Tokyo is a popular city for visitor to either start or finish their trip to Japan. But sightseeing around Tokyo is not limited to shopping malls and bustling business areas. Head out into Tokyo's suburbs and you'll discover exactly the kind of scenic beauty you had expected from Japan.
Here, we will focus on some of the most historical and naturally scenic spots in greater Tokyo. These four recommended destinations are easily accessible from Tokyo, have unique features and yummy must-try foods. These places include:
* "Kawagoe" - A small Edo-style city that has experienced the charm of the Edo period.
* "Shibamata" - A good old and delicious street in Showa style
* "Naritasan" - A popular Japanese old street from Narita Airport
* "Mt. Takao" - Tokyo people away from the hustle and bustle of the world
Kawagoe: "Little Edo" - Where you can experience the charm of Old Tokyo
Kawagoe is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Tokyo's suburbs. Just about a 30-minute trip north of Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture, the city of Kawagoe was located very close to Edo (the old name of Tokyo) and had become a prosperous commercial town.
Old Edo style and culture are still strong in this area, often dubbed "Little Edo ('Coedo')" because a large number of the historical buildings, monuments, and other cultural assets have been preserved and are open for public view. The area has been identified as one of Japan's "Historical Cities" and designated as an "Important Preservation District."
Here you can find charming, old-style warehouses and other buildings, plus centuries-old shrines, temples and monuments, in addition to old-fashioned streets, ancient houses plus traditional foods. While a popular sightseeing area, in large part it escapes the massive crowds of tourists you might see in other popular areas close to urban Tokyo. On your first visit you're bound to fall in love with this area!
■ Ways to get to Kawagoe:
1) From Tokyo Metro area to Kawagoe Station / Hon-Kawagoe Station
・From Ikebukuro Station:
-Take the Fukutoshin line to Kawagoe (33 minutes)
-Or take the Tobu Tojo Line to Kawagoe Station - about 45 minutes
・From JR Shinjuku Station:
-Take the Fukutoshin line (46 minutes)
-Or take the JR Saikyo Line to Kawagoe (54 minutes)
2) The nearest station to the old warehouse district and the Bell Tower is "Hon-Kawagoe Station"
3) The nearest station to the sweets street is "Kawagoeshi Station"
■ Must-see attractions : Kurazukuri no Machinami (Warehouse District) / Clock Tower (Bell Tower) / Kawagoe Shrine / Hikawa Shrine / Fruit House Yokocho
The first stop to visit Kawagoe is the "Kurazukuri no Machinami / Warehouse District" where the distinct black-tiled architectural style that's been around since the Edo period continues. It's one of the most distinctive places in Kawagoe!
Here there are many cute side streets to explore, plus you'll love going around the area with your camera. The specialty shops sell local souvenirs, hand-made gifts, handicrafts, and more. There are also many gourmet restaurants and local snack spots that will make you very happy!
Another box you'll want to tick is the famous bell tower. The clock tower is about 16 meters high, and is said to have accurately reported the time to area residents for over 400 years. In addition, you'll also want to visit Seiya-san Muryōshuji Kita-in - a temple that opened in the year 830 and is said to be related to Tokugawa. It is also recognized as one of Japan's important cultural assets.
Another can't-miss in the area is Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine. With a history dating back over 1,500 years, it is famous as a spot where people pray for love. If you want to pray for your love, or want harmony in your family, for being a happy couple, or having a smooth relationship with friends, colleagues, etc., you'll want to come to this shrine to pray!
The shrine also sells a variety of special talismen and other charms for warding away frustrations and welcoming in harmonious relationships. On weekdays the shrine is quiet and beautiful, and it is very suitable for taking pictures.
Every year between July and September, the shrine holds its windchime season. During this period, when you visit, you'll see some 2,000 wind chimes hanging around the shrine, making for a truly magical memory, photo or video!
Walking along the old streets of Kawagoe, you'll come across Kashiya Yokocho - Candy Alley. This area offers a collection of candy and snacks from all over Japan, and many beautifully packaged homemade candies can be found here as well - they make perfect gifts!
Among these is Tamariki Seika - a candy store that has been offering a wide variety of handmade goodies for over a century. With flavors ranging from colorful modeling sugar to hand-salted plum, herbal mints and more, your sweet tooth is bound to love this shop! It also offers an open-plan workshop where visitors can appreciate the process by which the masters are crafting a variety of candies. Watching a lot of candy is constantly being made kind of makes you want to buy a little of everything and share with everyone back home!
★ Popular must-try food:
Kawagoe has several foods and traditional snacks whose recipes have been handed down since ancient times - and they are all worth trying at least once!
