Tokyo may be Japan’s bustling capital full of neon-lit skyscrapers, anime shops and a vibrant food scene, but just out of the city there is so much more to discover. Pack a bag, put on comfortable shoes and escape the populous metropolis for a short break to remember.
Travel by train to the city of Kanazawa, best known for Kenroku-en, a 17th-century castle and gardens. Kanazawa is also known for being the home of the samurai. See beautifully preserved samurai and geisha districts, historic temples and markets, and indulge in Kanazawa’s izakaya and sushi. To really get to know the place, do a walking tour of the Higashi Chaya district; follow geisha around its winding alleyways, admire traditional Chaya houses and enjoy a traditional tea ceremony at one of the local tea houses.
Japan’s second largest city, Yokohama is less than half-an-hour south of Tokyo by train and is home to one of Asia’s largest Chinatowns, a picturesque harbour and the Cosmo Clock 21 Ferris wheel looking over the cosmopolitan setting. While here, explore famous attractions like Sankei Garden and the central business area of Minato Mirau, and don’t forget to try the steamed buns, ramen noodles and other popular dishes at Chinatown.
Eat until you drop at Osaka, Japan’s unofficial culinary capital. Find tiny back streets overflowing with restaurants and bars serving up local delicacies, and try okonomiyake, a delicious savoury pancake for which Osaka is renowned. Osaka is credited with the first conveyor belt sushi restaurants, so if you’re a sushi fan, be sure to try it here, where sushi trains had their start. Thrill seekers might want a few hours of fun at Universal Studios theme park, Spa World is the place to go for some much needed relaxation.
Kyoto was once the imperial capital of Japan and as such, is one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Travel by train from Tokyo and be spoiled by choice with more than 2,000 temples, shrines and gardens. Take a walk through the Gion Geisha district, famous for its many old tea houses with some of them mentioned in the acclaimed novel and movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, and see the age-old tradition of immaculate geisha girls visiting members of the wealthy elite in small teahouses tucked away down tiny back streets. Keen photographers might also like to take a walk through the wooded hills of Inari Mountain, famous for its Shinto ‘fox temple’ and atmospheric tunnels of red torii gates, while karaoke lovers are sure to find a karaoke bar or two.
Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura
Visit this Japanese cultural theme park and be transported back to the life and culture of the Edo period, a period between 1603 and 1868. Pass through a border checkpoint, a peaceful town and bustling market district, see noble samurai with topknots, ninjas lurking on rooftops, beautifully adorned geisha and village girls dressed in kimono, check out the park’s several theatres featuring traditionally themed shows and try Edo-period cuisine.
Leave the fast-paced city behind with a journey by train to Hakone. Take advantage of the area’s hot springs and enjoy incredible views of Mt Fuji as the iconic mountain takes over the skyline. Spend the day exploring the area, including a cable car ride, a boat cruise across Lake Ashi (Ashinoko) and a visit to the volcanic valley of Owakudani, and learn to write your name in calligraphy during a fun arts lesson.
Fuji Five Lakes (Fujigoko)
Located at the northern base of Mt Fuji around the lakes Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko and Motosuko, the Fuji Five Lake region is one of the best places to view Mt Fuji from a close distance and is a good base for climbing the mountain. Fujigoko is a lake resort area with plenty of outdoor activities, hot springs and museums on offer, along with Fuji-Q Highland, a theme park with several rollercoasters.
Onsen is one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resorts with large volumes of high quality hot spring water said to cure every illness but lovesickness. Well known as a hot spring resort for many centuries, Kusatsu Onsen is situated at an altitude of 1,200m above sea level and offers skiing in winter and hiking during the rest of the year to be enjoyed in combination with hot spring bathing. The resort is also located along Japan’s Romantic Road.
Japan’s first feudal capital, Kamakura is a popular seaside location just an hour from Tokyo. It has a quaint village feel and some stunning Zen temples; visit the iconic bronze Great Buddha and the Zen Temple of Hokokuja with its beautiful bamboo garden. Drink tea and learn about the tea ceremony before walking the cobbled shopping district adorned with locally-made items.
Halfway between Tokyo and Osaka is Nagoya, the populous capital of Aichi boasting plenty of big city charm. If it’s bustling nightlife you’re after, Nagoya is the place to experience a modern Japan. There are also multiple museums, including traditional and modern art, handicrafts, industrial high-tech, natural and scientific museums, to explore, along with unique local cuisine.