Tokyo in Yellow

We’re well into winter now, here in Tokyo. As if on queue, as soon as the calendar changed to December, the cold arrived. The only time I ‘love’ winter is either when I’m sipping hot chocolate with friends inside a warm cafe or when I’m on a snowboard at a ski resort. So these frosty mornings have definitely been making it hard to get out of bed!

But, late November and early December is actually peak time for the autumn leaves in Tokyo. We are one of the last places in the country to see the colours change, and it seems to happen so quickly. It’s almost like the cherry blossoms in spring – we have only 2 or 3 weeks to soak them up before they’re gone for another year.

Perhaps it’s because ichō (ginkgo) trees are more sturdy or easier to maintain than momiji (maple) trees, but I always notice a lot more yellow leaves all over Tokyo. Even in my local neighbourhood there are plenty of ginkgo trees around. For a while, it really felt like Tokyo had turned yellow! I love it. It’s such a happy and attractive colour!

One of the most famous autumn spots is Meiji-jingu Gaien’s ginkgo avenue. This park was built way back in 1923 and sees millions of visitors every November. The towering yellow trees have almost a comical shape to them. They look like either thin Christmas trees, or pointy witches hats! What do you think?

Another ginkgo spot is the more modest and relaxed avenue at Showa Memorial Park. It’s the newer park of the two, having been built in 1983. I visited the same spot last autumn, so I have plenty of photos here you can take a peak at. According to the number of entry tickets bought this year, they apparently had over 3,800,000 visitors. A little bit insane, but the crowds don’t take away from the trees thankfully. I love when the light shines through the leaves, creating a heavenly sort of feel. The warm shades of yellow are soothing and you just want to stroll through the avenue as slowly as possible to savour the experience!

Most of the autumn leaves are finished in Tokyo now. From here on in, the spotlight changes to Christmas illuminations! If you’re in town, definitely check out Naka-Meguro’s ‘Blue Cave’, Yomiuri Land, Tokyo Dome, Tokyo Midtown and Solar-town at Tokyo SkyTree!

 

 

Fun with Reflections!

I’ve been to Showa Memorial Park so many times since I moved to Tokyo last year, that I think it’s safe to say it’s my favourite park in Tokyo prefecture. Sorry, Shinjuku Gyoen, you’ve been replaced! Every time I visit Showa Memorial Park, I discover another part of its HUGE grounds! And not only is it a massive park, but each of the five ‘zones’ have different seasonal draw cards. So there really is no bad time to go.

Showa Kinen Park Map

For this visit, I went to Zone E to see the Japanese Garden for the first time. It’s kind of like a cool secret garden, where you have to walk through inconspicuous wooden gates into an area hidden from the outside world. Once you’re in, though, it opens up to a glorious, tranquil lake.

I was not at all expecting such a beautiful spot. The afternoon sun made for some brilliant colours. And the still lake made for some epic reflections! It reminded me of art projects in primary school where you fold a paper in half, put blobs of paint on one side and then fold the other half on top, then open it up to reveal a symmetrical ‘masterpiece’! Those paintings were always a lot of fun, as was trying to capture these lake reflections!

Showa Kinen Park Japanese Garden

Showa Kinen Park Japanese Garden

Showa Kinen Park Japanese Garden

Showa Kinen Park Japanese Garden Showa Kinen Park Japanese Garden Showa Kinen Park Japanese Garden Showa Kinen Park Japanese Garden Showa Kinen Park Japanese Garden

Sakura: Short and Sweet

The cherry blossoms have almost all disappeared now. I feel like it was over before it even started! I guess that’s part of their charm – their beauty is fleeting. Seeing the petals fall off the trees and get swept away by the wind is always sad. Most years, the sun does a good job of bringing a much welcomed warmth to push out winter, but this year, the cold has persisted and the chilly nights are still lingering. The weather has been up and down, teasing us for weeks with a few warm days. I’ve only recently stopped using my heater. Hopefully I can put it away for good. Dammit, I’m ready for summer! … I might regret saying that come August.

