Natural wonders, heritage sites, local cuisine, and outdoor activities are the many things you can enjoy with just a few hours of travel from Tokyo. If you could spare a day outside the city, which of these destinations would you want to go to?

Nikko

 

Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine.

Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine. From Flickr

Centuries-old shrines and temples in the midst of magnificent mountain landscapes, Nikko has been attracting tourists and pilgrims for a very long time. Its vast temple complex made up of 103 religious buildings situated within two Shinto shrines and one Buddhist temple is marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most famous among its structures is the Toshogu Shrine – the shrine and mausoleum of Tokugawa Shogunate’s founding ruler, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The greater area surrounding the religious sites is the Nikko National Park. It is one of Japan’s first National Parks and as expected, an area of romantic beauty as it changes colors with the season. Points of interest include Kegon Falls – considered to be one of the three most beautiful in the country, Chuzenji Lake with the view of Mt. Nantaisan, and numerous secluded hot springs resorts scattered around Yunishigawa, Kawamata, and Okukino areas.

Nikko’s Lake Chuzenji.

Nikko’s Lake Chuzenji. From Flickr

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Tokyo / Ueno Station to Utsunomiya Station via Tohoku Shinkansen, (2) Utsunomiya Station to Nikko Station via JR Nikko Line
Total Travel Time: ~ 2 hours

Website: http://nikko-travel.jp/english/

Yamanashi

Yamanashi’s charms go beyond Mt. Fuji’s perfect cone. The region is also known as Japan’s “Fruit Kingdom” where the country’s largest volume of peaches, grapes, and plums are grown and harvested. There are cherries, strawberries, blueberries, apples, and persimmons too, and guests who come visit Yamanashi’s fruit farms are free to eat as many fruits in season as they want, as long as you help out with the picking. Some of the prefecture’s most notable farms to check out are Iwata Fruit Farm, Nakagomi Orchard, and Morita Farm.

From sweet fruits to rich umami flavors, another thing to taste when in Yamanashi is its regional dish Houtou noodles. It’s a stew of flour-based noodles, vegetables, and miso soup. Have this after your fruit picking activity to reward yourself for working hard.

Yamanashi’s famous Houtou noodles.

Yamanashi’s famous Houtou noodles. From Flickr

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Shinjuku Station to Kofu Station via Chuo Line Limited Express
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 30 minutes

(1) Shinjuku Station to Otsuki Station via Chuo Line Limited Express, (2) Otsuki Station to Kawaguchiko Station via Fujikyuko Line
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 30 minutes

Website: http://www.yamanashi-kankou.jp/english/index.html

Mt. Takao

A little less than an hour train ride from Shinjuku Station, Mt. Takao is a religious mountain still within the premises of Tokyo Prefecture. It is home to the mountain temple dedicated Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of medicine and healing, and has been a place of worship to the mountain gods for more than a thousand years. With an elevation of 599 meters, it is likewise a popular spot for day hikes with 6 scenic trails to choose from. Several attractions can be found along the way such as the Monkey Park, Biwa waterfall, and a restaurant called Beer Mount.

Generally, all routes are considered minor climbs and can be completed within a few hours. The crowd favorite trail number 1 takes about 90 minutes to summit and can be shortened still by riding the cable car.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Shinjuku Station to Takaosanguchi Station via Keio Line Limited Express
Total Travel Time: ~ 50 minutes

Website: http://www.takaotozan.co.jp/

Nokogiriyama

Giant Buddha Statue in Chiba’s Nokigiriyama.

Giant Buddha Statue in Chiba’s Nokigiriyama. From Flickr

Nokogiriyama in Chiba offers breathtaking views, unique stone landscapes, secret mountain temple sites, and one very large Buddha – more than twice as high as the more famous one in Kamakura. The mountain itself is just 329 meters tall and visitors can choose between hiking it or riding a ropeway that goes straight to the top. Though not so tall, the observatory gives an unobstructed view of Tokyo Bay and those who aren’t so scared of heights would be thrilled about the spot called Jigoku-nozoki – a small railed platform that sticks out from one of the mountain’s cliffs.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Tokyo Station to Hamakanaya Station via JR Sazanami Limited Express
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 30 minutes

Website: http://www.mt-nokogiri.co.jp/pc/p130000.php

Mt. Tsukuba

Plum blossoms at Mt. Tsukuba.

