I’ve yet to meet a traveller who’s unimpressed with Tokyo. Who could blame you for loving it? Tokyo’s always abuzz with an infectious energy that keeps you awake wondering what’s next.
Even when you tire of the hustle of Tokyo and feel the need to escape, don’t cut your journey short. The regions surrounding the Japanese megapolis are ripe for exploration.
Venture beyond the city and take in one of these superb day trips from Tokyo:
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A couple extra days in Tokyo? Dig into these 5 best day trips from Tokyo.
Avoiding rapid-city-hopping syndrome isn’t hard when you’re visiting Tokyo. I doubt you could run out of things to do in Tokyo, but the real advantage to finding a great place to stay in Tokyo for more than just a quick run through is to experience life outside of Japan’s biggest city.
Tokyo day trips range from medieval Japanese towns to hot springs resorts (onsen) cradled in the mountains, and nearly everything in between.
Below, I’ve outlined a few of the best day trips from Tokyo. You’ll find quick details on what to expect or seek out in each destination and how to reach them from Tokyo. Let’s get movin’…
Chances are, if you’ve been researching Japanese travel destinations for your first Japan itinerary, you’ve already sneaked a peek at Kamakura (even if you didn’t realize it). The day trip to Kamakura from Tokyo is one of the most popular for both foreign travellers and Japanese city-dwellers. And there’s one (really) big reason.
The Great Buddha of Kamakura
The Great Buddha of Kamakura (Kamakura Daibutsu), in front of Kōtoku-in, stands as one of the most famous images of ancient Japanese Buddhism. The 11.3 metre copper Buddha statue will enchant you with both its immense size and graceful details. Staring up at the Great Buddha alone makes a Kamakura day trip worthwhile for most.
Kamakura doesn’t start and end there. The former medieval capital of Japan is scattered with Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples that you can start exploring within minutes of hopping off the train at Kita-Kamakura Station.
The first Kamakura temple awaiting you close to Kita-Kamakura Station is Engaku-ji, a Rinzai Zen temple originally built in the late-13th century. What stands at Engaku-ji now is, unsurprisingly in earthquake-prone Japan, no longer the original temple. The reconstructions, however, are nothing short of impressive. A walk around the grounds is the perfect place to start your day in Kamakura.
Daibutsu Hiking Trail
After exploring Engaku-ji, sway across the railway tracks towards the Daibutsu Hiking Trail. On the way you’ll pass by a couple important temples including Tōkei-ji and Jōchi-ji. Both temple grounds are worth wandering around before setting course for the Daibutsu Hiking Trail.
The entrance to the Daibutsu Hiking Trail sits near the entrance to Jōchi-ji. Following this hiking trail, a 3-kilometre trek through a lush forest, leads to the Great Buddha of Kamakura. The walk should take you an hour and a half or less. Along the way you’ll stumble upon a couple of Kamakura’s most impressive Shinto shrines including Zeniarai Benten Shrine and Sasuke Inari Shrine. Opt for a slight detour to explore each of these before continuing along the Daibutsu Hiking Trail towards the Great Buddha.
Kamakura Travel Essentials
The easiest (and quickest) way to travel from Tokyo to Kamakura is on the JR Yokosuka line from Tokyo Station. The ride to Kamakura takes about an hour and costs ¥890 ($8.75). Kita-Kamakura Station, one stop before Kamakura, is the best choice if you want to check out Kamakura’s temple scene.
As a side note, this day trip is probably not the best time to whip out your JR pass to save some money. The Japan rail pass is worthwhile in many situations, but short trips in and around Japanese cities isn’t one of them. Hold off on activating your JR pass until undertaking a longer journey such as the Tokyo-Kyoto shinkansen.
Want to truly escape into the Japanese countryside while visiting Tokyo? Hakone’s your answer.
The Hakone region is famous for its views of Mount Fuji and its traditional Japanese onsen. (You’ll see what I mean if you visit on a weekend.) Stick to planning your day trip to Hakone from Tokyo on a weekday if you want any chance of expanding your breathing room.
Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
The town of Hakone lies within Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. The area bubbles with geothermal activity, helping the town’s rise as one of the most popular onsen tourism spots in Japan.
Lake Ashi (Ashinoko Lake)
The most famous views in Hakone arise from Lake Ashi (Ashinoko Lake), formed within a volcanic crater teetering on the edge of town. Grab a boat tour on Lake Ashi and you can spend a couple hours sailing amid incredible mountain scenery in Hakone.
If you’re looking for something a little more otherworldly, find your way to Owakudani, Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park’s steamy geothermic cauldron. Normally, you can catch a cablecar to Owakudani, but with the recent increase in activity, the area is currently closed off to tourists.
Hakone Travel Essentials
Figuring out how to get from Tokyo to Hakone can make your head spin with all the different options available. Let me offer up the least complicated: the Odakyu Electric Railway.
From Shinjuku Station you can find direct trains to Hakone. The trains terminate at Hakone-Yumoto and cost ¥2020. The journey is between just under 1 hour and 30 minutes to 1 hour and 40 minutes. You can combine the return fare from Shinjuku and unlimited local transportation in Hakone with the Hakone Free Pass (¥5,140 for a 2-day pass).
Wandering around Nikko slips us into a mystical world that we’d all believe had disappeared long ago. Nikko’s temples and shrines, planted upon the misty woodlands, offers perhaps the most rewarding escape within reach of Tokyo.
