Sure, central Tokyo is great, but Japan isn’t all about seizure-inducing neon signs, karaoke in the early hours and drunken salarymen slumbering upside down on train station stairways. The outskirts of Tokyo and beyond offer a varied range of things to see and do from tourist-friendly temple complexes to cat-infested islands specialising in amazing seafood dishes. If you have your heart set on a stay in Japan, one thing I’d definitely recommend is getting off the beaten track and taking in a few of the more distant spots the capital and its surrounding prefectures have to offer. Six worth checking out are listed below.
Situated a short train ride from temple-laden Kamakura, Enoshima makes for a pleasant way to spend a few hours and enjoy some high-class seafood dishes. Joined to the mainland by a long walkway, the island offers everything from shrines housing a statue of Benten, patron of the island, dank caves begging to be explored, Buddhist temples guarded by sentinels in the guise of the fierce-looking Fudomyo and a luxurious spa. Star-crossed lovers line up to ring the love bell together then scrawl their names on locks and attach them to a specially constructed fence in the hope that these acts will cement their desire for one another. Suckers who have fallen into the internet’s inexplicable fascination with cats will find a large number of feral kitties wandering the pathways, always only a hair’s breadth away from slipping into attack mode. The last time I was there I saw the fattest, laziest cat in the world – it’s worth keeping an eye out for him if obesity hasn’t yet whisked him away to the great kitty litter box in the sky. Before you head back across the bridge, be sure to try one of the island’s many seafood restaurants serving speciality dishes consisting of fresh fish caught locally. There is a beach skirting the mainland opposite the island if you want to catch some rays but be aware, the shoreline can get extremely busy during periods of good weather. Oh, and a final warning: be careful of hawks!
Nestled on the westernmost outskirts of Tokyo, Mount Mitake is home to some of the most breathtaking hikes in the region and unspoiled beauty as far as the eye can see. At over two hours from central Tokyo, Mount Mitake can be hard to get to and involves a short bus ride from Mitake train station which can be problematic if you aren’t travelling with a Japanese speaker. The sights that await, however, are well worth the hassle of getting there. A cable car can be taken to near the top of the peak but it negates a lot of what makes Mitake so special. Walking from the base to the summit takes roughly two and a half hours and isn’t easy going in places so make sure you are in decent shape before heading off! Be sure to check out the Rock Garden, traverse the rickety looking wooden walkways and relax at the scenic Nanayonotaki waterfall. Savour the great views and grab a bite to eat at the summit before returning to the madness of Tokyo proper. Remember, if you see a bear, stay calm and don’t run away from it screaming like a lunatic!
Speak to any elderly person in Tokyo about places you need to see in Japan and Nikko will likely be the first name they mention. Hidden away in Tochigi prefecture, 140 kilometres from Tokyo, Nikko is a big draw for Japanese tourists and is famous for containing Toshogu shrine and the mausoleum of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. While the town just outside of the temple compound is somewhat haggard and rundown, the temples themselves are vibrant and elaborate. Be sure to look out for the famous three wise monkeys and spend some time ogling the Shinkyo bridge which crosses the Daiya River, perhaps the most strikingly coloured body of water I’ve ever witnessed. Whatever time of year you visit, the distant foliage offers a continually changing yet eternally beautiful backdrop to this lovely site, be it verdant green, autumnal oranges or virginal winter whites. People wishing to immerse themselves in Japanese culture will be spoilt for choice when it comes to local onsen and ryokan style hotels. Catch a bus to neighbouring Chuzenji if you want to check out the dizzyingly high Kegon waterfall, glorious lake and surrounding mountainous terrain. I had the best ramen I’ve ever eaten in one of the family run restaurants near the falls but I can’t for the life of me remember its name. Sorry!
Odaiba is probably my favourite spot in Japan. From man-made beaches, a brightly coloured Ferris wheel, the astonishing Rainbow Bridge and an eighteen metre tall Gundam model, Odaiba has a little of everything. A vast artificial island, Odaiba is accessed by taking the Yurikamome, a fully automated transit system. Do you have any idea how awesome it is to be transported to your destination by a robot? Pretty awesome is the answer. As you fret about the AI of your driverless train you are afforded some stunning views from the tracks that skirt across the Rainbow Bridge, which in itself is very photogenic. Sights include the distinctive Fuji TV building, a miniature Statue of Liberty and the cavernous Miraikan with its enormous digital globe. Take in a bird’s-eye view of the bay from the top of Daikanransha, the aforementioned Ferris wheel that doubles up as a decent lightshow when dusk falls. Check out Venus Fort for a Venice-themed shopping experience – worth checking out for its photorealistic painted sky ceiling alone.
You’ve probably seen the videos of the roiling human wave of Japanese folk on YouTube. Not afraid to brave the urine-tainted, overcrowded waters and take part yourself? Want to experience firsthand what being part of a vast shoal of human fish feels like? Then get yourself along to Tokyo Summerland! With lazy rivers, waterslides, rollercoasters, scorching hot outdoor surfaces for you to walk across and heavily-tattooed Yakuza-types aggressively eyeing you up, Tokyo Summerland has all of your water park needs covered and then some! An experience I’ll not soon forget and one I won’t be looking to repeat anytime in the near future!
Click here to visit the Tokyo Summerland website for more information.
Yokohama is a little piece of China in the heart of Japan. Not including China itself, Yokohama boasts the biggest Chinatown in the whole of Asia. Boasting a myriad of restaurants specialising in cooking styles from every corner of China, to a plethora of Chinese style temples and sights, anyone who finds themselves in Japan and unable to make it to mainland China should call in here for the next best thing. Be sure to try one of the steamed dumplings from the stalls scattered on every street corner – the ones containing the super sweet red beans are an absolute treat. The nearby Cosmo Clock 21 at COSMOWORLD amusement park offers Yokohama skyline views to those who didn’t get enough Ferris wheel action during their visit to Odaiba.