Plum blossoms at Mt. Tsukuba. From Flickr

For something more challenging, Mt. Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture will give you a good sweat. Not only is it taller than the previous two, it also requires a little climbing over boulders and definitely steeper slopes. It has two peaks to choose from – Mt. Nyotai and Mt. Nantai, with the former having a ropeway access for those who are not so keen on hiking. While the mountain is good to visit at any time of the year, it is particularly pretty during late winter / early spring because of it plum forest blooms. There are about 3000 plum trees in the area and every year starting around February 20, a Plum Blossom Festival is celebrated here.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Akihabara Station to Tsukuba Station via Tsukuba Express Line, (2) Tsukuba Station to Tsukuba-san Shrine via Mt. Tsukuba Shuttle Bus
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 25 minutes

Website: http://www.tsukubainfo.jp

Hitachi Seaside Park

Bright red Kokia plants decorate the slopes of Hitachi Seaside Park in autumn.

Bright red Kokia plants decorate the slopes of Hitachi Seaside Park in autumn. From Flickr

All year round, Ibaraki’s Hitachi Seaside Park is bursting with color. Depending on the season, different flowers decorate its vast sloped pathways and gardens. It is most known though for its endless carpet of nemophila flowers, sometimes called baby blue eyes, during the months of April and May. Aside from flowers, the park is filled with family-friendly activities and attractions. Ferris wheel rides, mini golf, and a water plaza are some of the things to keep kids and the young at heart entertained for the rest of the day.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Ueno Station to Katsuta Station via JR Limited Express Joban Line, (2) Katsuta Station to Hitachi Seaside Park via taxi or Ibaraki Kotsu bus
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 15 minutes 

Website: http://en.hitachikaihin.jp

Ashikaga Flower Park

Wisteria trellis at Ashikaga Flower Park.

Wisteria trellis at Ashikaga Flower Park. From Flickr

In 2014, Ashikaga Flower Park was named by CNN Travel as one of the top Dream Destinations in the world, and indeed its wisteria trellis gardens are so picturesque that they seem to only exist in dreams. May is the month for viewing these flowers, but the park is also open throughout the year showcasing other blooms like tulips and hydrangeas. Winter illuminations are also held from late October to early February.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Ueno Station to Oyama Station via Utsunomiya Line, (2) Oyama Station to Tomita Station via Ryomou Line, (3) Tomita Station to Ashikaga Flower Park on foot
Total Travel Time: ~ 2 hours and 40 minutes

Website: http://www.ashikaga.co.jp/english/

Mother Farm

Mother Farm in Chiba.

Mother Farm in Chiba. From Flickr

The country life is just about 2 hours away from the metropolis, and in this space, life’s simpler pleasures can be enjoyed. Chiba’s Mother Farm is the perfect day excursion especially for families with children because of its interesting activities. There are animal encounters, tractor rides, amusement park, seasonal fruit picking, and delicious food. The farm’s massive grounds are likewise a perfect venue for relaxing picnics and being one with nature.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Tokyo Station to Kimitsu Station via JR Limited Express, (2) Kimitsu Station to Mother Farm via free shuttle bus (reservation required)
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 50 minutes

Website: http://www.motherfarm.co.jp/en/

Ryujin Big Suspension Bridge and Fukuroda Falls

Thrill seekers should go this way as bungy jumping off Honshu’s longest pedestrian bridge is the special attraction at Ryujin Big Suspension Bridge in Ibaraki. It is Japan’s highest jump, a place that gives daredevils a glorious rush and sweeping views of densely forested mountains on each side plus a lake down below. On the other hand, those who aren’t too keen to try this hair-raising activity can opt to watch from a safe distance at the viewing deck.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Tokyo Station to Mito Station via JR Joban Line Limited Express, (2) Mito Station to Hitachi-Ota Station via JR Suigun Line, (3) Hitachi-Ota Station to bridge via local bus
Total Travel Time: ~ 2 hours and 30 minutes

Website: http://ohtsuribashi.ryujinkyo.jp (Japanese only)

Fall scenery at Fukuroda Falls.