Going snowboarding at the start of April meant missing the peak of the sakura in Tokyo. I had an awesome time in Hokkaido, so I don’t regret it at all, but it just shortened the already short time we have to see the flowers! To give you more of an idea on just how brief their life is… The season officially started on March 25. This is when the buds first started to open up. The peak was predicted to be April 5, but the forecasters can never be 100% accurate, and in the end, full bloom was declared on March 30. By April 8, about 50% of the petals had fallen, and by April 10 it was basically all over in Tokyo.

There are actually hundreds of varieties of sakura trees. Some bloom earlier, while others bloom well after the main varieties have long gone. Even though it’s already coming to the end of April, there are still one or two late blooming varieties that can be spotted here and there. The varieties differ not only by blooming time, but also colour, number of petals, shape of the petals and shape of the tree. And of course, depending on where in the country they are, they bloom either in March (southern Japan), April (central Japan) or May (northern Japan).

March 16 @ Setagaya

Setagaya blossoms
Kawazu-zakura: early spring bloomer

March 29 @ Naka-Meguro

April 5 @ Setagaya

Sakura-lined entrance
Sakura-lined entrance

April 6 @ Akiruno & Fussa, Western Tokyo

April 8 @ Meguro

April 10 @ Showa Memorial Park, Tachikawa

April 10 @ Koganei Park

April 12 @ Lake Sagami, Kanagawa

April 16 @ Setagaya

Tulips in Tachikawa

Last weekend, I tried to make the most of the tail end of the cherry blossoms in Tokyo. I checked out Showa Memorial Park, a massive 163 hectare park out in Tachikawa, western Tokyo. The last time I was here was for the stunning Autumn festival. The park has about 1500 sakura trees, so I was excited to catch a glimpse of the later blooming varieties. But, as I walked through the park gates, I literally walked into a flower festival – tulips were everywhere! My nature-loving mind exploded with joy! The bizarre varieties of tulips, the vibrant colours, the fragrance in the air, the pond, the stream, the green lawns – it was all so perfect. I walked around in a daze, wishing that one day this could be my own backyard (of my imaginary house)!! My favourite tulip was one called the ‘honeymoon’. For a flower with so many spikes to be called that, it makes you wonder about the person who named it! Perhaps their marriage didn’t work out as they’d hoped?! No, but actually I think they are referred to as ‘frills’, not spikes, which makes more sense.

The 'honeymoon' tulip
The ‘honeymoon’ tulip

Autumn Mission: Showa Memorial Park

It’s already winter, and I’m still catching up on my autumn posts! Where does the time go?!

A few weeks back, I visited Showa Memorial Park in Tachikawa, western Tokyo. It’s an enormous park that was built to commemorate the Showa Emperor. Each November, the ginkgo trees in the park come alive. The yellow leaves are so radiant that they would brighten even the gloomiest of days. There are two stunning corridors of ginkgos lining both sides of a long rectangular water feature with a beautiful fountain at one end. Yellow leaves carpet the ground, fill the gutters and even blanket the smaller surrounding shrubs. It is pretty spectacular, and I completely understand why the city has created an annual Koyo Matsuri (autumn leaves festival)!

The day I visited the park was the last day of the 2013 festival. Some trees were starting to look a bit bare and the fallen leaves covering the paths definitely looked like they had been trodden on by a million people. Despite that, like everywhere in Tokyo, the park was crowded, very crowded. Standing in one spot for 10 minutes, waiting for a break in the crowd so you can take that perfect shot, is just part of the fun! Patience is a virtue. It also means that you don’t get very far! I barely covered a quarter of the 160 odd hectares. All the more reason to go back again sometime!

Here are some of my snaps of the ginkgo trees, momiji (maples), and a VERY special surprise at the end of the day.

And, drumroll please…. the ever graceful, bold and majestic Mt Fuji made an appearance at sunset. What a treat! There will be more sights like this as winter progresses and the sky becomes less hazy. Can’t wait!!

Showa Kinen

Showa Kinen