Top 5 Hidden Tokyo Foliage Spots

Tokyo may not be as popular a destination as Kyoto for its autumn colors, but the city’s trees do deck themselves out in some pretty striking colors from mid-November to mid-December. Ask any Tokyoite where to go however, and the answers remain mostly the same: the ginkgo avenue near Jingu Gaien, the traditional garden of Rikugien, maybe a nod to Shinjuku Gyoen.

The problem is, as most of Tokyo knows these spots, that’s where everyone heads. So where should the in-the-know traveler go instead? Well, the following selections are anything but on-the-beaten-track and while you won’t be alone, you certainly won’t be shoulder to shoulder with the masses either.

I’ve visited all of these sites in person, but I am heading back to catch a few of them in their prime foliage glory in just a few weeks. However, to give you all the heads up, I’ll post about them now and go back in a week or so to replace the boring green photos below with some colorful tints. And if you want to sightsee with a fellow foliage addict, join me on December 2nd for my first ever foliage tour through Alpine International!

1. Showa Kinen Park (Tachikawa)

The tea house in the traditional garden of Showa Kinen Park
The tea house in the traditional garden of Showa Kinen Park

Tachikawa, out the western spoke of the Chuo line, is notably cooler in climate than the center of the city. This means that it is one of the first places to start seeing the leaves change and yet it’s easily reachable on a special rapid train from Shinjuku in only 23 minutes. The avenue of golden ginkgo trees right inside the park entrance is lovely but it’s worth hoofing it all the way across the sprawling grounds to see the maples in the traditional Japanese garden. Mid to late November is the best time to catch the foliage here; my visit on the 11th held some already stunning hues.

2. Tonogayato (Kokubunji)

Maple leaves reflected in a pond at Tonogayato
Maple leaves reflected in a pond at Tonogayato

Tokyo has nine gardens in its Metropolitan Garden System and this is the one that is most often forgotten. A quick two-minute walk from Kokubunji Station (reachable in 17 minutes on that same special rapid train I mentioned above) brings you to this hillside plot that has a plethora of maples. There is also a small bamboo forest on the grounds and a beautiful tea house overlooking a pond. The maples were just starting to turn when I visited on the 15th, with a lot more left to go.

3. Gotokuji Temple (Setagaya)

Maples near Gotokuji's pagoda
Maples near Gotokuji’s pagoda

This temple in Setagaya Ward (west of Shibuya) is known as being the birthplace of the maneki-neko, or beckoning cat. It’s also a prime foliage spot come late November, as a number of maples frame the site’s three-story pagoda perfectly. On November 16th, enough maples had already turned to make the trip worthwhile, but a number of trees remained entirely green. This is a spot to watch in the coming weeks.

4. Kyu Asakura House (Daikanyama)

The entrance to the garden at the Kyu Asakura House
The entrance to the garden at the Kyu Asakura House

Just steps from the trendy boutiques of Daikanyama and Nakameguro, this woodsy property hides a Taisho-era estate complete with hillside garden. The maples here won’t change until the end of November or early December, but when they do, it’s quite an impressive sight, especially from the large picture windows of the home’s main living area. This is one of the more accessible of the sights on this list for those living or staying in the center of the city.

5. Mejiro Garden (Mejiro)

The pond at Mejiro Garden
The pond at Mejiro Garden

While it only dates back to 1990, this garden is constructed in the traditional style and features a tea house, a pond, a waterfall and some lovely winding paths. Being a five-minute walk from Mejiro Station on the Yamanote Line, you’d think it would be mobbed. But even on a recent weekend (November 15th) and with a high school brass section playing a small concert in the garden’s gazebo, there still wasn’t a huge crowd. The maples here were more orange than red, though as December approaches, many more trees will turn.

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