Fall scenery at Fukuroda Falls. From Flickr

Also in the same area, you can find one of Japan’s top three most beautiful waterfalls, Fukuroda. It’s a stunning four-tiered cascading waterfall surrounded by gorgeous trees that change into different types of beauty with the turn of the seasons. There are two observation decks that enable visitors to appreciate the scenery from both low and high vantage points.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Tokyo Station to Mito Station via JR Joban Line Limited Express, (2) Mito Station to Fukuroda Station via JR Suigun Line, (3) Fukuroda Station to Takimoto (Fukuroda Falls) via local bus
Total Travel Time: ~ 2 hours and 30 minutes

Website: http://www.pref.ibaraki.jp/bugai/kokusai/tabunka/en/oneday/20140217-fukurodafalls.html

Fuji Safari Park

Fuji Safari Park.

Fuji Safari Park. From Flickr

It is everything you can expect from a safari tour plus a grand view of Mt. Fuji. Located in Shizuoka less than 2 hours away from Tokyo, experience close encounters with large herds of zebras, lions, tigers, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, and much more. For the safari tours, guests get to ride special animal-themed buses while exploring the massive park grounds. There’s also a dedicated section for smaller animals like rabbits, cats, and dogs where petting is allowed for an additional fee.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Tokyo Station to Mishima Station via JR Kodama Shinkansen, (2) Mishima Station to Fuji Safari Park via Fujikyu City Bus
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 40 minutes

Website: http://www.fujisafari.co.jp/english/

Dogashima Boat Cruise

Dogashima is all about dramatic seaside landscapes of islands, caves, and unique rock formations. Tensodo is the area’s most popular spot – an enchanting sea cave which can be explored by boat where inside, there’s an open ceiling from which bright sunlight passes through. There are four courses to choose from, all of which are under an hour long.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Tokyo Station to Mishima Station via JR Kodama Shinkansen, (2) Mishima Station to Shuzenji Station via Izu-Hakone Railway, (3) Shuzenji Station to Dogashima via Tokai Bus
Total Travel Time: ~ 3 hours

Website: http://www.izudougasima-yuransen.com/en/

Kawazu Cherry Blossoms Festival

Spring comes early in this part of Japan, and along with spring comes one of the nation’s most anticipated events, cherry blossoms viewing. Starting early February, Kawazu is made pink by sakura trees that are lined up along the river and scattered all over this small town. Based on estimates, there are about 8,000 trees in the area and at the peak of blooming season, Kawazu’s landscape becomes otherworldly.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Tokyo Station to Atami Station via JR Kodama Shinkansen, (2) Atami Station to Kawazu Station via JR Odoriko Limited Express
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 10 minutes

Website: http://www.kawazu-onsen.com/eng/sakura/

Hitsujiyama Park

Shibazakura or moss phlox are like cherry blossoms found on land. With varying hues of pink, these flowers form a dense ground cover often landscaped to form patterns for full effect. Hitsujiyama Park in Saitama is one of the best places to view these magnificent flower displays. Spread over 1.8 hectares of rolling hills, these little blooms form a giant maze that can only be witnessed every mid-April to early May.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Ikebukuro Station to Hanno Station via Seibu Ikebukuro Line Express, (2) Hanno Station to Seibu-Chichibu Station via Seibu Ikebukuro Line
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 40 minutes

Website: http://www.sainokuni-kanko.jp/eng/sightseeingspot/023.html

Nagatoro

Autumn river cruise in Nagatoro.

