If Tokyo was New York City, guess which prefecture would be New Jersey? Given the proximity of Jersey City to Manhattan, many people who work in New York live in Jersey City for the overall less costly standard of living. Dining out at restaurants, grocery shopping, and paying rent and housing tax are some of the considerations when choosing where to live. The same goes for people who work in Tokyo. They usually choose to live in Tokyo prefecture itself but for the same reasons people choose Jersey over New York, Tokyo workers end up choosing to live in the equivalent of New Jersey, which is just a stone’s throw away! Kanagawa!
Of course, they would have to give up the much-coveted label of being a “Tokyoite”, but this simpler, unassuming, down-to-earth suburbia is full of hidden gems both modern and historical waiting to be explored! Densely populated by 9 million residents, Kanagawa has somehow managed to encapsulate modern cities, scenic lakes, temples that date back to samurai era, hot springs, and an active volcano. And how could we forget the famous “Great Wave off Kanagawa” (神奈川沖浪裏 Kanagawa Oki Nami Ura) by the Japanese artist Hokusai!
Yokohama and Kawasaki are the two biggest cities in Kanagawa. They are reminiscent of Tokyo but without the cold empty aloofness that strangely emanates from the bustling roads and city lights. Kawasaki, much like Atlantic City of New Jersey has many malls, cinemas, and even a little European town of its own. La Cittadella has a plethora or retail stores and entertainment spots in its olden pseudo-European architecture and cobblestone pavement. On another note, the annual Kanamaru Matsuri, or Penis Festival, is also another highlight of the exciting events in Kawasaki!
Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan, holds the iconic Ferris wheel Cosmo Clock 21 which was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world when it opened in 1989. There is also an observatory on the 69th storey of the Landmark Tower, which boasts a panoramic view of the whole city and even Mount Fuji on clear days. Another attraction not to be missed is the Red Brick Warehouse that has historical roots as a customs building in Yokohama’s beginnings as a harbor city. It is now being used as a ground for events and festivals such as Oktoberfest, and even has an outdoor ice-skating rink during Christmas!
It is easy to get back in touch with nature with Kanagawa’s varied repertoire of mountains. Ranging from easier, more family and elderly friendly hikes to the steeper, higher altitude dagger-esque ridgelines, this prefecture blessed with beautiful mountain ranges and breathtaking greenery up in the clouds has everything to offer. Some of the mountains that we have visited include Mt. Nabewari (1273m) and Mt. To (1491m) in the Tanzawa Mountain Range. Standing in the midst of the serenity, tranquility and immensity of the mountains, words simply cannot do justice to the enriching, fulfilling experience that is food for the soul :)
Where better to experience sulfur hot springs than right at an active volcano! The Hakone Ropeway is a hiking trail that runs from Owakudani, a crater made by the last eruption 3 millennia ago, down to Lake Ashi which is about a 2-hour hike away. Eggs cooked in the ultra sulfuric hot springs till black are available at Owakudani. Legend has it that they prolong life by 7 years! Hakone is very popular with tourists for its many hot springs (温泉 onsen), museums, lakes, as well as a mountain railway line. The view during sakura season is spectacular!
Yokosuka is famous for being a naval base in Japan and the houses a U.S. Navy base and other military facilities, which is why it is commonly referred to as American Town. When walking along the streets, you many notice some American influences in the stores and restaurants. Right next to the harbor, there is a museum in the ship Mikasa, which was part of the Japanese fleet in the Japanese-Russo War. Entry costs ¥600 and visitors are able to visit almost every part of the ship. In addition to explanations on ship operations, detailed excerpts and figures from history texts help illustrate and momentarily bring stories of the war to life. Right next to the ship is a ferry terminal that runs ferries to Sarushima, aka Monkey Island just 10 minutes away. Man’s hands have not tainted this uninhabited island; all island forms are natural. Contrary to the name, there are no monkeys on the island, but plenty of ruins of gun and artillery posts, forts, and tunnels from the WWII period. Hiking through the tranquility of the moss-covered trenches, stairways and stations of the fortress, one can only imagine how chaotic and hectic it was during the war. Along the coast, the calm beaches also make it an ideal spot for barbecuing and swimming during the summer!
Kamakura (鎌倉) is a haven for history and culture buffs. It was Japan’s first military government ruled by shoguns in the 12th century. Zen Buddhism was encouraged and the people worshipped Kannon, the goddess of mercy at the temple Hasedera. Hachiman, the god of war, or guardian of the nation, was also a significant figure in Shinto beliefs. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu may be said to be Kamakura’s most famous shrine, with over 2 million people paying their respects on hatsumode, the opening visit of the year to a temple. Another attraction is the Kamakura Great Buddha (鎌倉大仏 Kamakura Daibutsu) that stands in the Kotokuin Temple.
Enoshima (江ノ島) is an island nearby that links up to the mainland by a bridge. It was believed to be created by a goddess named Benzaiten who fought off a dragon. There are artificially fortified caves on the island that show where she put the captured dragon. She is known to be the goddess of love and music; people make wishes at the Enoshima Shrine in hopes of her blessing. There is also Shonan Beach on Enoshima has a beautiful sunset, and is one of the country’s best beaches. The streets of Kamakura and Enoshima are dotted with stores that sell various flavours of a classic Japanese treat: mochi balls (dango 団子) including red bean (あんこ anko) and sweet soy sauce (みたらし mitarashi) dango. Served raw or boiled, the (1.5-2cm) whitebait fish is also a local specialty.