From autumn leaf-viewing to food and book fairs, and film festivals to car shows, here’s the best of Tokyo this October

Nature appreciation in Japan is not just confined to sipping sake and penning a haiku poem beneath springtime cherry blossom. Every October, after the heavy summer humidity has given way to cooler temperatures and blue skies, the nation prepares itself for another sign of the passing of the seasons: autumn leaves.

Edo-period kimonos at the Tokyo National Museum

Edo-period kimonos at the Tokyo National Museum

The transformation of foliage from bright summer green to fiery autumnal reds, yellows and oranges is a revered moment in the Japanese calendar, as reflected in the existence of a word specifically devoted to the act of autumn leaf-viewing: koyo.

In Tokyo, the leaf-viewing frenzy tends to start in late October, and a great place to head (either before or after the leaf-viewing spectacle begins) is Ueno Park. The large public park is not only a nirvana for nature lovers, with trees bursting into colour throughout autumn, but also one of the city’s cultural hubs, featuring a string of national museums (Tokyo National Museum is a great one-stop culture stop), galleries and hidden shrines.

One of the best times of year for warm and pleasant weather, October is also a big month for autumn festivals. Among the more unusual is a traditional event, which unfolds just two minutes by foot from Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, celebrating all things pickled – in particular, sweet and salty daikon radish pickles, a long-standing local speciality.

Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo’s east lobby, with views of Nihonbashi

Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo’s east lobby, with views of Nihonbashi

Dating back more than 400 years is the not-so-catchily named Nihombashi Ebisu-ko Bettara-ichi Festival (19 to 20 October). Held around Odenma-cho in Chuoku, it comprises an array of colourful stalls selling pickles, food snacks and drinks, with large white lanterns lining the streets that surround the local shrine.

Another vibrant event is Dogu Matsuri (6 to 12 October), a festival that celebrates kitchen tools, from exquisite handcrafted sushi knives to small wax models of restaurant dishes. Against a backdrop of taiko drummers and dancers, the event takes place in the area surrounding Asakusa’s Kappabashi-dori, a historic street long-famed as a mecca for chefs due to its concentration of generations-old kitchen utensil stores.

Antique books from Jimbocho, Tokyo’s centre of second-hand book stores

Antique books from Jimbocho, Tokyo’s centre of second-hand book stores

Of course, Tokyo isn’t just about the traditional: the Tokyo Motor Show (30 October to 8 November) is one of the city’s most forward-looking events. It takes place every two years in Odaiba at the sprawling Tokyo Big Site complex. The ultimate showcase for the motoring industry, exhibits range from ultra-modern prototype sports cars to futuristic eco vehicles.

Meanwhile, bibliophiles should make for the Jimbocho area of Tokyo’s Kanda district for the city’s renowned Used Book Fair (23 October to 1 November), where thousands of publications, from rare antique editions to modern-day manga, are sold from street stalls.

The National Art Center, Tokyo

The National Art Center, Tokyo

October also marks the start of the Tokyo International Film Festival (22 to 31 October), with a host of global stars dropping into the capital and a packed schedule of film viewings.

For a modern-Asia culture fix, visit The National Art Center, Tokyo, which is housed in a formidable wavy-fronted glass building, designed by Kisho Kurokawa, in Roppongi. The current exhibition Artist File 2015 Next Doors (until 12 October) displays a carefully curated selection of works by up-and-coming young contemporary artists from Japan and Korea. While visiting, don’t miss Souvenir From Tokyo in the basement, which is one of the city’s best gallery shops, showcasing an inventive selection of Japanese design products.

If the sun is shining, stop at the nearby Tokyo Midtown, an ultra-chic shopping complex, and make a beeline for the manicured gardens at the back. Here, a vending machine in a pop-up Champagne Lounge (installed until 4 October) dispenses chilled mini bottles of Moët. Sip your bubbly on the green lawns – the perfect spot to ponder the passing of the seasons while bringing the day to a close. Alternatively, finish with an early evening aperitif at the Mandarin Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, or drink in the lofty views over Tokyo from the lobby.

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Danielle Demetriou

Danielle swapped her native London for Tokyo in 2007 and now lives in Nakameguro, a quiet, creative neighbourhood. She has written about Japan for publications including The Daily Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal and Condé Nast Traveller. Sushi on tap, bargain lunch menus and heated toilet seats are among her favourite Tokyo perks.

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