Japan is a country that never ceases to amaze visitors, with its unique blend of ancient traditions and modern innovation. While Tokyo is undeniably a world-class destination, with its bright lights, bustling streets, and endless entertainment options, there is so much more to discover beyond the city limits. From charming small towns and historic cities to scenic countryside and natural wonders, Japan has a wealth of hidden gems waiting to be explored.
In this article, we’ll take a journey beyond Tokyo to discover some of the country’s most fascinating and off-the-beaten-path destinations that are well worth a visit.
Located just one hundred kilometers away from Tokyo, Hakone is a perfect weekend getaway spot that has the best of everything – natural landmarks, rejuvenating hot springs, and famous museums. Easily accessible by the limited express “Romance Car” over an 85-minute journey, you can also reach Hakone by bus or local/rapid trains.
Best known as an “onsen” destination, Hakone serves as a family-friendly site where you can enjoy stunning views of Mount Fuji while shopping at Gotemba outlet mall, check out the popular Shinto shrine, go on a hiking trail from the Komagatake summit down to the shores of Lake Ashinoko, or visit the Odawara castle that also exhibits many historic arts and crafts.
About 150 kilometers away, far from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, you’ll find Nikko – a historic town that’s popular among holiday goers for its autumn colors and lush landscape.
Nikko is well connected by trains and buses – with a few direct limited express trains as well as the JR Tohoku shinkansen making it easier to reach this picturesque location in less than two hours.
Apart from its natural beauty, a trip to Nikko would help you uncover scenic gems like the Nikko National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Shrines and Temples (a collection of 103 structures and buildings that received this status in 1999), and Annyo-no-yu (a free-of-charge hot spring footbath that’s known to help with neuralgia and rheumatism).
You would certainly be able to cherish Japan’s many treasures just by spending one weekend in Nikko.
If you wish to take a break from the city life and escape to a seaside wonderland, pack your bags for a short trip to Itoigawa – a quaint little town located about 250kms away from Tokyo. It is easily accessible by Japan Railways Shinkansen over a 2-hour journey or by road if you would like to enjoy the scenic journey of about 4hours.
Take your bike along or rent a bike locally to enjoy a memorable ride along the coastal path that connects Itoigawa to the nearby Joetsu city and offers a unique countryside experience as you pass through the fishing communities and pastoral scenery.
While you’re there, you can also enjoy activities like a Sasazushi (bamboo sushi) making experience, a shiitake mushroom farm visit, and a rejuvenating bath at The Renge Hot Springs (located at a height of 1,475 meters). With so many fun things to do and see, this lovely city would certainly not disappoint you.
A 2.5-hour train journey away from Tokyo, Yudanaka-Shibu is an onsen resort located in Yamanouchi. Quite popular among the tourists for its many traditional hot springs, Yudanaka-Shibu is a perfect getaway spot for those who wish to rejuvenate and relax in the lap of nature.
This hot springs resort has a rich history of 1300 years with nine public bath-houses that are known to cure many ailments. These bath-houses are divided into separate buildings for men and women and can be accessed if you are a guest at one of the ryokans (Japanese-style inns).
Apart from the hot spring baths, you can explore this old-fashioned town on foot while dressed in a traditional yukata and geta sandals, and take home memories of a cultural town that offers an unmatchable experience.
4. Izu Oshima Island
If you are in the mood of having an unconventional weekend getaway, book for yourself a special nature experience at Oshima, the largest of Izu Islands.
Located about 1.45 hours away from Tokyo by a ferry ride, Oshima island offers a charming view of modern and cultural Japan with its many unique spots like Ura-Sabaku (Japan’s only desert), Mt. Mihara (an active volcano), Sa-no-hama (a sea turtle beach), and Oshima park (venue for the Camellia Festival held annually from the end of January to the end of March).
This subtropical island also has many cycling trails, onsens, and other striking natural attractions that the nature lover in you would certainly cherish.
5. Lake Kawaguchiko
If you haven’t had a chance to look at Fuji-san up close so far during your stay in Japan, now is the time to book your tickets to visit Lake Kawaguchiko that easily offers the best view of Mt Fuji while also being very accessible.
With direct train and bus connections, Lake Kawaguchiko is only about 2hrs or around 120 kms away from Tokyo. For the best views of Mt Fuji as well as the colors of nature, it’s best to visit the lake around early November or mid-April. You can plan to stay at one of the many hotels or ryokans at Kawaguchiko that offer lakefront Fuji views.
During your stay here don’t miss out on attractions like Fuji-Q Highland (house to two Guinness World Record holding thrilling rides), Arakurayama Sengen Shrine, Mt. Kachikachi Ropeway, and the Saikyo Iyanashi-Sato Nenba Healing Village.
A must-see destination in central Japan, Obuse is a little town with an old-world charm that’s quite popular for its chestnuts.
Located a 2.5 hr train journey away from Tokyo, Obuse has a rich art history as the legendary Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai from the Edo-period lived here in his 80s and created several masterpieces, some of which are still at display at the Hokusai Museum (including the famous 360 views of Mount Fuji).
Apart from the artwork, this town offers attractions like Kurinokomichi (a chestnut alley), Ganshoin Temple, open gardens (with signs that say ‘Welcome to My Garden’), and brown-and-white wood architecture that can be seen while strolling around the town.
In conclusion, Japan is a country full of surprises, and stepping outside of Tokyo can lead to some truly unforgettable experiences. Whether you’re seeking a taste of traditional Japan, a chance to connect with nature, or simply a break from the hustle and bustle of the big city, there are countless destinations waiting to be discovered.