Autumn in Tokyo, Day 4

Monday, 31 October 2016

I was still deciding between ‘going to Showa Memorial Park and then to Jiyugaoka’ and ‘doing the ‘triangle’ tour of Jiyugaoka, Todoroki Valley and Futako-Tamagawa’ before Sarah woke up this morning. I picked the latter because she woke up after 8 and I was afraid we might not have the time to tour the park and then head to Jiyugoaka in time for lunch. Also, the main reason why I wanted to visit Showa Memorial Park was to view the autumn foliage but since it was not even November yet, I wasn’t too sure if the colours had changed much and if it was worth going then. There’s a website that I always refer to before I visit Japan in Spring or Autumn to find out where’s the best place to view the sakuras or autumn foliage. The information provided is current as they have reporters who will go around the country checking out the status of the blooms or the leaves. Google for ‘Cherry Blossom Report _____ (year) ‘ or ‘Autumn Report _____ (year)’. You can also google for past year reports so as to get a rough estimate of the status of the sakuras/momiji before your visit or even before your plan your trip. Usually, the autumn foliage in Tokyo starts changing colours only in mid-November but the maple and gingko trees in the Showa Memorial Park start to show off earlier than the rest of the parks in Tokyo. The lush and spacious park spans over 160 hectares, which is more than 3 times the size of our botanical gardens. You can rent a bicycle to traverse the park via the extensive bike-only track network. If you’re here sometime in mid-November, do check out the park because the autumn foliage would have reached their peak when the trees in other parks are only just about to approach theirs. In other words, the autumn hues you get at Showa Memorial Park will be more vibrant than anywhere else in Tokyo. If you’re visiting Tokyo in early December and think that the autumn show would have ended by the time you arrive, fret not. Unlike the fleeting sakuras, the autumn foliage lingers. The leaves would only start to fall sometime in mid-December or earlier. Consider visiting these parks if you’re in Tokyo from early to mid-December:  Rikugien, Shinjuku-gyoen, Koishikawa Korakuen, Imperial East Garden and Yoyogi Koen. Some of the parks have night illumination and will close later at 9 pm.  Also do check out Ichiko Namiki (Gingko Avenue) where the uniquely-trimmed trees that lined the avenue will turn a brilliant golden colour in late November and stay that way till early December or slightly later, depending on the temperature.

This picture was taken on 22 November, 2014, somewhere outside the Imperial Palace.

Ok, back to that triangular tour that we did. The area connecting Shibuya, Jiyugaoka and Futako-tamagawa is known as the Triangle Area. I first heard of Jiyugoaka from watching an episode of Tokyo Eye 2020 on it. I googled for more information about it and found out I could buy a discount ticket for 400 yen that offered unlimited rides to the areas within that triangle. Only the silver machines at Shibuya station dispense this special ticket. If you’d like to get information and advice (including how to purchase this ticket) before you head into the Triangle Area, do approach the Shibuya Station Tourist Information Desk, which is located at B2, near the ticket machines.

The triangle ticket
The green, orange and red lines make up the triangle

I wanted to look for the information centre to get a walking map but didn’t even know where it was. So we wandered aimlessly around Jiyugoaka hoping to spot some of the landmarks and shops we had seen on websites and videos.

The trains run on street level here.

The famous green street which must be really pretty in spring
wall art
You can buy flavoured beans and nuts here. This shop was featured in the Tokyo Eye 2020 video.
This flight of stairs will take you to the Sweet Forest

A shop (located below the Sweet Forest) that sells kitchen stuffs and baking ingredients

We chanced upon the information centre enroute to T’s restaurant for lunch. I got a copy of the walking map for 50 yen (or was it 20 yen, can’t remember). But by then, we had already lost our interest in exploring the neighbourhood and wanted to go to Todoroki Valley right after lunch. I bought the map so that I could scan and post it here but now I can’t find the hardcopy. Anyway, I managed to take a photo of it, knowing that this could happen.

You can only go in through that narrow door.

After having such a delicious lunch at T’s Tan Tan the day before, Sarah and I were really excited to eat at the T’s restaurant here which has a more extensive menu. We always make it a habit to peruse the menu found on websites before we visit any eatery. The restaurant, which is vegan and does not use alcohol in their cooking, is located at the basement of Luz building.

I was distracted by this cafe not realising that we had reached our destination at Luz which was just opposite this one.

We were served by a very friendly waitress who was from Thailand. Sarah and I ordered the set lunches.

