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The Roses Also Bloom in Autumn

Here are some recommended spots in Tokyo for viewing and taking photographs of roses in late October and early November.

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As in the case of the Arakawa Tram Line roses, bushes producing white flowers produced the most blossoms. The building in the center is the DoCoMo Tower. (Photo: Earl H. Kinmonth)

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In the course of researching my JAPAN Forward article, “Arakawa Tram Tracks’ 14,000 Rose Bushes are Beauty in an Unexpected Place,” I was surprised to read that the roses also bloomed in autumn, in late October and early November.

I use the tram line and my wife and I go walking along the stretch from Oji to Kumanome. With this in mind, I started checking the situation in mid-October.

The roses are in fact in bloom, although at a fraction of the spring level. 

Instead of a wall of roses in full bloom lining the tracts from Arakawa-shakomae to Arakawa-yuenchimae, and from Otsuka-ekimae to Mukaihara, there are fewer plants with many blossoms and a modest number with a few blossoms.

The spring trackside bloom has many more flowers on each bush.
Some bushes, usually with white flowers, have a dense bloom in the autumn.
A tram near Arakawa-shakomae, the stretch of track with the most rose bushes.
This tram has just left Otsuka-ekimae, headed for Waseda.

Having verified that there was an autumnal rose bloom, I looked for other sites known to have a second bloom each year. Several were almost as spectacular as the spring bloom. Others were interesting but not at the level that many people would go out of their way to see.

Recommended Sites

Shinjuku Gyoen

Shinjuku Gyoen has a large area devoted to roses as part of what it calls the French Garden. 

Small signs identify the species at Shinjuku Gyoen. This one is Pure Beauty.

The Rose Garden is part of the French Garden, which is lined by trees on either side.

Although white roses predominated, red and yellow roses were also abundant.

When I visited the garden on October 20, numerous young women and elderly men and women were admiring the blossoms and taking photographs with kit more elaborate and expensive than what I use.

I was especially struck by the number of older women with at least semi-pro level equipment taking photographs. Not so long ago, women in the same age cohort typically had simple point and shoot cameras.

For rose aficionados, even the lesser autumnal display is worth a trip and the modest admission price. But there is much more, including an English Garden, a Japanese Garden, a hothouse with exotic tropical plants, several large green areas, and secluded walks.

Pond reflections lead to something rather like an impressionist painting.

I was surprised to see a bird of this type since the park borders the Shinjuku business district.

Unlike some Tokyo parks, Shinjuku Gyoen is not using an advance reservation system. But it does have an admission cap of 8,000 because of COVID-19 concerns. On a weekday it does not approach this limit, but on weekends or holidays with good weather, the park can be quite crowded.

Admission is ¥500 JPY for adults, ¥250 JPY for seniors. The official park guide in English can be found here

It is exceptionally easy to visit because of its proximity to three commuter train stations.

Furukawa Teien

I took up the Furukawa Teien and its roses in a JAPAN Forward article, “Gardens of Wealth: At Rikugien and Furukawa Are Layers of Tokyo History,” published in June 2019. The fall bloom is not quite as impressive as the spring bloom, but still well worth seeing. When I visited on October 15, the garden was moderately crowded.

One half of the Furukawa-teien rose garden.

The mansion seen from the north half of the rose garden.

Individual bushes had more flowers each than those along the tram line.

A bright sun and an absence of wind allowed striking closeups.

With red roses, the colors were so vivid the flowers look artificial in photographs.

Aside from the general ambience and the chance to see a fine traditional garden, Furukawa Teien has the plus that, as in the case of Shinjuku Gyoen, each rose bush variety is identified in English and Japanese.

In addition to the admission charge (adults ¥150 JPY, seniors ¥70 JPY), it requires advance booking that can be done in English. The booking gives you a two-hour arrival window (booking for 1:00 P.M. is valid until 3:00 P.M.). 

The booking ticket is either something you can print for scanning at the entrance or a QR code that can be scanned from a smartphone.

Jindai Shokubutsuen

The rose display at Jindai Botanical Gardens is comparable in scale and variety to that of the Furukawa Teien, but in a very different environment.

Instead of being backed by a mansion, the Jindai rose garden is part of an amphitheater.

Skies like this are common during the autumn in the Kanto (Tokyo) area, but intense sunlight and wind can make closeup photography very difficult.

