When it comes to koyo (autumn foliage) in Japan, it is not all about the classic red momiji (acer / maple tree). Another popular type of autumn foliage you can find in Japan is the ichou (gingko tree) which turns golden in autumn.
You don’t actually have to go to specific locations to see ichou, I have found them along random stretches of roads when we were in Tokyo in early December. We also found a cluster of them at Shinjuku Gyoen.
However, if you want to see them at their best, which is when they are lined up together in neat rows along pathways where you can walk under them amidst falling golden leaves, you need to head to popular ichou viewing spots.
One very popular spot for viewing ichou is at Hokkaido University in, well, Hokkaido. But if you are visiting Tokyo, not to fret. Tokyo also has two popular ichou sites: One at Meiji Gingu Gaien and one at Tokyo University (What’s up with growing gingko trees at Universities??).
Finding the Gingko Trees at Meiji Jingu Gaien
But before you start going down to Meiji Jingu Gaien, you may want to know where exactly this avenue of gingko trees is. Because Meiji Jingu Gaien is HUGE. The avenue of gingko trees (called Jingu Gaien Ichou Namiki 神宮外苑いちょう並木, in case you need to ask for directions) is near Aoyama-itchome Station and you can click here for the exact google map location.
Meiji Jingu Gaien Festival
Due to the popularity of the gingko trees at Meiji Jingu Gaien, an annual Meiji Jingu Gaien Festival (神宮外苑いちょう祭り) is held at the end of the avenue of gingko trees. To get to the festival, just follow the row of gingko trees after exiting Aoyama-itchome station. Click here for direction on Google Map.
At the festival, you would find stalls set up to sell stuff ranging from clothing.
To local produce.
And of course food! You will not want to miss out the food stalls when you visit Japanese festivals.
You can find all the typical Japanese festival food like takoyaki, yakitori, teppanyaki etc.
And not-so-typical food like this uni (sea urchin).
And the greatest delight in visiting food stalls at a Japanese festival is watching how they prepare the food right before you.
But okay, let me say this: Please manage your expectations for the food when you visit Japan festivals. They are usually more fun to look at than to eat. The food at festivals usually don’t taste as good as at specialty restaurants – which I think is to be expected. So don’t go to a Japanese festival and expect the wagyu beef there to taste like the wagyu beef you get at teppanyaki restaurants.
The son agrees. Check out his disgusted face. Can’t remember what he ate, but he washed it down with a can of hot chocolate. LOL…
End of the day, you want to be there more for the atmosphere than anything. There were tables and chairs set up on the lawn where you can sit and dine. It’s always fun to sit together and mingle with the locals at festivals, regardless of the taste of the food.
The kids were disappointed that there were no game stalls at the festival. One of the things they looked forward to when visiting Japanese festivals was playing traditional festival games, like they did at the Hokkaido Shrine Festival. Sadly they didn’t have those games here.
However if you are here with babies, you would be glad to know that there was a tent set up for baby care. How thoughtful!
And on a random note, while we were walking back to Aoyama-itchome station via the avenue of gingko trees, we passed by a burger joint called ‘Shake Shack‘ with an insanely long queue.
Seems that it isn’t just us Singaporeans who love queuing up for food. Apparently the Japanese have the same hobby. The queue was pretty insane! I couldn’t even take in the whole queue with my camera‘s panorama function.
If you ever do decide to join the queue to dine there, can you come back to tell me if it’s any good? I’m REALLY curious. But I’m not prepared to spend my Japan vacation standing in line for burgers.
Cancellation of Meiji Jingu Gaien Festival in 2016
Before you start planning to visit this festival if you are going to be in Tokyo this holidays, I have some bad news for you. The festival has been cancelled this year. The announcement was made on their website and Facebook page, but there was no specific reason given. Oh well… Let’s hope they bring it back next year!
Nevertheless, even without the festival, the row of gingko trees will still be there for you to view and enjoy. You can continue to visit their Facebook page for updates on the colours of the gingko trees at Meiji Jingu Gaien.
Visiting together with Shinjuku Gyoen
Meiji Jingu Gaien is actually pretty near Shinjuku Gyoen – another popular spot for viewing autumn foliage in Tokyo. So if you are in Tokyo during autumn, I do recommend visiting these two attractions together.
We started our visit to Shinjuku Gyoen at the end of the park near Shinjukugyoen-mae station and walked through the park, exiting at the end near Sendagaya station. From Sendagaya station, we cut through Meiji Jingu Gaien, passing by a stadium before arriving at the festival site. Click here for Google Map route from Shinjuku Gyoen to Meiji Jingu Gaien Gingko Festival.
The walk from the exit of Shinjuku Gyoen to the festival site took us almost half an hour (with the kids). It was pretty scenic when we just exited Shinjuku Gyoen as there were some gingko trees lining the road near Sendagaya station. But after we entered Meiji Jingu Gaien, it was a bit boring.
If you prefer to use the train, you can take the Toei Subway Oedo line from Kokuritsu-Kyogijo station to Aoyama-Itchome station (one stop). It would get you there in 2 minutes. Personally I didn’t think the one stop warranted paying ¥180 per pax in train fare, so we just walked. But if you are rushing for time, or you have a pass which covers rides on Toei lines (like the Toei one day pass or Toei & Tokyo Metro common one day ticket), then you should consider taking the subway.
Information on Meiji Jingu Gaien Festival:
Date: Late Nov – Early Dec (check official website for exact dates each year)
Venue: Meiji Jingu Gaien
Getting There: 10 min walk from Aoyama-Itchome Station
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