Salad as appetiser and this fried soy meat with some special sauce was a side dish
I had the spicy ramen again and Sarah had the baked rice
Can you believe these desserts (creme brulee and green tea parfait) had no eggs or dairy in them?!

Seeing how much we had enjoyed our lunch, the friendly waitress enthusiastically showed us the dinner menu. I was tempted to come back to the restaurant for dinner on the same day but decided to visit it next time I visit Tokyo. I can’t remember how much I spent on lunch here but I know it was definitely worth every yen I paid.

I was determined to look for the shop that sold the original mont blanc cake. According to google map, it was close to the information centre. To get to this bakery from the station, go to the main exit, turn right and walk towards the narrow street.

Look for this street when you exit the station. The bakery will be on the left.

Mission accomplished!
Other cakes available at the bakery
and cookies too!

With the purchase of the Mont Blanc cake, my mission at Jiyugoaka was accomplished and now it was time to head to an unexpected place in busy Tokyo – Todoroki Valley. Not many people know of the existence of this green space in the midst of a concrete jungle that is Tokyo. You’ll be even more surprised to know that it is only 15 minutes away by train from Shibuya! The walking trail, about one kilometre in length, is never crowded. At the other end of the trail, you’ll find the Todoroki Fudo Temple with some shrine structures. I don’t recommend coming here right after a rain because the narrow walking path can be very slippery. I asked the station staff for directions to get to the valley. He didn’t quite understand me at first as he only seemed to know the Japanese name for the place which is ‘Todoroki Keikoku’. ‘Keikoku’ is Japanese for gorge. Just a three-minute walk from Todoroki Station will get you to the entrance of the valley (which is on top of a flight of stairs).  You’ll walk past a supermarket and the entrance is not too far from it. For a better guide, refer to this website.

The sight of this supermarket got me excited!
You’ll see the this bridge as you descend the staircase.

There were no benches along the trail for us to sit on and rest our legs so we just kept walking till the end of the trail and then walked back to the station. The place looks tranquil but you will occasionally hear the traffic noise from the roads above.

We headed to Futako-tamagawa after leaving Todoroki, which was a mistake because neither of us was interested in shopping then. I wanted to go to the Tamagawa River but google maps said it would take us about 40 minutes to walk there. So we just sat in the middle of the shopping centre, watching people go by for a while before going back to Shibuya, where we would take the train back to Shinjuku. Futako-tamagawa is quite an interesting place actually but since I didn’t walk around the neighbourhood, I have nothing much to say about it. Do watch the video to learn more about this place.

When we reached Shibuya, it was still too early for dinner. I approached the tourist information desk to ask if there was any museum we could visit but was attended to by the unfriendliest Japanese service staff I had ever come across. The young lady who was manning the desk in the morning was a lot friendlier. We found out later the entrance fee to the museum was quite steep so we ditched the idea. We walked around the neighbourhood a little but it didn’t fascinate me, partly because it wasn’t my first time there and also it was just too busy for my liking.

All dressed up in Super Mario costumes and zipping through the streets in Mario Karts – yup, this is legal, guys!

A newly-opened Under Amour shop

From Shibuya, we took a train to Shinjuku Sanchome where we had to switch trains to get to Shinjuku Station. As we alighted the train at Shinjuku Sanchome, I found out that Takashimaya was only a 5-minute walk away so we decided to go to Takashimaya instead and then walk back to our hotel from there. I wanted to check out if a particular Burberry Blue Label bag a friend had asked for was available there. The night before, I got the cleansing oil from Shu Uemura at Takashimaya. The price was slightly cheaper than back home but at that time the exchange rate was $13.45 for 1000 yen. At the time of writing, the yen has dropped to $12.60! Time for another visit, perhaps? 😉

We went up to the roof garden to check if there were any vegan restaurants there. There was none. So we walked back to the hotel hoping we could find one along the way.

The roof garden above Takashimaya, Shinjuku

We settled for a cafe located in the underground pass which served simple rice dishes with tea.

This cost less than 800 yen.

Looking back, I wished we had visited the Showa Memorial Park since Sarah wasn’t interested in shopping and would have preferred to spend more time enjoying nature.  If I could do this all over again, I would have visited Showa Memorial Park in the morning first and then head to Jiyugaoka for a late lunch, walk leisurely around the neighbourhood, then to Todoroki Valley and then back to Shinjuku for dinner.