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They’re often overshadowed by the sakura, but Japan’s fall colors make the country a beautiful place to be at this time of year. Maples and gingkos even have a few advantages over cherry trees. They tend to hold their color a little longer, and the cooler weather is less conducive to large outdoor parties, meaning your appreciation of the beauty of nature is less likely to be disturbed by the carousing of drunks.

In contrast to Tokyo’s many cherry tree-lined parks and boulevards, though, getting a good view of crimson and yellow leaves often means having to head out of the city and up into the mountains. That’s not always the case, though. Historic Rikugien Garden has plenty of fall color, is located right in the middle of Tokyo, and right now is so beautiful it’s staying open after dark.

Before Tokyo was the capital of modern Japan, it was Edo, the seat of power for the shogun’s feudal government. In 1695, the shogun granted the land that would become Rikugien to Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, the daimyo, or warlord, who controlled Kawagoe (now part of Saitama Prefecture).

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In the 19th century, political shifts weakened and eventually eliminated the samurai class. Taking over their place in society were captains of industry like Iwasaki Yataro, the founder of Mitsubishi, who would purchase Rikugien after making his fortune in shipping and financing. Eventually, though, the garden was donated to the city of Tokyo, which has been the owner of Rikugien since 1938.

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Much of the city was destroyed twice over during the first half of the 20th century, first by the massive Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and then by bombing during World War II. Rikugien managed to come through both more or less unscathed, though, and retains much of the same layout it first had 300-plus years ago.

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With cherry trees, azaleas, hydrangeas, and even a small field of tea shrubs, Rikugien is worth a visit in just about any month of the year, but right now is one of your few chances to visit after sunset. While the gates ordinarily close at 5 p.m., until December 7 the garden is open until 9 o’clock, giving you a chance to stroll around its illuminated paths after work or dinner.

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Rikugien is just seven minutes on foot from Komagome Station on the Yamanote Line, the primary rail loop that encircles downtown Tokyo. Once inside, though, it’s easy to forget that you’re smack dab in the middle of one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities, thanks to the spacious and well-maintained grounds.

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We stopped by on November 20, the first night Rikugien was open, and the overcast skies and light drizzle didn’t do anything to detract from the picturesque scenery. If anything, it took on an even more elegant air in its shroud of light mist.

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Usually, an hour or so is enough time to see all that Rikugien has to offer. As we snapped pictures and soaked up the atmosphere, though, one hour quickly turned into two. As we admired our surroundings, we realized that someone else had probably stood in the same spot, doing the same thing, some three centuries ago. Given that our ticket had cost us just 300 yen (US$2.60), that works out to about one yen a year, which we say is a bargain for a little trip back in time.

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Garden information
Rikugien Garden / 六義園
Address: Tokyo-to, Bunkyo-ku, Honkomagome, Rokuchome

Photos: RocketNews24
Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu image: Wikipedia/Ichirenji
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