TOKYO Follow the seasons for a traditional take on Japan’s hyper-modern megalopolis
Follow the seasons for a uniquely Japanese experience of Tokyo.
The passing of the seasons is treated with reverence in Japan. Traditions circulate around appreciation of the short-lived bloom of the cherry blossom in spring and the changing colours of leaves – the flaming red leaves of the Japanese maple, the golden radiance of ginkgo groves, and the earthy browns of majestic oaks and chestnuts – in autumn. Both of these natural transitions mark a time to reflect on beauty and its impermanence, and it is embraced with as much enthusiasm in Tokyo, the metropolis that has become a byword for modernity, as it is beyond the capital.
These rituals are not about forgetting the modern world – far from it, as many of Tokyo’s spectacular landmarks and neon skyscrapers can be seen from its gardens – but rather recognising and honouring the natural beauty within it.
The arrival of sakura (cherry blossoms) and koyo (autumn foliage) is eagerly anticipated, with their predicted appearance reported alongside the weather. While the time differs year to year and by region, Tokyo is most commonly at its sakura peak in late March or early April, and is usually dressed in its autumnal best between mid-November and early December.
If visiting in spring, host a hanami (flower viewing) party under a blossoming tree, while autumn guests can hunt for koyo, joining couples and families strolling under showers of falling red leaves in city parks.
Sprawling Shōwa Kinen Kōen (Shōwa Memorial Park), an hour from the city centre, is famous for its canal-side avenues of flourishing ginkgo trees and its pale-pink Cherry Blossom Garden. Rent a bike to see as much as possible of this 200-hectare park, opened in 1983 to commemorate the Shōwa Emperor’s (Hirohito) golden jubilee; there is a museum dedicated to his reign in the park’s eastern corner.
For a more traditional experience, head to one of the many gardens created during the Edo Period (1600-1867). Koishikawa Kōrakuen and Rikugien are two of the most beautiful dating from this era in the city, dotted with suggested viewing points to admire the miniaturised Japanese landscapes, and walking trails studded with picturesque, traditional teahouses.
Never far from the customs and gentle appreciation of the gardens, however, is the excitement of Japan’s modern customs. This is embodied by the illumination of the Tokyo Tower, sparkling with 276 lights in seven different colours when it dons its Saturday night Diamond Veil. The newer Tokyo Skytree is a must for visitors, its 450-metre-high observation deck offering views over the entire city.
Enjoying Tokyo’s autumnal splendour is a simple pleasure that complements the city’s non-stop, high-tech, blue-sky innovation reputation, and a reminder to all of us to slow down and simply watch the leaves fall.