The Tokyo metropolis spans out in all directions endlessly, so much so that you might not notice where Tokyo ends, and another prefecture begins. The excellent public transport system acts as the urban glue, so Tokyoites can reach the nearby mountains and beaches without ever having to drive.
Therefore, a day trip to Mount Takao is a breeze from central Tokyo, in an hour and only one train from Shinjuku you can be in the mountain worshiped as a Buddha by the Yamabushi school of Buddhism. One can even reach the shores of lake Kawaguchiko and admire Mt Fuji, the holiest of mountains, up close, in more or less 2 hours from Tokyo.
However, there is a wealth of world near Tokyo that is yet to become touristy. Trying to escape the crowds? Been to Tokyo and around Tokyo too many times before? Looking to break the tourist mold and make unique memories? Whatever your reason(s) may be, we dived deep into the countryside surrounding Tokyo and we’re back to share 3 exciting off-the-beaten-path trips and experiences.
Otsuki is a place that everyone who’s been to Lake Kawaguchiko or Fuji-Q Amusement Park has probably passed on the way. It is near this town that you can find real wasabi growing in a small farm hidden in a valley. Why did I have to add ‘real’? To put it simply, the majority of the green paste called wasabi and served with your sushi is not real wasabi root, but horseradish paste with added green coloring. Real wasabi is rare and expensive, as it requires only the best of the best soil and water to grow, and whole annual yields can easily be lost. The small leafy plants need constantly flowing cold mountain water to thrive, and it is exactly what they get at Kikuchi Wasabi-En farm in Tsuru, Yamanashi. They get the best water coming straight from Mt. Fuji.
The valley suddenly opens in front of your eyes, full of light, greenery and mini waterfalls. This is where Kikuchi Wasabi-En farm is hidden. Mr. Kikuchi is the 3rd generation owner of this 100+ years old farm who decided to go fully organic, no matter the economic loss. He is a natural host and entertainer, and his humour and good nature crosses language barriers. He effortlessly guides visitors through the terraced fields, teaching us about red and blue stem wasabi on the way. Field work is nonverbal, so even if you don’t speak Japanese, this showman can easily teach you how to properly dig out a wasabi plant. And you get to take it home and eat the freshest wasabi ever! Kikuchi-san served us a fresh pot of hot tea, before seeing us off.
For reservation to visit the farm, call 0554-43-9279. (Japanese only)
While in the area: eat some hoto noodles (very thick udon in miso broth) and visit Maruyama koen park for a view of Mt. Fuji without the crowds. You can also visit Saruhashi bridge and even get on a boat tour passing under it.
Some might think there is nothing interesting about moss but seeing a group of adults with no previous interest in moss now lose track of time hunched over it with a magnifying glass – you might change your mind.
The quaint little café that doubles as a workshop called COQUEA (a French-looking spelling of ‘koke’ the Japanese word for moss) is the center of this moss world in Yozawa, Akiruno city. The owner and sensei is also a master of many crafts, and from 11 am to 4 pm he opens up his world to anyone interested. He teaches you how to peek into the moss universe, how to collect samples and make your own ‘mossarium’. Everything needed is provided, plus a cup of coffee or tea on the house.
For inquiries call 070-4131-1076 or email email@example.com
Access with public transport: bus stop no.1 at Musashi-Itsukaichi station on JR. Take the bus going to ‘KamiYozawa’ and after a 30 min bus ride get off at ‘kiwandaira’ bus stop.
While in the area: Visit Ishibunebashi Bridge over the Akigawa River in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park and the Akiruno Valley. You can also explore this area’s options for fishing daytrips and glamping overnight stays.
If you want to feel Japanese hospitality in its essence, visiting a family and being their guest for a day transplants you quickly in Japanese culture. Those who hate overly structured repetitive activities that seem to be created only for tourists will find the exact opposite in Fujino Satoyama Experience tours in Fujino city, Sagamihara, Kanagawa. And best of all, even though full of that remote calm, Fujino is only an hour ride on JR express lines.
Organized by the local Fujino Tourism Board, these tours’ activities are deeply rooted in local nature and culture. They change with the seasons, and the families participate only from time to time, giving everyone true attention and hospitality. Guests eat what’s best in season and locally grown, as well learn real life skills from their Japanese hosts. For those who don’t speak Japanese, a member from the tourism board participates and interprets at the same time, while spontaneously becoming part of the group.
We visited on a crisp and chilly December morning, probably the last time they hosted guests before proper winter starts. We were promptly encouraged to warm up under the kotasu and drink a cup of tea while meeting the hosts.
Soon enough, we were in their backyard next to a small river learning to make our own bamboo chopsticks, plates and cups. Way to make lunch from scratch! Cooking skills came next, and who would have thought making udon noodles was son fun! We also fried up some tempura, learned how to ‘surprise’ boiling noodles with a splash of cold water, and how to make yuzu citrus sauce that will wow anyone.
There is no tastier meal than the one you labored hard to make!
As a treat, the hosts baked sweet potato for us in the embers, and a surprise treat of boar meet stewed in miso. Fun fact: the boar was shot by the host husband, while the miso was fermented from scratch by his wife.
This satoyama experience would not have been complete without a deeper connection to nature. We were taught how to fish, we walked up the hill to learn how to recognize wild animals traces and local plants, and we admired the tea fields and yuzu citrus trees.
At the end of the day, it felt like saying goodbye to a family you’ve known for a lot longer than a day.
For reservation of an experience like this one contact the Fujino Tourism Board.
TEL 042-684-9503 (call on business days from 8:30 to 17:00)
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Website (Japanese with automated translation available)
While in the area: Lake Sagami is recommended for nature lovers, while Fuji Art Trail is excellent for art lovers.