Koishikawa Korakuen is a pocket of peace and lush greenery tucked in the middle of the sprawling Tokyo cityscape. The park is an enjoyable visit all year round, although a visit coinciding with the peak of autumn colors in Tokyo from late November to early December is guaranteed to be a visual treat as dozens of maple and ginkgo trees transform the garden into hues of vibrant yellow, orange and red.
One of the most popular day trips from Tokyo is to Kamakura, a small seaside town in Kanagawa prefecture. Kamakura was, for a brief time, the political capital of Japan during the Kamakura Shogunate. Nestled between the hills and the Sagami Bay, Kamakura has numerous historical and cultural sights packed in a small package.
Imperial capital for more than a thousand years from 794 to 1868, Kyoto epitomizes traditional Japan. In autumn, trees on the grounds of centuries-old temples and shrines of the ancient capital turn colors and attract hordes of Japanese for the annual koyo, or autumn leaf, viewing. As I would only be staying in Japan for a year, I only had one chance to visit Kyoto in autumn. Autumn hues in Kyoto usually peak around mid to late November. It was already the 2nd week of November when I decided to go with the trip the following weekend. I did not have enough time to book for a place to stay, so my plan was to take a night bus from Yokohama before midnight on Friday, arrive in Kyoto early Saturday, embark on a quickie tour of Kyoto until early evening, take a bus to Tokyo before midnight, and be back in Tokyo early Sunday.
Koyo (Autumn Foliage) viewing is a popular pastime in Japan, with the leaves of trees changing colors beginning in mid-September in Hokkaido in the north, gradually moving south as the season progresses. In the Tohoku region the peak season for koyo viewing is from late October to early November depending on the altitude.
Autumn officially started this week in the northern hemisphere with the September equinox. Five autumns ago I was starting a year-long assignment in Japan. I was excited then to travel around my (temporary) adoptive country, see its sights, experience its culture, and of course try the cuisine. I was also looking forward to taking Japan’s efficient train system.
For my first solo travel, I bought a Do-Nichi Kippu (Saturday-Sunday ticket) from Japan Railways (JR) for JPY 18,000. This ticket covers one weekend of unlimited travel on JR East trains in a wide expanse of Eastern Japan. One regular round trip ticket to the farthest point covered by the ticket costs JPY 20,000 on the shinkansen, so I planned two one-day round trips to maximize the ticket and eliminate accommodation costs. As the ticket was printed entirely in Japanese, trip planning became an exercise in Kanji for place names.