Tokyo (東京) is unarguably the most popular destination in Japan and for the first timers, a visit to this modern capital is a must. Some might say that they never run out of things to do in Tokyo. But for others who have already been to this well-loved city and have already seen enough, then maybe it`s about time to explore other parts of Japan. Below you can check out some exciting places that are easy to reach from Tokyo:
If you want to take a glimpse of what the Edo Period (1603-1868) looked like, then head over to Kawagoe City in Saitama Prefecture. This rustic town can be easily and cheaply reached in half an hour from Tokyo by public transport.
One of its preserved architectural structures are the old clay-walled warehouses called Kurazukuri, which are standing side by side along the main street. Other points of interest are the Bell of Time or Toki no Kane, which was built hundreds of years ago and is considered the symbol of Kawagoe; Candy Alley; and Kitain Temple.
It’s a popular spot even for Japanese people looking to stroll through an authentic historical town. Dressing up in a kimono or yukata is a recommended, and playing along just adds to the charm of the whole place.
Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture is considered to be the second most populated city in Japan with a population of almost 4 million. Located just south of Tokyo, this city is known for its largest Chinatown in Japan, as well as Minato Mirai, a shopping and amusement area on the coast. Yokohama is a significant historical port as it was where Japan first made contact with the world after centuries of deliberate isolation. This is why Yokohama sometimes feels even more international and cosmopolitan than Tokyo!
Other popular destinations in Yokohama are the beautiful Japanese-style Sankeien Garden, the historical Red Brick Warehouse, the fun and playful Cup Noodles Museum, the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum that lets you taste ramen from all across Japan, Kirin Beer Factory (free beer included!) and more. The whole of Yokohama is also known for craft beer breweries, jazz bars, and a general fun atmosphere.
Yokohama and Tokyo are almost a continuum, hard to see when one ends and the other begins. They are connected by public transport trains, making it an easy location to reach with frequent trains running all day. Many people are known to live in Yokohama and work in Tokyo and vice versa.
Read more about Yokohama: here and here
Photo by Charles on Unsplash
Kanagawa Prefecture’s Kamakura is rich in temples, shrines, and other ancient structures, as it was one of the old capitals of Japan from 1192 to 1333. The most visited structure in the area is the Great Buddha of Kamakura. Located in Kotokuin Temple, this bronze statue is one of the tallest Buddha statues in Japan, along with the Big Buddha in Nara.
Being full of history and beautiful nature, Kamakura is particularly recommended to anyone who does not have the time or means to go to Kyoto. Kamakura is easily reached from central Tokyo by train in about 1 hour, doesn’t cost a fortune and could be a daytrip without overnight stay. The main charm of Kamakura being culture and history, a lot of visitors love dressing up in kimono or yukata when visiting.
Note that Kamakura is very popular with Japanese locals on weekends, so weekdays are recommended for a more relaxed experience. Another thing to factor in your itinerary is that almost everything closes around 4-5 pm.
Read more about Kamakura
Another popular destination in Kanagawa Prefecture, not far from Kamakura, is Enoshima, which is a small island connected by a bridge to the mainland. It is a favorite summer get-away because of the beaches and a good view of the Mt. Fuji, particularly at sunset. It is also known as an Island of Love, due to its many temples that are said to bring good luck in love, making it a popular spot for couples. Another nickname of Enoshima is “Dragon island” as a lot of those temples are dedicated to dragons.
The tiny island has so many things to do – such as the Iwaya Caves, Enoshima Island Spa, Enoshima Aquarium, Samuel Cocking Gardens, Enoshima Sea Candle (a lighthouse observation tower), and a wealth of cute restaurants, cafes and shops.
Enoshima is easily reached from central Tokyo by train in a about 1 hour, with service running frequently throughout the day. You can either walk the connecting bridge to the island, or take a short boat ride to it.
Photo by Sravan V on Unsplash
Hakone, also in Kanagawa Prefecture, is a great destination for those who would want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. It is famous for its abundant natural hot springs and the great view of Mt. Fuji, especially from a boat ride on lake Ashinoko.
There are so many things to do in Hakone and one of those is to admire the picturesque red torii gate of Hakone Shrine, which is located at the shore of Lake Ashinoko. Other interesting attractions are the black eggs of Owakudani, which are ordinary chicken eggs whose shells are turned black due to the sulfur reaction in the volcano, the Hakone Ropeway that lets you see the amazing views of Mt. Fuji and steaming hot springs from below, and various art museums.
Note that the red torii gate is very popular so you will have to wait in line for a good photo. Another advice is to get a transportation pass so that everything from train, boat, to ropeway is covered. If you love hot springs it is best to stay a night in one for a relaxed trip.
Mt. Fuji is almost always synonymous with Japan. It is Japan’s highest mountain that lies in the boundary of Yamanashi Prefecture and Shizuoka Prefecture. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this mountain is considered a sacred place with its perfect cone shape. It is also a favorite among hikers with the official climbing season starts early in July and ends in mid-September.
Yamanashi Prefecture’s Lake Kawaguchiko is one of the Fuji Five Lakes or Fujigoko that is situated at the foot of Mt. Fuji. It offers numerous relaxing hot springs and great views of Mt. Fuji on clear days, whether you stroll around the lake or take a boat ride. Apart from its stunning nature, other attractions found in the area are the art and gem museums, greenhouse and herb garden, and the record-breaking amusement park the Fuji-Q Highlands. Nearby there is also the Chureito Pagoda from where one can see one of the most iconic views that represents Japan.
Kawaguchiko is reached from central Tokyo by a direct bus (roughly 2 hours) or a train with one or two changes. There are also many day tours, and if you want to stay over and explore the area more, there are many hotels and ryokans in the area.
Tochigi Prefecture’s Nikko is home to a treasure trove of UNESCO World Heritage shrines and temples. The Toshogu Shrine, which is the most distinguished Shinto shrine in this town, is a favorite by many with its intricate and elaborate architectural design. It is also the final resting place of the Tokugawa shoguns, one of the most important people in Japan’s history.
Nikko is also famous for its hot springs and breathtaking scenery especially during the peak of autumn foliage. Explore other places that are worth visiting such as the Kegon Waterfall, Kanmangafuchi Abyss, and Lake Chuzenji. Very close to Nikko there is also the natural hot springs town of Kinugawa Onsen, and further in the mountains there is the more secluded but picturesque Yunishigawa Onsen area. Another place to visit here, but that will probably take most of your day, is the Edo Wonderland – a theme park that authentically recreates old Tokyo where everyone is dressed like someone from the past. It is the closest thing to time travel we have!
Nikko can be reached in about 2 hours by limited express train from Tokyo and can fit into a day trip. Buying a travel pass will grant you access to other transportation around Nikko and various discounts. Note that most things in Nikko will close around 5 pm, so plan your trip accordingly.
Nagano Prefecture’s Matsumoto Castle, also known as the Crow Castle, is regarded as one of the most beautiful castles, thanks to its intimidating black and white exteriors. One of the original castles in Japan, this national treasure was built on a plain surrounded by a huge moat. The castle interiors were also designed in providing a strong defense against the enemies with steep stairs and narrow windows.
Read more about what to do in Matsumoto here
So if you’re planning your next trip to Japan, then you might want to consider these places either as a day trip from Tokyo or an overnight stay. Surely, there are a lot of amazing places near Tokyo that are worth a visit!
: AC photo/