If you think Tokyo, Japan is just all about what you see in the Tokyo City Centre, wait till you check out the number of day or short trips you can take out from Tokyo. It is surrounded by so many beautiful places that it’ll be difficult for you to be bored of being in this city. Check them out below!
Day Trips out of Tokyo
1. Kamakura(鎌倉) – Visit Kyoto’s “Cousin” with its Temples, Bamboo Forest and the famous Great Buddha
Kamakura (鎌倉) is a coastal town in Kanagawa, just less than an hour south of Tokyo. It gives you a glimpse of how Kyoto is like through its numerous temples. It is especially alike with the hidden Bamboo Forest behind Hokokuji Temple(報国寺) that reminds me of Kyoto’s Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. The most iconic shrine of Kamakura is the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (鶴岡八幡宮) Shrine. This is because the path leading to it goes through multiple Torii Gates situated all along the entire City Center. You’ll arrive at the base of a stairway at the end of it, where you’ll finally see the main hall after you’ve reached the top. Do make time to visit this Shrine when you’re in Kamakura to experience its magnificence!
Hiking towards the Temples through the Hills
If hiking is your cup of tea (and it’s mine!), do check out the Hiking Trails around the area. It is split into three main areas, the Western, Northern and Eastern hills, and connects you to the various temples amidst nature. These takes you less than 1.5 hours and can be completed comfortably in the same day. I would recommend the Daibutsu Hiking Course along the Western Hills, as it connects you from the peaceful Jochiji Temple(浄智寺), to the magnificent Great Buddha (Daibutsu) of Kamakura(鎌倉大仏). The Great Buddha stands magnificently tall at 11.4 meters high as the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan. Finally, the trail ends at Zeniarai Benten Shrine (銭洗弁天). It is a norm for visitors to literally wash their money in the shrine’s spring as doing so is said to double your money. I’m not sure how true is that, but no harm doing it anyway!
Lastly, if you have more time to spare, do extend your trip to Enoshima. It is a little island connected by a bridge from Kamakura. You can choose to spend another day here to fully explore this little island, otherwise, you can also spend around 2 to 3 hours there.
2. Yokohama(横浜) – Have your fill of the Japanese Cup Noodles, Ramen and Kirin Beer all at one stop
Yokohama (横浜) is Japan’s second largest city and the capital of Kanagawa. It can be a day trip out of Tokyo in just less than 30 minutes via train. There are plenty to do in in this city too, and especially so if you’re a foodie! Firstly, you can make your own cup noodles at 400 yen/cup at the Cupnoodles Museum. I signed up for it and really enjoyed the whole process a lot! You get to design your own packaging, decide on the soup base and even the toppings! I felt like a kid once again as everyone regardless of age was welcomed to participate. Then, head over to Japan’s first food-themed amusement park, the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum for lunch. This place brings to you all the flavors of Ramen, their national dish, from renowned shops across Japan all in one place! I’m sure you won’t be disappointed if you like ramen!
Fancy having a cold refreshing beer in its birthplace?
Then continuing on the food adventure, you can even experience a free tour at the Kirin Beer Factory. Yokohama is the birthplace of Japan’s modern brewing industry and is definitely a place you should stop by for some refreshing cold beer. You can see how beers are being manufactured and then packed in this factory. The best part about this tour is the “tasting bar” at the end of the tour. Here, you get to pick three glasses of fresh beer on tap. You’ll be able to fully experience this factory all the way to your taste buds!
I would also recommend visiting Chinatown if you have time! It is the largest you can find in Japan with more than 500 restaurants there. Otherwise, if you prefer a relaxing night walk after dinner, go to Yamashita Park. for a stroll along the Yokohama Harbour. You can also check out the Yokohama Official Visitors’ Guide for more details on timely events happening when you’re planning your vist there!
3. Kawagoe(川越) – Travel back in time to the Edo Period
Kawagoe (川越) is a city in Saitama, located just about 30 minutes by train from central Tokyo. This place brings you back in time to the Edo-period with its old clay warehouses and merchant homes. Your first stop would have to be the Warehouse District (蔵造りの町並み, Kurazukuri no Machinami). This is where the whole stretch of traditional old clay shophouses, known as the Kurazukuri, lies at. Strolling down this street would make you imagine that you’ve time-travelled back to the Edo Period! Also, not to be missed is the Candy Alley (菓子屋横丁, Kashiya Yokochō), which sells traditional Japanese sweets and cakes. Feel free to let loose your taste buds to these unique arrays of sweets. Oh, and don’t forget to try the Sweet Potato (Satsumaimo) there too as it is a local specialty food of Kawagoe!
Once you’ve got your tummies filled, take a stroll through the temples in the area. I recommend firstly, to visit the Katain Temple(喜多院). It is worth visiting because it is home to a remarkable 540 statues of Buddha’s disciples and is also made up of the former Edo castle, where former emperors resided in.
