A Beautiful Autumn Walk Through Tokyo

The autumn hues have finally hit central Tokyo! This year the warmth has lingered longer than usual. I remember the first cold snap happening at the end of October last year, but we’re already in the third week of November and it’s only now beginning to get chilly. On the plus side, we’ve had lots of opportunities to soak up the colours without having to take out our winter wardrobe. 

Continue reading “A Beautiful Autumn Walk Through Tokyo”

8 Reasons to Love Shinjuku Gyoen

I’ve been to Shinjuku Gyoen so many times in the 5 years I’ve been living in Tokyo that it almost feels like I’m arriving home when I walk through the park entrance gates. It’s become a very familiar place. From the cherry blossom season and hot summer days, to the vibrant red autumn leaves and snow-filled lawns, I’ve experienced it all at this park. Continue reading “8 Reasons to Love Shinjuku Gyoen”

Shinjuku’s French Garden

After years of walking past bare, brown hedges not even worth a second glance, I finally managed to visit Shinjuku Gyoen when the roses were actually in bloom. Hooray!

The French Formal Garden is one of the three main areas within Shinjuku Gyoen – the others being a wide open English lawn, and a Japanese garden and pond. This section of the enormous park has its turn in the spotlight every May, when 500 rose shrubs splash a multitude of colours throughout the lush, green landscape.

There are around 100 varieties of roses here and it’s just as much fun finding out what they are called as it is admiring the flowers themselves: Playboy, Jude the Obscure, Lavender Dream, By Appointment, Sexy Rexy, Honey Bouquet, Princess Aiko and Glamis Castle, just to name a few!

May is such a nice time of year. It’s not too humid yet, nor the sun too intense. The hectic start to the new work and school year in April as well as the craziness of the cherry blossom season has died down and the pulse of the city has slowed to a steady beat. It’s a great time to do things like sit under a tree reading a book, have a picnic with some friends, or stroll around a garden. And Shinjuku Gyoen is the perfect place to do so.

Tokyo’s Snowpocalypse

What a weekend! I prayed for snow and got a blizzard! It started coming down at about 3:00am Saturday morning (I know, because I was still up from the night before, waiting in anticipation!). After a few hours sleep, I woke up at about 7:30am, jumped out of bed and threw the curtains open, wild with excitement! What I saw, however, was not nearly as spectacular as I was expecting… basically, it just looked like mother nature had given the ground a light dusting of sugar. I thought to myself, “well, that was disappointing”. But there was no way I could have gone back to bed at that point… in fact, the adrenaline got me through the entire day without even feeling tired. For a girl who needs her 8 hours, that was pretty remarkable.

Mid-morning, the winds had picked up and the snow was starting to accumulate. The forecasters had predicted a blizzard late afternoon/early evening, so I knew it was now or never! I bundled myself up in my warmest clothes, threw on my rain boots and off I went. I left my house feeling on top of the world, eager to explore my wonderfully transformed neighbourhood. Everywhere was just so beautiful. How much does snow change the landscape! I went to a famous shrine in the area, Gotokuji, and was blown away by how magnificent the wooden pagoda looked against all that white. THAT is really something not many people get to see!

It was all so magical but the weather was increasingly getting worse. A couple of hours later, I returned home; cold, wet and numb! I could barely press the shutter button on my camera. It was worth it though. The snow continued all afternoon, getting heavier and heavier. It finally came to an abrupt stop around 10:00pm, and was replaced by rain. Boo.

Snow Timeline

Snow Timeline

By Sunday morning, half of the snow had been washed away – either by the rain, or people cleaning up. The sun was out and the sky was blue. I was tempted to stay under my warm kotatsu (heated table), but all I could think about was going out to take more photos! Gotta make the most of every opportunity, right! So I headed to Shinjuku for the day.

The storm ended up being the worst to hit the region in 45 years. The 27cm of snow in Tokyo caused trains and buses to be cancelled, planes to be grounded, workplaces to shut down, and the whole city to go on lockdown. It was an epic 24-hour ‘snow apocalypse’!

Autumn Mission: Shinjuku Gyoen (wrap up)

So I realise it’s no longer autumn, and I realise I’ve already posted many autumn foliage photos… I promise this is the last one! I visited Shinjuku Gyoen as part of my Autumn Mission just before I left on my Australia holiday in December, and I’ve been meaning to do this wrap-up post since. Better late than never!

I’d been told it was beautiful at Shinjuku park in the autumn, but since I’d gone so late in the season (it was already winter), I wasn’t expecting a lot. I was more than pleasantly surprised. In fact, I was quite blown away! The fiery reds, oranges and yellows contrasted with the evergreens, and sparkled in the morning sunshine. The fallen leaves swept across the path, rustling and dancing in the wind. Overhead, the tallest trees branched their arms together as if protecting the ground below. The forest was alive! And to top it off, there were only a few others basking in this beautiful, natural show… no crowds, yay!

