Autumn at Heirin-ji Temple, Saitama
There are many famous places near Tokyo to see Autumn leaves. This blog will focus on the city of Niiza in Saitama. You can reach Niiza by taking the Tobu Line from Ikebukuro, so it is very easy to get to. You may be asking why you would want to visit Niiza.
Let me introduce Heirin-ji Temple, which was founded way back in 1375. It was burned down during the battle for the unification of Japan, but was rebuilt in 1603 and remains to this day (although the buildings were moved to the current location in 1663).
Heirin-ji is not just any old temple. It has several buildings, just like most shrines, but the highlight is the extensive woodland behind it, which can take 1-2 hours to walk around at a leisurely pace and has some outstanding fall foliage. When I ventured there in 2021, the reviews online were negative, stating that it was a bad year for the leaves, they were not impressive and so on. If this was a bad year then I'd love to see it on a good year, as everyone in my group still found the trees very beautiful.
As you enter the temple, you will come face to face with the imposing Sanmon Gate. It is flanked by flaming red maples on either side and many people congregate there to take photos. From there, walk for five minutes through the fairly basic temple buildings until you reach the forest path. You can't actually enter or go near most of the buildings, due to the fact that Heirin-ji belongs to the Myoshinji branch of the Rinzai Zen sect. This means that the monks must stay apart from the public, and the public may not enter their domain. Their daily regimen includes things such as waking up at 3am, prayer and then rice soup for breakfast at 4am, and four hours of meditation before bed at 10pm. It's a rough life!
Once in the forest, you will pass a graveyard housing the graves of some of the Matsudaira Clan and some historical mounds before reaching a quieter part of the forest where less crowds seem to venture to. You can stroll around, play with the leaves, take photos and just enjoy the peace of being in the nature - "forest therapy" as the Japanese call it.
One thing that I loved is how safe it is for young children. I have a three year old who seems to spend half her life darting for busy roads, so I loved that she could run freely in this forest and I didn't need to worry about dangers such as cars or bicycles.
Right across the road is another place of interest, the Forest of Suisokuken. There you can view a traditional old Japanese house and go inside it, plus enjoy the small Japanese garden. It isn't a large place, but you can go there while waiting for the return bus.
Cost: Adults - 500 yen, Kids 5+ - 200 yen
Opening hours: 9am - 4:30pm
How to get there: Take the Tobu Toju Line from Ikebukuro to Shiki, then take bus 34, 35, 73 or 75 to the bus stop "Heirin-ji".