Japanese look forward to the changing colors of autumn leaves (kōyo, 紅葉) with arguably the same admiration as they do cherry blossom each year with each region presenting its own festivals and event celebrating season. Musashi Kyūryō National Government Park ( Kokuei Musashi Kyūryō Shinrin Kōen, 国営武蔵丘陵森林公園), more commonly referred to as Shinrin Kōen, in Saitama prefecture is one of those, presenting a breathtaking night illumination and story of the forest.
Each year the park hosts a night illumination in the central gate area and this year’s is called “紅葉見ナイト～光と森のStory～” which roughly translates to “Colorful Autum Leaves Viewing at Night: the story of the forest and lights” and runs until December 6th. The park and easily accessible by a free shuttle running to and from Shinrin Kōen station with service beginning at 4:20 pm specific for this event. You can,of course, go to the park earlier by using the appropriate public buses from the station or by taxi which is something I highly recommend as the park as a lot to offer and offers bike rentals along with free stroller and wheelchair rentals.
Once you pay the entry fee (410 yen for adults, 210 yen for those over 65, and 80 yen for elementary and junior high school aged children) you are greeted with the soft glow of fairy lights set against the oranges, reds, and yellows of the autumn leaves. For those traveling with small children, there is a unique stamp scavenger hunt made specific to this event called “Maple Princess and the Forest Witch” in which you walk through the illumination and collect 4 owl stamps. You can pick up the guide pamphlet to the right just as you enter through the main gate.
Following the path in search of the Maple Princess, or just following the illuminated path past the slightly terrifying laughing and cackling bushes with faces and past the small restaurant selling special udon and sweet sake, you will eventually find yourself at an arched entrance made from thinly sliced bamboo and a path marked on either side by hand crafted lanterns. You will eventually find the Maple Princess sitting with the park’s mascot owl, Shinkun, at the end of the lantern path in a colorful light display which is sure to make any youngsters who made the trek with you up to the top delighted. For those who would rather spend some time looking at the leaves and enjoying the peaceful glow of the lanterns against the backdrop of the autumn leaves, I personally recommend picking up a cup of sweet sake and sitting in a fairy light covered hut in the middle of the lantern forest.
If walking isn’t really your style, you can always sign up for one of the 30 minute segway tours through the illumination. The park will provide you with a helmet containing a small speaker for you to listen to the guide as you ride around in your fairy lit segway.
Also unique to this event is the artwork of Otake Natsuki put on display just to the right of the entrance. Otake uses a technique known as batik, a traditional way of dying cloth, and uses her art aesthetic to “...describe “a girl” with vivid colors in a way of pop art.” The follow is an excerpt from her official statement on her website: “The theme of my works is “an idol.” In Japanese girls’ comic books and in Japanese media, the heroines are often described as dazzlingly attractive and sweet, and they bring viewers a sort of dreams. Although they are the figures of what boys and girls dream for, they tend to be characterized in exaggerated way and getting far from the real human beings. The images of those cute girls made up by people’s desires and delusions started to give many viewers an impact. However, they are only created by people’s imaginations and virtual reality. I’d like to describe that kind of “idolized girls” of today.”
So come for the autumn leaves and lanterns, stay for the sweet sake and udon, and search for the not-so-elusive Maple Fairy! Shinrin Kōen’s autumn night illumination certainly makes any journey out to escape the city and explore worth it.
Official website (in Japanese ) : http://www.shinrinkoen.jp/