Autumn river cruise in Nagatoro. From Flickr

A river runs through this scenic little town and riding it downstream is the activity most tourists come here for. The classic tour is aboard traditional Japanese boats, while the more adventurous modes of transport include inflatable rafts for whitewater rafting, canoes, and kayaks. It is a gentle cruise for the most part of the journey, made a bit more exciting by a few rapid sections along the river. The surrounding nature is a sight to behold – a combination of lush vegetation and imposing rock boulders. There are 3 courses to choose from: a full-length course that runs for 6 kilometers and 2 shorter ones north and south of the Iwadatami Rock Formations, which is the midpoint of the full-length course.

Besides the river tour, Nagatoro is also famous for its soba and udon noodles made from locally grown buckwheat. The ones served at the restaurants are age-old recipes particular to this region, so make sure not to miss this.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1)Ikebukuro Station to Ogawamachi Station via Tobu Tojo Line Express, (2) Ogawamachi Station to Yorii Station via Tobu Tojo Line, (3) Yorii Station to Nagatoro Station via Chichibu Railway
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 10 minutes

Website: https://www.nagatoro.gr.jp/en/index.html

Kamakura

Great Buddha at Kamakura.

Great Buddha at Kamakura. From Flickr

The city of Kamakura has a lot of history. Along with Kyoto and Nara, it was once the political capital of 12th-14th century Japan and was the birthplace of the country’s first shogunate – a government led by the samurai warrior class. This period also saw the rise of Buddhism and has since then greatly influenced mainstream culture.

This part of Japan’s past is reflected in Kamakura’s centuries-old historical monuments, shrines, and temples. Perhaps the most well-known of these structures is the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) of Kotokuin Temple. It has stood there since 1252 withstanding many natural disasters including a tsunami that washed away the original temple hall that used to house it. There are many other places of interest to see in the area and to get around, visitors can choose to hike, rent a bicycle, ride the local buses, or hire a Jinrikisha (human-powered rickshaw).

While mountains surround Kamakura from the north, east, and west, its southern side faces the ocean. During the summer, the city also becomes a popular go-to place for beachgoers and surfers for some waterside fun. There are three beaches in the area: Zaimokuza, Koshigoe, and Yuigahama.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Tokyo Station to Kamakura Station via JR Yokosuka Line
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour

Website: http://en.kamakura-info.jp

Kawagoe

A preserved Edo town in Koedo Kawagoe in Saitama.

A preserved Edo town in Koedo Kawagoe in Saitama. From Flickr

Fancy a trip back in time to old Japan? You don’t need to go all the way to Kyoto for that. There’s a historic town only 30 minutes from Tokyo where you can stroll along Edo period streets and buildings while wearing a kimono, if you feel like it. Aside from sightseeing, Kawagoe shares its old town charm by offering guests a number of cultural activities. Here, you can sign up for tea ceremony, sake tasting, traditional glass-making, and Dagashi-making tours. If you happen to time your trip in October, the town celebrates the annual Kawagoe Festival on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday of the month.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Ikebukuro Station to Kawagoe Station via Tobu Tojo Line
Total Travel Time: ~ 30 minutes

Website: http://www.koedo.or.jp/foreign/english/

Mt. Fuji, Lake Kawaguchiko, Oshino Hakkai

Mt. Fuji as seen from Lake Kawaguchiko.

Mt. Fuji as seen from Lake Kawaguchiko. From Flickr

Mt. Fuji needs no introduction. It’s a majestic symbol of Japan and seeing it in person from whatever vantage point is possibly on the checklist of every person planning a trip to this country. It can be viewed from as far as Tokyo on a clear day, but the best views, of course, are reserved to those who bother to come nearer.