The Temple for Singles looking for Love
Next up, especially if you’re single, is the Hikawa Shrine. This place is famously known as the 1,500 Year Old Matchmaking Shrine for a reason! Make sure you get your hands on the special charms that can only be found there – the ‘Red Pencil’ and the Matchmaking Stone. The ‘Red Pencil’ is designed after the “red string of fate”. It is said that the more you use it, the closer you get to meeting your significant other. Whereas the Matchmaking Stone is very limited as there’s only twenty of each everyday. Make sure you arrive early to be one of the lucky twenty! Wishing all singles reading this all the luck you need!
4. Mitaka(三鷹) – A heaven for fans of Studio Ghibli
Need I say anything more about why this is a Must Must Must-Go place for Studio Ghibli fans? If you love animation films like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away etc. (just like I do!), you must be no stranger to Studio Ghibli. The Ghibli Museum (三鷹の森ジブリ美術館, Mitaka no Mori Ghibli Bijutsukan) is one of Japan’s most famous animation studios and art museum of Miyazaki Hayao. It is conveniently located at Mitaka, just 15 minutes away from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.
No Spoilers, Just Lose Your Way!
This museum is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! I don’t want to give you any spoilers but if you must know, check out this detailed review by Sightsee&Sushi. I absolutely loved every minute spent in this Museum and it absolutely lived its motto of “Let’s Lose Our Way, Together.” There was no set route on how you should explore the Museum, but rather, explore as you’d like. As Miyazaki Hayao set out the museum to achieve, I loved the museum for it being a place of discovery. It is really, a museum where those seeking enjoyment can enjoy, those seeking to ponder can ponder, and those seeking to feel can feel. All in all, it is a museum that made me feel more enriched when I left. All these were Miyazaki Hayao’s aim as he founded the Museum and I dare say he was really successful at that!
One highlight of this Museum that I personally recommend is the short films showed inside the Saturn Theater. Those are original creations exclusive to the theater and changes throughout the year. Hence, you will always experience something different here at this Museum even if it’s not your first time there. Do take note to buy your tickets in advance though, as tickets do sell out really quickly. They go on sale on the 10th of each month, and a specific entry date and time slot must be selected when purchasing.
5. Mount Takao (高尾山) – Get close to Nature and have a dip in the Natural Hot Springs
If you’re looking to escape the busy city, I recommend Mount Takao for a short day trip out of Tokyo. It is located in Hachioji, just 50 minutes away from Central Tokyo via train. This is a popular hiking area with eight different hiking trails to pick from, and each not taking more than 1.5 hours. Pick the one that suits you the best and enjoy that relaxed hike upwards! Otherwise, there’s also the cable car or chairlift that brings you to the peak within minutes. Make sure you stop by the impressive Takaosan Yakuoin Temple near the mountain’s summit too! This temple is known for the Tengu mountain gods whom visitors pray to for good fortune. Try spotting them with their long nose and crow beak! What’s more, if you’re lucky, you may even be able to see Mt Fuji on a clear day.
Ready for some Tororo Soba?
If I timed this well, at this point in time, your tummy may be screaming for some food. No worries!! Head down straight to the foot of the mountain and you’ll find many restaurants selling their local specialty – Tororo Soba. It is grated yam noodles and you’ve got to try that there if you haven’t before! I absolutely love it for that unique texture it has, though not everyone around me like it as much as I do. Finally, to end off the day, go enjoy a dip in the natural hot springs at the foothills of Mount Takao before starting on your journey back to Tokyo! You may even want to time your visit here during Spring or Summer as it is especially beautiful then with the powdery pink cherry blossoms and the vivid orange autumn foliage respectively.
Short Multi-day Trips out of Tokyo
For those looking for multi-day trips out from Tokyo for that long weekend or have more days to spare while touring Tokyo, check the places out below too.
1. Nikko(日光) – Visit the Shrines & Temples at this UNESCO World Heritage Site
Nikko is a beautiful sacred site located around 2.5 hours away from Central Tokyo via the Shinkansen. I visited Nikko for the first time when my Japanese homestay family brought me here. I enjoyed my time here a lot because of the peaceful ambience that brought a calming effect to its visitors. The shrines and temples were connected by trails of forested paths and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the architectural and decorative masterpieces surrounding it. These include the Toshogu Shrine, the Futarasan Shrine and the Rinnoji Temple. Collectively, they are made up of 103 religious buildings and each holds a deep significance to the Japanese history of the Tokugawa Shoguns.
Immerse yourself in the beautiful nature of Lake Chuzenji!
Apart from the culturally rich side of Nikko, do look out for the beauty in the surrounding nature too! There’s the beautiful Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Waterfall that you cannot miss when you’re there in Nikko. It is located at the foot of Mount Nantai, a sacred volcano of Nikko. I would recommend taking a 2-day hike along the walking trail around the circumference of Lake Chuzenji. You can then fully immerse yourself in the peaceful atmosphere surrounding the lake on foot. For those that prefer to relax on the still waters, hop on a sightseeing cruise that departs every hour on a round trip along the lake.
