There's never been a better time to visit Japan. Plan your trip today!

A Fork in Tokyo’s Golden Road

I was of two minds as I waited for my Tokyo autumn experience to begin in earnest.

On one hand, I’d headed directly from my Shinkansen to Akasaka, for my fourth or fifth stay at a hotel that for all kinds of reasons feels like home. On the other hand, I’d been wracked by anxiety since I left Kanazawa: It seemed very likely that the friend I’d planned to meet all week was going to flake, and he was unrepentant about it.

The greenness of the ginkgo leaves alone Meiji Jingu Gaien led me farther down the anxious path. Little did I know, as I sat down to wash a tekka maki platter down with a massive ginger highball, a third fork in the road would soon present itself.

Need help planning your Tokyo autumn adventure? Commission a custom Japan itinerary!

Astronaut Food

“It was astronaut food,” I laughed to the total stranger laying with me in my hotel bed, describing how a Japanese TV crew at Senso-ji earlier in the afternoon had punked me into thinking the oyako-don I was sampling live on camera had been fresh-made. “Freeze-dried Nihon ryori.”


The levity of our conversation was refreshing, and surprising. Mere minutes before what I assumed would be a straightforward hookup, I’d felt cynical and even angry when I looked ahead to my weekend in Tokyo: Flakes, fakes, foiled koyo plans, oh my!

Indeed, this person who had suddenly come into my life did more than scratch an itch, or at least the one I thought needed scratching. He asked me how I planned to enjoy the rest of my Tokyo autumn trip, conceding (or so it seemed) that there would be no place for him.


For his part, he’d be meeting a friend from his native Nagoya at The Eagle (Tokyo’s only proper gay bar), where I imagined I’d run into my fake, flakey friend if I was rude enough to invite myself along. I definitely wanted this to happen—I am a confrontational person—but I did the smart thing, and not the right one, and attended the illumination of Rikugi-en garden instead.

Much More Golden

“A few of the maples were very red,” I explained to him the next morning at his massive Aoyama home, the proximity of which to the Imperial Residence necessitated the dozens of police offers on the street outside—or at least that’s what he theorized. “But they had an obnoxious no-tripod policy, so I’m not sure if any of my photos turned out.”


In reality, I’d gotten around this annoying (but expected) caveat of Tokyo autumn photography, but I didn’t want to get too far into the weeds (I also didn’t explain my own history of fighting Japan’s all-too-ubiquitous tripod bans), lest I spoil the moment, or the taste of cafe au lait that passed between us when we kissed. It was an easy romance, albeit one we both acknowledged was doomed: He was married, and although it was a very open marriage, I’d be leaving in less than 24 hours, cutting off any actual feelings that arose and choking them on jet fuel fumes to make sure the job was done.

Before I left to head down to Kamakura, where I hoped the leaves would be farther along than the were in Tokyo, he invited me to dinner that evening. I told him not to have mayonnaise anywhere on the premises when he asked me if there was anything I didn’t eat; he told me how thankful he was I had come to meet him for a second time in 12 hours, in spite of how trepidatious both of us were that a reunion would spoil the magic of the first time.


(The long promenade of ginkgoes extending westward from Tokyo Station toward the Imperial Palace did not foreshadow much yellow, orange or red in Kamakura, in spite of how much more golden those trees had been than their cousins at Meiji Jingu Gaien.)

Proverbial Tree Falling

On the way back to Tokyo, autumn had ceased to be on my mind—the only thing left on my agenda, apart from my imminent romantic dinner, was watching sunset from the so-called Fuji TV Sphere, a view point I’d failed to ascend every time I tried going back at least three years. Expectedly, there was an anti-tripod policy in place; un-bothered, I used a surface near the window as one (this was also explicitly forbidden) and got the shot I wanted.


My phone had died somewhere between Kamakura Station and Kotoku-in; I thankfully knew the way back to my quasi-home in Akasaka, so it didn’t matter. I briefly wondered whether my fake, flakey friend might decide to contact me about hanging out at the one moment I wouldn’t be around to see if a proverbial tree falling in the woods makes a sound, but I jettisoned that thought as quickly as the lenticular cloud that had capped Fujisan during the day-time vanished after dark.

At some point, I had decided—unconsciously, it seems, looking back—that I would go toward the love (or in this case, maybe, the love energy) in my life. I’d let everything else wash off me, like the suspicious gazes of the police officers I passed en route to dinner.


(I suppose the two tall Suntory cans I was carrying out in the open might have seemed sketchy, to say nothing of the fact that neither the light jacket nor the silky, flowered shirt I wore were appropriate for the Tokyo autumn.)

Find the Fall Colors

I went toward the love (or love energy, as it were); I let it engulf me like a crowd of tourists with selfie sticks in Shibakoen at the base of Tokyo Tower. But then I hoisted myself out of it, in a much more sober way than the alcohol on my breath suggested I’d be able to do.

We did love each other, at least according to the constraints of our time together and the boundaries of our lives and how they jutted up against one another. I saw a picture of him with his partner (and in-laws) as I walked out the door, and tried to forget what he’d told me about the connection between us spilling out of the parameters to which the two them had agreed.

My Tokyo autumn had not been what I expected: Two days filled with ginkgo and maple leaves, with an hour or two guest starring in a D-list pornstar’s OnlyFans videos—that was the idea. In reality, I had to find the fall colors to fill my days, but the love that seeped into my nights and morning did so effortlessly, like the flow of salarymen out of Tokyo Metro trains on Monday morning at rush hour.

Other FAQ About Visiting Tokyo in Autumn

When is autumn in Tokyo?

Tokyo’s autumn is surprisingly late. Most spots within the city see their peak in the first or even the second week of December! I’ve visited around New Year’s in the past, and have seen freshly-fallen ginkgo leaves on the payment during the last days of December.

Where are the top autumn leaves spots in Tokyo?

In spite of being so urbanized, Tokyo has plenty of places to see autumn leaves. If you don’t head west of the city to Mt. Takao or Todoroki Gorge, stay in the center, be it to admire the ginkgos along Meiji-Jingu Gaien in Aoyama, or at gardens like Koishikawa Koraku-en and Rikugi-en.

Is Tokyo worth visiting in autumn?

Tokyo is absolutely worth visiting in autumn! While the scenery is neither as traditional as what you find farther west in Tokyo, nor as wild as what’s to the north in Nagano, autumn is nevertheless one of the most beautiful times to visit Tokyo, if only for the crisp weather.


Subscribe to email updates!


Words, images and design ©2018-2024 Robert Schrader, All rights reserved. Read Privacy Policy or view sitemap.