One of the most beautiful areas to witness Mt. Fuji’s perfect cone is in Lake Kawaguchiko. It is the second largest of the famous Fuji Five Lakes that lie at its base. It has the longest shoreline made more charming by the pretty flowers that grow around its banks. On days when the waters are calm, the view gets even more impressive as the lake reflects the image of Mt. Fuji. There are many attractions surrounding the lake itself like parks, museums, shops, and hot springs. There’s also a boat service for lake cruises in Funatshuhama area.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Shinjuku Station to Otsuki Station via JR Kaiji Limited Express
Total Travel Time: ~ 60 minutes
*From Otsuki Station, ride the local trains and buses to get around the Kawaguchiko area.

Website: https://www.fujisan.ne.jp/index_e.php

Oshino Hakkai.

Oshino Hakkai. From Flickr

Oshino Hakkai used to be the site of a sixth lake that dried up over time. Today, it is a small village at the base of Mt. Fuji famous for its eight springs and mountain water so pure that it is safe to drink directly from the source. Located between Lake Kawaguchiko and Lake Yamanakako, it is a nice spot to enjoy rural views with Japan’s iconic mountain in the background.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Shinjuku Station to Gotemba Station via Odakyu Electric Railway Line, (2) Gotemba Station to Oshino Hakkai via Fuji Kyuko Route Bus
Total Travel Time: ~ 2 hours and 10 minutes

Website: http://oshino.jp.e.nz.hp.transer.com

For Mt. Fuji climbers, Fujisan 5th Station is Yoshida Trail’s pit stop and halfway point, but to regular tourists, it is the closest you can get to Mt. Fuji’s famed peak by car or public transportation. It is connected by a scenic toll road from Kawaguchi town serviced by Fuji Subaru Line shuttle buses. Travel time is around 50 minutes per way, while bus operation schedules depend on the season.

Website: http://subaruline.jp (Japanese only)

Sarushima

Sarushima is an abandoned island at the mouth of Tokyo Bay. Because of its strategic location, it was the site of a military fortress built in mid-1800’s and was last used during the World War II. Today, what’s left of it are just ruins being reclaimed by nature overgrowth. It is a chilling and mesmerizing place, and any traveler with the heart of an explorer will definitely find this spot interesting.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Shinagawa Station to Yokosuka Chuo Station via Keikyu Main Line Limited Express Train, (2) Walk from Yokosuka Chuo Station to Mikasa Pier, (3) Mikasa Pier to Sarushima Island via Sarushima Ferry
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 10 minutes

Website: https://www.tryangle-web.com/sarushima.html (Japanese only)

Nippara Limestone Cave

Go deeper underground in the sleepy village of Nippara. Its limestone caves are among the largest in the Kanto region and take about 40 minutes to explore. Descending its stone staircases leads to a different world. It is a place of mysterious beauty where its chambers, stalactite, and stalagmite have been sculpted by nature over a long period of time. In it, you will also encounter a small shrine as the cave was used as a training place for mountain priests. Sections of it are illuminated by LED lights adding to its grand appearance.

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Shinjuku Station to Okutama Station via JR Chuo / Ome Line, (2) Okutama Station to Nippara Shonudo via local bus
Total Travel Time: ~ 2 hour and 30 minutes

Website: http://www.nippara.com/nippara/syounyuudou/syounyuudou.html (Japanese only)

Choshi

The port city of Choshi in Chiba.

The port city of Choshi in Chiba. From Flickr

Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, Choshi’s way of life is dictated by the sea. As with any port city, the main attractions are its coastlines, water activities, and of course, only the freshest seafood. To visit the sightseeing spots around Choshi, get on the very vintage Choshi Electric Railway Train. It travels from JR Choshi Station to the rustic fishing village of Tokawa.

Fresh seafood in Choshi in Chiba.

Fresh seafood in Choshi in Chiba. From Flickr

Fastest access from Tokyo:
(1) Tokyo Station to Choshi Station via JR Shiosai Limited Express
Total Travel Time: ~ 1 hour and 50 minutes

Website: https://www.city.choshi.chiba.jp/english/

Thumbnail is from Flickr.