buddhist guardian statues – similar to what you can see at famous places like Sensoji in Asakusa or Todaiji in Nara.
Kuhonbutsu Joshinji Temple
Koishikawa Korakuen is by far one of the most popular gardens in Tokyo. It is one of the oldest gardens in the country with a history of almost 390 years. It’s also one of my top places to go in autumn, and I’ve been every year for the past 5 years! On the west side of the garden is a pond called Oigawa that features a beautiful red, arched bridge. The view of, and from, the bridge is my favourite part. The momiji here are always breathtaking in the middle of autumn!
A few train stops north of Koishikawa Korakuen is Kyu-Furukawa Gardens. I went here at the very beginning of autumn, back in the first week of November. I didn’t plan this at all, but what better place to end my autumn adventures for 2018! The Japanese garden here was already in full winter mode, but luckily there were still some beautiful shades of orange here and there to enjoy.
Ready for winter
There are so many amazing places to visit during autumn in Tokyo. We were blessed with a great season this year! Now, with autumn behind us, everyone can look forward to ‘the most wonderful time of the year’… Christmas time!