The tree is on fire!
The tree is on fire!

Sun-kissed forest
Sun-kissed forest

Shinjuku Gyoen front entrance
Shinjuku Gyoen front entrance

Corridor of colours
Corridor of colours

Reflections
Reflections

Intense red!
Intense red!

Contrasting colours
Canopy of colours

Shinjuku Gyoen koyo
Peaceful morning walk

'Flower' pine cone
A lone pine cone bidding autumn goodbye

** Autumn Mission Wrap Up **

My self-assigned mission was to see as many autumn-foliage spots as possible in and around Tokyo. I definitely tried as hard as I could, and made the most of weekends and holidays. But, there just wasn’t enough time to see everything! Nevertheless, after spending my first autumn in Tokyo, I can say that it is such a beautiful time to be in the city. I’m not sure it’s as breathtaking as the cherry blossoms in spring, nor autumn in Kyoto, but compared to my hometown in Australia – which is green, green, green all year round – I was like a kid in a candy store!

My autumn adventures of 2013 were:

1) Nikko (Post 1) / (Post 2)

2) Mt Takao

3) Showa Memorial Park

4) Setagaya temples

5) Shinjuku Gyoen (see above)

Until next year!

Autumn Mission!

Recently, I’ve felt a new surge of motivation. I don’t know where it’s come from, perhaps the beginning of a new month and a new season. I have decided I’m going to study harder (Japanese language, that is), go to the gym more often, meet more people, and get to know Tokyo a lot better. I’ve signed up for the JLPT (a Japanese test) which will be in December, which means I need to do some serious study! And, I’ve recently discovered ‘meet ups’ in Tokyo, which are organised groups that do various things from play sports to do language exchanges. It’s my new favourite thing!

Actually the time of year really did inspire me for my goal to get to know Tokyo better. I love how the seasons are celebrated in Japan. Unlike Australia where the seasons are basically ‘wet’ and ‘dry’, here, spring has cherry blossoms, summer has fireworks, autumn has maples, winter has snow.

Four seasons in Japan
Four seasons in Japan

The beautiful, autumn phenomenon of leaves turning red is called kōyō. In my previous post you can see some photos I took in Kyoto last year. Apparently the 2012 season was the best Japan’s had in about 10 years, so I was pretty damn lucky to experience it! Considering I’m now living in Tokyo, I figured it’s the perfect opportunity to see the top kōyō spots in Tokyo and further north over the next 3 months. I also LOVE gardens and nature, so I generally want to visit as many gardens around Tokyo as I can anyway.

An amazingly informative and well-presented website called Walker plus shows the progress of the autumn colours across the country, with regular updates and reports. You can see the leaves are still mostly green all over Japan, but now is the time to start planning!

Walker plus Autumn report 2013
Walker plus Autumn report 2013

Walker plus is pretty awesome – I also use it to search for the best cherry blossom spots and summer fireworks festivals. It even has a smart phone app called Walker Touch you can download for free, so you have access to information about events, festivals, concerts, cinemas, etc., anywhere, anytime. You can also bookmark events in the Walker calendar which I think is really convenient. Here are some screen shots, as you can see, very cute and colourful!

Walker Touch

According to the Walker plus website, the most popular kōyō spot in Japan is in Nagano prefecture, at a place in the Central Alps called Senjojiki Cirque. I’ve never been, but I’ve seen pictures and man, it looks like the hills are on fire! Take a look at this amateur video:

There are actually hardly any really popular kōyō spots in Tokyo unfortunately. To get to most of the good spots, you need to go hiking up some mountain in the middle of nowhere. But, I have managed to find a few places that should be worth a squiz…

Rikugien Garden and Koishikawa Korakuen are gardens in Bunkyo ward, right in the middle of the city. Rikugien Garden was built at the end of the 17th century and its creator interestingly used a special form of poetry as inspiration. Koishikawa Korakuen has also been around for a long time. It features miniature reproductions of famous spots around Japan.

Shinjuku Gyoen is in… yep, Shinjuku. It’s actually my favourite garden in Tokyo because it’s a HUGE park right in the middle of one of the busiest commercial districts in the world, and features a French garden, English garden and Japanese garden. I love all of them!

Inokashira Park is behind the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo’s north-west. It was built in 1917, and has a big pond and a small zoo.

Mount Takao is in Tokyo’s far-west, about 1 hour from Shinjuku. It’s a super popular spot for hiking because of its easy access from the city. I went hiking here a couple of months ago and loved it. There are 8 trails you can choose from and each have their unique features.

Beyond Tokyo, some popular spots are Nikko, Mt Fuji Five Lakes, Shosenkyo Gorge, and Kamakura.

I wonder how many of these places I can get to this season! Mission: accepted.