Lastly, make sure you also include a meal of Nikko’s specialty food – the Soba and Yuba. The fine mountainous water coupled with Nikko’s high-quality buckwheat are perfect ingredients to making remarkably delicious Soba. Also, as one of Nikko’s traditional and nutritious delicacies, you have to try the Yuba here. Yuba is a soy dish that is made by gently scooping the solidified skin off boiling soy milk.
2. Mount Tanzawa(丹沢山) – Explore the Picturesque Peaks of the Tanzawa Mountains
Mount Tanzawa is a mountainous range 2 hours away from Tokyo. It is known as one of Japan’s 100 most famous mountains with its picturesque peaks. This is a popular hiking location as it is a suitable terrain for hiking all year round. You can do a day hike or even a multi-day one, depending on your own availability. If you’re there on a day trip, I would recommend going for the Mount Oyama summit track that takes 4 hours to complete. At 1,252m at its summit, you would be able to catch a good view of the mountainous terrains. Also, this track also fills you in fairly on the cultural end and natural side as it brings you through shrines, boardwalks and even a waterfall. On a clear day, you might be able to see a panoramic view of Mount Fuji and its surrounding foothills.
If you’re up for a challenge, this two-day hike that goes through the other three peaks of the Tanzawa Mountain range may just be what you’re looking for! One important thing to do is to make sure you reserve the huts on the summits before your climb. I do recommend the clean and cosy Sonbutsu-sanso lodge as on top of the reasonable prices, the people there are very friendly too. Also, plan to wake up early the next day for the sunrise on the mountain peaks. You won’t regret doing this! Finally, make sure you prepare yourself well for the water scarcity while on the track. Although there is a water source near Mount Tonodake, it requires a steep detour of 30 minutes to get there. Hence, do plan well before your climb!
3. Hakone – Mt Fuji(富士山) – Climb up the Highest Mountain of Japan or experience the World’s Steepest Drop on a Roller Coaster
Hakone is another popular destination for at least a 2D1N trip out of Tokyo. Apart from it being home to many natural Hot Spring Resorts (Ryokans) and Lake Ashinoko, you can also feast your eyes on the breath-taking views of Mount Fuji here. It is less than a 2 hours ride from Hakone and I highly recommend going there if time allows!
Mount Fuji is one of Japan’s iconic symbols of good luck and fortune. It also stands tall as the highest mountain of Japan at 3,776 meters. The best way in my opinion, to experience the beauty of this mountain is through its hiking trails! The climbing season lasts from 1 July until 31 August during summer and there are four trails you can pick from. In order of popularity, they are namely the Yoshida, Fujimonimya, Subashiri and Gotemba trails. I would love to try these trails one day, so let me know which is your favorite! Just take note to pick the one that suits your fitness level as each range in terms of difficulty too.
Want something more than Mount Fuji?
There’s just so much you can do here too! Around the area, you’ll also find the Fuji Five Lakes – Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko, and Motosuko. There are many outdoor sports and activities on these lakes and the surrounding nature. If a relaxed fishing or boating afternoon sounds too lazy for you, then sign up for windsurfing, water-skiing or even paragliding on these blue waters. If all these are not enough to satisfy your wild heart, how about visiting the Fuji-Q Highlands too? It is an amusement park that houses the Takabisha – the world’s steepest roller coaster at 121 degrees drop. They even offer themed rooms for an overnight stay at their own Resort and Spa, and of course, with views of Mt. Fuji too! How awesome is that~
4. Mount Mitake(御岳山) – Hike up to Mitake Shrine for the Spectacular Kagura Performance
Mount Mitake is located less than 2 hours away from Tokyo. If you’re on the Japan Rail Pass or Tokyo Wide Pass, the trip there is fully covered! This place is popular for hikers who loves a little challenge with the steep and narrow routes amidst unspoiled nature. During the hike, you’ll go past two waterfalls and the famous Rock Garden, which is a narrow, forested valley with many moss-covered stones and a little stream flowing through the middle. Just imagine an amplified terrarium without the glass (haha)! From the Rock Garden, you can choose to hike for another hour or less to the peak of Mount Otake (1267 meters). Take note that some of the paths here are steep, so do take care as you continue on your trail!
Then, visit the Musashi-Mitake Shrine on the mountain’s summit. Visitors come to this place for the symbolic Kagura performances that are like sacred dances dedicated to the gods. These ancient styles of Kagura are preserved and can only be seen here. Although this is a hike that can be completed well within 4 hours, visitors do choose to stay overnight too at local inns for the spectacular night Kagura. Lodging are usually in the traditional Japanese tatami style here. If you haven’t been to one before, don’t be surprised if you find that the bathing facilities are also shared as that’s really common. Some lodgings also offer excursions to experience Takigyo, a centuries old practice of meditating beneath a waterfall. You can check out how a morning waterfall meditation ritual at the Ayahiro Falls look like in the video linked above or here.
So what’s your favorite trip out of Tokyo?
Hope you’ve enjoyed my recommendations of trips out of Tokyo that you can take! Which is your favorite so far or the one that would be next on your bucket list? I hope that regardless of which you pick, you’ll be able to enjoy Japan to its fullest!