The numerous buds surrounding some blossoms indicate a supply of new flowers for some days.

As might be expected at a botanical garden, plaques identify the bush variety.

It uses the same reservation system as Furukawa Teien. Admission is ¥500 JPY for adults and ¥250 JPY for seniors. 

When I arrived at 2:00 P.M. on Wednesday, October 20, it was much more crowded than I had expected for a weekday. The numbers, however, dwindled rapidly as the numerous school children finished their visit.

Based on what I saw during my visit, I would expect substantial crowds on any weekend with good weather.

As with Shinjuku Gyoen, there is so much to see that it is worth a day trip. A comprehensive introduction with a map is available in English.

In addition to the roses, several large beds of dahlia were attracting a large number of viewers and photographers.

Close up, a dahlia blossom using a large aperture to blur (bokeh) the distracting background.

As with red roses, red dahlia could be so vivid in color that they looked artificial.

The Gardens are close to Jindaiji, said to be one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the Tokyo area. Soba restaurants near the temple are also well-known.

Access is something of an issue. There are several large parking lots, but I never recommend driving when public transportation is available. 

There are frequent buses from Chofu Station on the Keio Line, and from the Mitaka and Kichijoji stations on the JR Chuo Line.

Lesser Sites

Yoyogi Koen near Harajuku has a small rose garden, but the bloom when I visited on October 18 was quite sparse, and only a few people were viewing the roses. Most were either jogging or having a picnic.

The park is not gated. There is no admission charge. Some large areas were still fenced off to prevent large crowds from gathering due to COVID-19 precautions.

Hibiya Koen had more bushes in blossom than Yoyogi Koen, but probably not enough to warrant a visit just to see them. 

The park is located, however, next to the Marunouchi financial district and is a very pleasant place to eat lunch if you are already in the area. You can enjoy either a bento (box lunch) or try the fare at one of the restaurants in the park.

Roses, a palm tree, and just barely visible, an European-style restaurant.
Hibiya is something of a green oasis on the edge of the Tokyo financial district.

One of the restaurants that add to the pleasure of a visit to the park.

Bright sun with no wind made for fine closeups.

It is also a good site for photographs that have greenery and flowers in the foreground with office towers in the background.

The park is not gated. There is no admission charge. 

Photography

All sites taken up here generally allow unrestricted non-commercial photography, but commercial photography requires permission. 

Tripods are discouraged and may be restricted at some sites when they are crowded.

The low angle of the sun at this time of year makes it difficult to take near distance photos without having your own shadow in the frame.

The strong, sometimes blinding, sunlight typical of fall in Japan can make it almost impossible to see what you are trying to photograph with a smartphone.

It is often quite windy as well. This makes close-up photos tricky. 

I use a 25mm F1.8 lens so I can have distracting backgrounds out of focus (bokeh), but wind will continually alter the position of flowers and make it extremely difficult to get a shot with the proper focus.

Conclusion

At least in the Kanto region, autumn has more good weather than any other time of year. Not too hot, not too cold, not that much rain, and fairly predictable.

While seasonal change in autumn is mostly closely associated with the leaves of maple and other trees turning vividly yellow and red before dropping to the ground, it is also a season when some flowers bloom, belying the fact that winter will come shortly. 

Roses are one example of this. Higanbana, dealt with in my article “Heavenly Higanbana Invite Outdoor Enjoyment as they Announce the Autumn Equinox,” are another.

Botanical gardens and public parks in Japan do a good job of selecting plants that will flower during different seasons. Those with an interest in floral photography will seldom be without a reason for a day outing. 

Chrysanthemum exhibitions will be coming up in early November.

Author: Earl H. Kinmonth

Find other stories about Tokyo and nearby areas by Dr. Kinmonth at this link.

Earl H. Kinmonth is professor emeritus at Taisho University. Before moving to Japan in 1997, he was reader in Japanese Studies at the University of Sheffield (1989-1997) and professor of history at the University of California-Davis (1977-1989). His research is in the history and sociology of Japanese education from the Meiji period to the present, with an emphasis on 1930s-1940s Japan. He is a Japanese citizen and writes commentary in English and Japanese, and does Japanese English translation. He is currently writing a book on foreign media coverage of Japan under the working title Japan in the Foreign Imagination.