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.
2012/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
Today I made our highly anticipated first autumn color report trip to Tokyo. As it is still relatively early in the season, the trees around Tokyo were understandably pretty green. However, some of the earlier changing trees were starting to peak. The cherry trees, for example, were around their peak and comprised the bulk of the autumn foliage that was on display.
I started the day at Shinjuku Gyoen, a large public park in Tokyo's famed Shinjuku District. Shinjuku Gyoen has a longish koyo season that lasts from mid November to mid December, and there are several areas around the park that display nice autumn foliage. However, today the best colors were found around the Japanese garden and maple mountain.
The Japanese garden was slightly ahead of the other areas of the park and its maple trees were just starting to turn red. However, it will probably be several days to a week before the colors begin to peak. Maple mountain was even further behind and the leaves were still green.
In other news, the renovations to Shinjuku Gyoen's greenhouse were almost complete and an opening date has finally been set for November 20, 2012. Look for an update one of our future Tokyo autumn reports.
About a fifteen minute walk from Shinjuku Gyoen is the Icho Namiki (Ginkgo Street) near the National Stadium in Aoyama, about one block from Aoyama-Itchome Station on the Hanzomon and Oedo Subway Lines. This wide avenue is lined by double rows of tall ginkgo trees that turn an amazing golden yellow at their peak. Unfortunately, the trees were mostly still green as it was still very early in the season (it is usually best from late November to early December). They should continue to improve over the next few weeks.
Next I headed over to Rikugien, a beautiful Edo Period strolling garden that is one of the best places to see autumn colors and one of my favorite gardens in Tokyo. Rikugien has a large network of walking trails that lead around it to several tea houses and viewing spots from which to view the autumn foliage.
As with the previous sites, the season hasn't really begun yet at Rikugien, and there were only a few early changing trees that were showing their autumn colors. Most of the trees around its large central pond, and the maple tree lined canal near the Tsutsuji Chaya were still very green. Rikugien will also open for special evening illuminations beginning November 22, 2012.
My last stop of the day was at Showa Kinen Koen, a huge city park 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). Showa Kinen Koen is extremely large and is made up of several different areas, includes sports fields, barbeque pits, a boating pond, and several gardens.
The season around Showa Kinen Koen begins earlier than the rest of Tokyo, and the colors usually start to appear around late October and peak from early to late November. Overall it seemed like it was still slightly before the peak colors around the park today. There was some very nice foliage on display, however, especially the gingko trees around the Tachikawa Guchi entrance and the maples in the Japanese garden.
The more than 100 ginkgo trees that line the fountain and canals around the Tachikawa entrance gate looked to be most of the way to the peak, with some trees a nice golden yellow, some very green, and most somewhere in between. I would expect them to reach their peak soon, if not within the next week or two. 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.
The entire park is connected by a beautiful network of cycling trails, which are kept separate from the park's walking trails. Rental bikes are available, but even with a bicycle it takes a good 15 to 20 minutes to ride from one end of the park to the other.
Toward the back of the park is Showa Kinen Koen's Japanese garden, featuring a large central pond garden crossed by several bridges. A few dozen maple trees surround the pond, and their colors ranged from completely green to bright red. The maples around the tea house at the west end of the pond were mostly around their peak, but the majority of the trees in the garden may not reach the peak for another week or two.
While Showa Kinen Koen holds several autumn events, they do not offer an evening illumination. Instead they have a Winter Vista Illumination after the koyo season commences. This year the lit up areas of the park can be seen from 17:00-21:00 on December 18-25, 2012.