Unfortunately, the secrets that belie Nikko’s beauty and grandeur are hardly secret anymore. During summer and on weekends, Nikko’s not the quiet woodland getaway its moss-blanketed ancient structures would imply. To enjoy Nikko at at finest, aim to visit outside of high season or early in the morning on weekdays.
Nikko’s famous red bridge, Shinkyō Bridge, is the original gateway to Nikko’s historical area. An age-old rule prevented anyone except the shogun to cross the bridge. Up until the turn of the century, they seemed to stick to the no-pedestrian rule.
Today, however, you can cross for ¥350 even if the best views of the bridge itself can be taken in from the roadway pedestrian path to the east. To reach Shinkyō Bridge, it’s a 30-minute uphill walk (or 10-minute bus ride) from either JR Nikko Station or Tobu Nikko Station.
Once over the Daiya River (Daiyagawa), the first temple you’ll spot is Rinnō-ji. There are over a dozen buildings sitting on the temple grounds. The most important, Sambutsu-dō (Three Buddha Hall), is currently under construction, and is expected to open up again in around 2020.
Until then, you’ll have to stick to wandering through Rinnō-ji’s other attractions including Shoyoen, a small, but stunning, Japanese garden centred upon a pond and flanked by trees that erupt into transcendent autumn colours annually.
Nikko’s most famous historical site is Tōshōgū, a Shinto shrine and the resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Inside the complex, you’ll find over 40 structures springing from the thick forest. Beside the main stone entrance gate (Ishidorii), the imposing Gojūnotō, a five-storey pagoda, introduces Tōshōgū in grand fashion. Further afoot, you’ll walk under Omotemon into the main shrine area. You’ll be immediately reset into medieval Japan as you walk past Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses) and Shinkyūsha (The Sacred Stable).
Like Rinnō-ji, Tōshōgu Shrine is currently under restoration include the famous Yomeimon Gate. Many of the exhibits, however, are still open and worth visiting.
Nikko Travel Essentials
If you’ve purchased a JR Pass, JR East Pass or Tokyo Wide Pass, the Tohoku Shinkansen and JR Nikko Line is the only option to get to Nikko from Tokyo without paying an additional fare. It’s also the most inconvenient as the trip involves a transfer at Utsunomiya from the shinkansen line to the JR Nikko Line.
A better option for travellers without a rail pass is the Tobu Railway. The Tobu Railway Limited Express “Kegon” train to Nikko leaves from Asakusa Station. It’s not the most convenient train station in Tokyo, but the area around Asakusa is worth exploring in its own right. At ¥2,670 ($23.73), you’ll find it cheaper to grab a 2-Day Nikko Pass than to pay for a return ticket from Asakusa to Nikko.
Day-tripping between two mega cities might not excite you. Keep in mind that day trip to Yokohama from Tokyo is about as easy as travel comes. Within 30 minutes you can zip between city centres. So, if nothing excites you in Yokohama, you’re not far from where you started. It’s a worth a try, right?
Even with Yokohama’s size, you can’t compare it to Tokyo. For travellers there are fewer “must-sees” in Yokohama. Don’t let that stop you as you’ll discover that Yokohama is still a pleasant city to stroll around for an afternoon or evening.
Despite Japan’s proximity to China, Chinatowns aren’t exactly commonplace. Yokohama’s Chinatown breaks that stereotype. It’s actually one of the biggest in the world!
Looking for something a little different to eat? You’ll find dishes here more akin to what you’d find in Hong Kong or Shanghai than in a Japanese city. Time your trip to Yokohama for dinner if you want to dive into the food of Chinatown.
If you visit Yokohama at night, there’s no better place to see the city than Minato Mirai. The urban restoration project sought to create a futuristic vibe. Although it can’t compete with the cyber-skyline of Pudong in Shanghai, Minato Mirai in Yokohama is a fantastic for an evening walk.
Yokohama Travel Essentials
From Tokyo Station, you can find JR East trains to Yokohama for ¥470 ($4.17). The trip takes only 25 minutes. Be sure to check the times as there are also slower local trains that can take up to an hour and half to Yokohama!
If your only experience with Narita is flying into the airport, you’re missing out. Although you won’t hear much about Tokyo’s neighbour, a day trip to Narita is a surprisingly interesting escape from the city (or even from the airport if you have a couple hours to kill). The small city’s historic centre charms with an ancient Japanese style that’s everything you’d expect.
Narita-san Shinshō-ji Temple
Once you pop into Narita City, grab a map and find your way to Omotesando. This historical street, lined with traditional wooden Japanese shops and restaurants, leads to Narita-san Shinshō-ji, a popular Buddhist temple complex. Wander through the temple grounds and you’ll find architectural gems like Kōmyō-dō and Great Pagoda of Peace. You’ll quickly see why Narita-san Shinshō-ji is one of the most popular temple complexes in the area!
A huge bonus to visiting Narita and Shinshō-ji is the chance to stroll in Naritasan Park. Stone paths snake through the woodlands alongside beautiful ponds and pagodas. Visiting in the spring, you’ll wallow among plum and cherry blossoms. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find yourself in Naritasan Park in late February or early March when the Ume Festival is in full swing.
Narita Travel Essentials
The best way to get to Narita from Tokyo is via the Keisei Line. Trains depart Keisei Ueno Station in Tokyo approximately every 20 minutes throughout the day. Expect the ride to Narita City to last about an hour and cost you ¥810 ($7.20).
Other Tokyo Day Trips
This guide is a work in progress. Over the coming months, I’ll be adding more information to help you better plan your stay in Tokyo. In the meantime, here are a handful of other day trips from Tokyo for you to consider: