Fall in Japan is a welcome change following the heat and humidity of a typical Japanese summer and a great time to visit this wonderful country. The average daily temperatures drop down to the 70°Fs and the evenings are cool and enjoyable around the 50°Fs. It is a great time to explore Tokyo on foot and during this season, locals and visitors flock to Tokyo’s parks, gardens, shrines, and temples to witness the changing colors of the leaves and appreciate the beauty of the fleeting season. The celebrations of autumn foliage in Tokyo are comparable to the cherry blossom season in the spring.
Tokyo and its surrounding areas are ablaze with red, yellow, gold and orange from late October through early December. Crowds gather at local parks for picnics and visit temples and shrines to offer prayers where the beautiful autumn colors serve as the backdrop.
One of the most popular spots for viewing the changing of the leaves is Rekugien Gardens located at 6-16-3 Hon-komagome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo. The views are particularly beautiful around the stream that runs by the Tsutsuji no Chaya teahouse, around the Togetsukyo Bridge and from the Fujishirotoge viewpoint. The park is seven minutes on foot from the JR/Tokyo Metro Namboku Line, Komagome Station and 10 minutes on foot from the Toei Mita Line, Sengoku Station.
Another popular destination to see the brilliant colors is at Mount Takao. Located just a short train ride from the heart of Tokyo, Mt. Takao serves as sacred Shinto-Buddhist grounds. The mountain features hiking trails among beautiful wooded scenery and the Mt. Takao cable car which can be taken to the summit. The weekends are especially crowded during November so plan your visit during the week if at all possible.
Ueno Park located in the Taito District in Tokyo is also a great place to visit in the fall. Established in 1873, it is home to a number of major museums and enjoys over ten million visitors a year, making it Japan’s most popular city park. During fall, students return to school and vacationing families are back at their routines making it possible for travelers to enjoy all that the park has to offer without having to deal with the summer crowds.
For something a little more traditional, visit the Meiji Jingu Gaien, outside Meiji-jingu Shrine, with its iconic Avenue of the Gingko Trees flaming in hues of red, orange and yellow at their peak of their fall brilliance. The Meiji-jingu Shrine also plays host to one of the biggest and most anticipated events known as the Aki-no-Taisai, the Grand Autumn Festival. The three day festival which takes place around the beginning of November (usually November 1st to 3rd), celebrates the anniversary of Emperor Meiji’s birthday with a whole program of exciting events and exhibitions.
The event features performances of Japanese classical dance, Noh theater, and traditional Japanese music. Special exhibitions are set up in front of the main shrine buildings to honor the deities and include a flower arrangement exhibition and the presentation of rice wine, sweets and other Japanese specialties from all over the country. A large display of chrysanthemum flowers is also on display on the main path to the shrine.
Day three of the festival has a fascinating lineup of Japanese martial arts including an archery tournament, Sumo rituals, Aikido Enbu and Kobudo performances, an archery ceremony and the incredible Yabusame (horseback archery).
Finally, during fall, Japan celebrates the food of the season with hearty eating as well as the foliage. Matsutake mushrooms are in season and make for a wonderful main ingredient in soups or a delicious addition to simmered dishes such as nikudofu, a beef and tofu dish. Sanma, a sleek silver fish that is best enjoyed grilled with salt is also a popular item. Shinmai, the first harvested rice of the season, is enjoyed as it is known to be distinctively moister and sweeter. The rice is often served steamed with gingko nuts as a fall treat. And for dessert, domestic pears, persimmons, apples and Mandarin oranges are all in season for a refreshingly sweet ending to any fall meal.