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?
Natural playground for kids
Just go with the flow…
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!
Pretty in the light
Blue skies and yellow leaves
Ladies looking for the perfect leaf!
Piles and piles of leaves
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!!