Every year from October to December, hordes of Tokyoites make the exodus out of town to classic autumn-leaf destinations like Kamakura, Nikko and Hakone. However, for those with no time to travel, there are plenty of gardens, parks and museums right here in the city to get your koyo fill from mid-to-late November. Here are our top picks of nightly light-ups, historic retreats and lesser-known viewing locations, all in or close to Tokyo. And for the particularly energetic folks, we recommend these scenic bike routes and these highlight hikes.
READ BEFORE YOU GO: Autumn leaves forecast for Tokyo and Japan in 2019
Top autumn attractions in Tokyo
Located to the west of Tokyo, the area surrounding Mitake Gorge is a particularly popular destination with hikers between mid-October and late November. Get off at Mitake Station on the JR Ome Line and stick to the walking trails along the river banks. Postcard views of vivid red maple leaves and yellow ginkgo trees await, and for the perfect shot, make sure you have in your frame the majestic bridge that presides over the crystal clear Tama River. Do visit the nearby Gyokudo Art Museum for classic Japanese paintings before making the trip back to town.
Easily accessible from Shinjuku Station, Mt Takao is a popular weekend getaway for stressed-out Tokyoites looking to recharge their batteries surrounded by nature. From mid-November to early December, the nearly 600m-tall elevation attracts hordes of cheerful hikers looking to admire the warm yellow and blazing red hues of the forest. The autumn foliage is best viewed from the cable car which brings you up to the first observation deck, from where you’ll also be treated to a breathtaking panorama of the city. There are shops here peddling souvenirs and snacks. Make sure to visit during the annual Momiji Festival, which features some exciting theatre and live performances.
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji is a year-round hit with families, thanks to an abundance of playground facilities and the small zoo on-site – kids will love the guineapigs at the petting area. In autumn, however, the star attraction is the colourful foliage, best admired from aboard one of the swan-shaped pedal boats on the lake. You’ll find the best views between the end of November and early December. At selected weekends when the Art Markets is on, vendors set up stalls loaded with artisanal crafts, and the park turns into an outdoor stage for busking musicians and artists.
Shinjuku, with its bustling station and popular nightlife district Kabukicho, is also home to one of the most beautiful parks in the city. Scenic all year round, the sprawling Shinjuku Gyoen features three distinct gardens, including a landscape garden and a traditional Japanese garden complete with a quaint little tea house serving matcha and wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionery). Autumn colours are found throughout the park but make a beeline for the Maple Hill for the best photo op.
Note: drinking alcohol as well as playing sports and musical instruments are prohibited in the garden.
Established in 1903 as Tokyo’s first Western-style park, Hibiya Park is one of the best spots in the city centre to admire koyo (autumn foliage). Blazing red maple trees and mustard-yellow ginkgo leaves can be found around the Kumogata-ike pond, which features a beautiful fountain inspired by the crane, the Japanese symbol for good luck. The reflection of the colourful leaves on the water set against a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers make for some postcard-perfect photo ops. Next to the on-site restaurant Hibiya Matsumotoro you’ll even find a 20m tall ginkgo tree that’s almost 500 years old.
Slap bang in the middle of the city, yet serenely peaceful within its walls, Rikugien Garden is one of the best Tokyo spots to surround yourself with beautiful Japanese landscapes. During autumn’s light-up event, the park’s trees are illuminated with golden light so that the brilliant colours of changing leaves can be admired at night. The garden stays open until 9pm during this period, as do the teahouses, but if you go before sundown, you can still appreciate the different shades of red and yellow by daylight and catch a guided tour available at 11am and 2pm daily.
The spacious Japanese garden at Shirokanedai's Happo-en stays open until 10pm during the autumn foliage season. Admire the fiery red momiji maple trees reflected off the surface of the garden pond while sipping on a cocktail sold at the on-site Garden Bar. Also, make sure to jot down December 5 in your calendar – that's when you can enjoy the tunes of DJ Shuya Okino in the beautiful autumnal landscape.
The opulent Hotel Chinzanso in Mejiro opens up its gorgeously decorated garden during the autumn leaves season, lighting up the lush grounds at night to produce one of the city's most beautiful foliage shows. Head over a little bit later in the evening if you want to escape the crowds – the garden stays open until 10pm.
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