by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com
This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.
2011/11/15 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
Today I made our first official Autumn Color (koyo) report trip to Tokyo. As expected, it is still pretty early in the season and most of the trees around Tokyo haven't really begun to change colors yet. Although there were a few really nice areas, especially several stands of ginkgo trees, at some of the sites that I visited today.
I started the day at Yoyogi Koen, where the trees usually start changing color in late November. However, in previous year's visits we've noticed that there are large stands of ginkgo trees that change a little bit earlier than the rest of the park. And while most of these trees are still green, I was able to find a small area that had half gold trees.
The central area of the park is a large grassy area next to some large ponds. The trees around the pond were mostly brown and were starting to drop their leaves already. But comparing to last year, this seems normal as these trees were already pretty bare by the time the park's maples were beginning to change colors.
Yoyogi Park's maples are clearly still green though, and only a few scattered trees were just beginning to show some color. That's not surprising though, as we don't expect the koyo at the park to really start until late November and peak around early December.
A short subway ride away from Yoyogi Park is the Itcho Namiki (Ginkgo Street) near the National Stadium in Aoyama, about one block from Aoyama-Itcho Station on the Hanzomon Subway Line. The trees that are the closest to the road are starting to turn slightly yellow, but for the most part the area is pretty green. But again, that's as expected as the street is usually at its best from late November to early December. One thing I did notice, though, is that the trees looked rather thin compared to previous years, although I have no idea why.
A pleasant, 20 minute walk from the itcho Namiki lead me to Shinjuku Gyoen. The park is divided into several areas including a Japanese garden, English garden, French garden, and maple mountain among others. This makes for a slightly long season (from mid November to mid December) at the park as each area changes at different times.
Some of the better areas for koyo are the Japanese garden and maple mountain. The Japanese garden is slightly ahead of the other areas as the trees are spaced farther apart from one another. Most of the garden's maple trees are just starting to take on a reddish hue, and a few trees even had some orange leaves. It looks like it may be several days to a week before the season really gets going around here though.
The trees around maple mountain, however, are more closely spaced and sheltered from the elements than those around the Japanese garden. So they would be expected to change later, and are indeed still very green. Again, it will probably be another week or two before we see the trees in this area really start changing.
My last stop of the day was at Showa Kinen Koen, a huge city park that was built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Showa. The park is located about a 20 minute walk from Tachikawa Station (30 minutes from Shinjuku along the JR Chuo Line). The park is seriously huge and includes sports fields, barbeque pits, a boating pond, and several gardens. Even with a rental bike it takes a good 15 to 20 minutes to ride from one end of the park to the other.
The koyo season around the park is earlier and longer than most of the rest of Tokyo, so I was hoping for some good colors today. The trees usually begin to change around late October and peak from early to late November.
One of the highlights of Showa Kinen Koen are the more than 100 ginkgo trees that line fountain and canals around the Tachikawa entrance gate. The ginkgoes were already quite yellow today and look like they should reach their peak over the next few days. Several other stands of ginkgo trees could be found along the trails throughout the park, and some of these trees have already reached their peak.
Another highlight of the park is it's large Japanese garden, comprised of a large pond crossed by several bridges. Several dozen maple trees surround the pond, and were at various states of color from completely green, to bright red. The most colorful trees were found around the tea house at the west end of the pond, and are nearly at their peak. But the majority of the maples were still green, and may not peak for at least a week or two.