Autumn fall, whatever you call it, it’s an undeniably beautiful season and the perfect mix of pleasant weather, bold color, vibrant entertainment, and delicious foods.
My first day in Japan was a sweltering hot and humid day in late August. I had no idea that Tokyo was just as humid as Charleston. I jumped out of the frying and and into the fire – at least in Charleston I didn’t have to worry about a language barrier and avoiding cultural faux pas.
Thankfully, September came, and the drop in temperatures gave me much needed relief. The culinary and cultural delights of my first autumn in Tokyo remain in my heart and I’d like to share the love with you!
Whether Tokyo is on your bucket list, or you’re just curious to see what PSL season is like overseas, here’s 10 reasons why autumn is the best time to experience Tokyo.
Autumn brings an amazing assortment of fruits, veggies and fish to the dinner table. Some fruits make their way into snacks, confectioneries, and even beverages!
Once temperatures drop, the following items slowly make their way to supermarket shelves – and dinner tables.
Sanma (pacific saury, 秋刀魚); a versatile fish that is excellent grilled
Chestnuts (kuri 栗) – you are bound to come across their sweeter incarnations mont blac and marron glacé
Grapes (budou 葡萄) – especially the sweet, thick skinned gentle giants known as kyohou (巨峰)
Mushrooms (shoku you kinoko 食用キノコ) – be amazed at the selection of mushrooms available in the Japanese supermarket: nameko, hiratake, maitake, matsutake… the list goes on!
Persimmons (kaki 柿) – Whether you like the flesh firm or squishy, they are an excellent autumn treat, especially when dried (hoshi gaki. 干し柿)
Sweet potatoes (satsumaimo 薩摩芋) – a lightly sweetened version of a yam, these taste so damn good grilled. Also try daigaku imo (大学芋), thickly cut then fried satsumaimo coated with honey and topped with black sesame seeds. Yum!
Autumn is a much need respite from the heat, humidity and typhoon rains. Look up at the sky as you make your rounds about Tokyo, and you will feel very #blessed. These, gorgeous, cloud-free sunny skies known akibare (秋晴れ) make their grand entrance in October and are complemented with a refreshingly cool breeze.
3. Less Crowds
Out of town families have returned to their hometowns and kids are back in school, thanks to the start of the new school term. This means that popular attractions such as Tokyo Sky Tree, museums, aquariums, parks, shopping malls, and outlets are practically empty on weekdays. Paired with the amazing autumn weather and clear skies, autumn is the perfect to time do some sightseeing around Ryogoku, Asakusa, and Ueno or check out old-school shitamachi areas like Sugamo and Shibamata.
While Tokyo doesn’t get the deep reds that you’d expect in Kyoto, you can visit one of the many Japanese gardens in the city to can experience your own mini-Kyoto. A popular destination for viewing Tokyo’s trademark yellow hued fall foliage is around the Imperial Palace, but a walk around the grounds of Meiji Shrine is also a great place for a fall stroll.
Skip Shinjuku Gyoen and Yoyogi Koen and head west to Musashino City’s Inokashira Park to experience autumn like a local. This park has it all – swan boats, a mini zoo, a Shinto shrine, and street performers. If you’re lucky you might come across a swap meet/flea market, too!
More adventurous visitors can hike Mt. Takao, a one hour train ride from Shinjuku station on the Keio Line. Takao-san (高尾山), as it is called in Japanese* is associated with tengu (天狗), human-bird hybrid beings that live in the mountains. Check out Yakuo-in, a temple at the top of the summit, for a close look at tengu.
* not san as in Ms. or Mr. but san as in the Chinese reading for the character 山.
When Japanese students go back to school on the first day of the fall semester, they wear their autumn uniform. Other professions where employees wear uniforms also make the switch in September.
Similarly, when the calendar rolls around to September, it seems like everyone in this fashion conscious city is suddenly dressed for the season. You can see a beautiful assortment of burgundy, mustard, and navy hues, and out come berets and shawls and ankle boots. The only problem with this is that September 1 is just as hot as August 31.
Temperatures don’t drop significantly until the last week or so of September, so if you’re visiting before then, you’re still safe in your shorts and tank tops. Pack light and pick up basics at GU or Uniqlo if you feel out of place or a bit chilly.
6. Hot Drinks
In some countries, there seems to be a signature hot drink that complements colder weather. In the US, it’s arguably Pumpkin Spice Latte or apple cider.
In Japan you’ll have a wide variety of hot drinks to enjoy. From coffee to tea, sold in vending machines, to convenience stores to restaurants and cafes, there’s no shortage of options.
Recently, Japanese beverage makers have been trying to infuse traditional teas and drinks that are appealing to the younger generation. One such trend over the summer months of 2017 was the infusion of hojicha (roasted green tea) into cold drinks. Starbucks released a hojicha flavored Frappuccino earlier this month, too.
You can enjoy onsen (温泉), hot springs in Japanese, all year round. But, it’s when the temperatures drop that a soak feels super relaxing. If getting naked with strangers is not your thing, try going to a ryokan (旅館, a Japanese inn) or an onsen with a kashikiri buro (貸切風呂), a private bath. Those with tattoos might be aware of Japan’s attitudes towards body artwork, so opting for a private bath may save you the headache and stares
8. Kotatsu, Hot Carpets, and Heated Flooring
Kotatsu are low tables covered with a blanket and they have a small heater underneath. You sit with your legs outstretched under the table, sip on green tea, and much on madarin oranges (mikan みかん).
Hot carpets are electric carpets with adjustable heat settings while recently constructed homes and condos tend to have heated flooring. These three are winter staples, but I have no shame in getting a head start.
Beware: once you sit under a kotatsu or lay around lazily on a hot carpet, it’s very hard to leave!
As the weather gets cooler, the night sky, the stars, and the moon seem to shine much more beautifully. You can even see Mt. Fuji from some parts of Tokyo, especially in the early morning and in the evening.
Given that there is a rich history of Japan’s love of nature, is it surprising that there’s a special autumn evening tradition in Japan?
You may already know about o-hanami (お花見), the viewing of cherry blossoms (sakura 桜) in late March – early April. In summer, the night skies light up with flamboyant fireworks (hanabi 花火, fireworks)
In autumn you have o-tsukimi (お月見) moon gazing. And, for the record, in winter, you have mochi tsuki (餅つき making mochi).
In the old Japanese calendar, the full moon occurs on the 15th day of the 8th month. In the current, o-tsuki-mi happens on the night of a full moon that occurs between September to October.
Traditionally, when a full moon occurs during this period, you have a kangetsu-kai (moon viewing party). Together with friends and family. you eat special foods like tsukimi dango and seasonal veggies.
Fast food chains like McDonald’s serve a limited edition burger called Otsukimi Burger. These hamburgers usually have a fried egg added to represent a big, full moon.
Halloween, of course, is not a Japanese tradition. You may wonder: Why travel all the way to Japan when I can celebrate (or ignore) it back home?
I have just three words for you:
In the past 10 years, Halloween has evolved from a weird holiday that gaijin (外人 foreigners) and students of international schools did, but now it seems like the whole country is catching on… or at least Tokyoites are.
Halloween fever may be a result of Disney’s popularity in Japan. Previously, Tokyo Disney Resorts celebrated Halloween in the month leading up to October 31, but in recent years, the lead-up to Halloween has started in September, giving fans of the holiday 2 months to enjoy the festivities with Mickey, Minnie, and crew.
Adding to the Halloween frenzy is a special announcement made by Oriental Land (the company that owns Tokyo Disney Resort) this year to celebrate the 20th year of Halloween at Disney.
Ready for it?
For the first time during Disney Halloween, adults can visit Tokyo Disney Resort dressed in costume any day they desire!
This is a major breakthrough. In previous years, adults could only dress up during Halloween week. Children (11 and under) are always free to come to the parks dressed as a Disney character.
No doubt that in years to come, Halloween’s popularity in Japan will only continue to grow, leading to an increase of visitors to Tokyo Disney Resort. Try to visit now before Disney Land and Disney Sea become too crowded!
10 Reasons Why Autumn is the Best Time to Experience Tokyo
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