Although it might be somewhat squeamish to Western palates, we recommend trying out the squid rice dishes from the old-fashioned squid rice restaurant "Ogakiku". The squid here is strictly selected from domestic catch. The meat is fresh and tender, and the unique squid sauce really draws out the flavor!
If seafood isn't your style, you should know that the Kawagoe area is also famous for its sweet potatoes, and there are many stores in Kawagoe which retail variations on the veggie. Gourmet snacks are made using sweet potatoes as an ingredient, such as the sweet potato cake in the shape of a royal rice ball; sweet potato balls; sweet potato ice cream; shaved ice with sweet potato; and even fried sweet potato chips.
Here, you might also want to try the sweet potato soba noodles: they not only have the sweet taste of sweet potatoes, but also a lot of vegetables and fresh sweetness. It is one of the most popular foods!
When your feet start getting a little tired from wandering around this scenic town, rest up with a little dessert at the "Tsubakiya Foot Spa Tearoom"! This shop is, well, exactly what it sounds like: part cafe, part store - and part foot spa. You can enjoy a coffee, tea or dessert drink while soaking your tired feet - then continue on with a Japanese-style dessert with matcha ice cream and a variety of candied fruit and red bean paste. Whether you come to make a memory or just rest your legs before the next traipse about, you'll be happy you dropped by!
★ Enjoy a deeper moment: Walk around town dressed in kimono!
In Kawagoe, there are also several shops where you can rent a kimono and really transform your experience (and Instagram feed!). Hundreds of kimono styles, colors, obi belts, plus bags and shoes can be matched according to your preferences. The staff will also help you dress up.
Strolling around with an elegant hairstyle while wearing a kimono is so beautiful and charming - you will make such an incredible memory together with Kawagoe, where the warm shadows and scenery of the past continue to live on in the present.
⇒ Extended reading
Shibamata: Enjoying fun, laid-back Showa-style streets and great shopping
Set on Tokyo's northeastern side about 30 minutes from the city's downtown, Shibamata is famous for its rich folk atmosphere, historic temples and Japanese gardens, plus its many traditional classic food and snacks.
Given its proximity to Tokyo, and that the area is filled with the kinds of buildings and other attractions foreign visitors would expect of Old Tokyo, Shibamata has gradually attracted the favor of many foreign tourists in recent years.
However, Shibamata has long been a famous tourist spot in the hearts of locals, since it was once the location of Japan’s well-known classic film series, "It's Tough Being A Man." Most of the life scenes and stories in the film are based on this.
If you have seen this film, you can immediately feel that every step is as familiar as entering right on the set itself - straight out of the station! And if you haven’t seen it, it’s okay, follow the people who come here and make a scene from your own movie. Step by step, step on the nostalgic road to the stone road, and enjoy the unique Japanese-style retro charm and wonderful sightseeing resources!
★ Getting to Shibamata:
・From Ueno station, take the Keisei line to Keisei Takasago; transfer to the Keisei-Kanamachi line and get off at Shibamata Station.
★ Must-see attractions:
Shibamata's Old Street / Shibamata Taishakuten Temple / Yamamoto-Tei Garden / Tora-san Museum
Head out the station and you'll soon find the main shopping street, which forms the starting point for your sightseeing adventure. Although this old street is not long, it is full of attractive traditional old stores, accompanied by handmade shops, ones selling classic snacks, and more. At some shops you'll see rows of scales and other items harkening back to Tokyo's yesteryears - everywhere around you can feel the quaint and nostalgic sense of the Japanese. Walking around at your leisure and exploring is a lot of fun!
At the end of the old street you'll come to the magnificent old structure of Shibamata Taishakuten Temple, which was first established in around 1629. This temple is not only home to works created by many Japanese craftsmen: in addition to the exquisitely carved temple buildings, another part of the temple covers a vast Japanese garden. It's worth a leisurely stroll!
Shibamata is also home to Yamamoto-Tei Garden, an elegant old Japanese house and peaceful garden. This was originally the residence of Tokyo businessman Einosuke Yamamoto, founder of camera parts manufacturer, Yamamoto Plant. Combining elements from both Western and Japanese architectural features of the Taisho period in Japan, it is a curious place to visit. In addition, in 2016, the Japanese garden on the premises had been ranked third in the annual Shiosai Ranking, a project coordinated by respected USA-based Japanese Garden magazine, Sukiya Living. Yamamoto-Tei also offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy Japanese-style desserts and fragrant matcha in the Japanese-style tatami room while enjoying the view of the garden!
Finally, as the Shibamata area was spotlighted in the movie "It's Tough Being A Man" The sightseeing spot, the Tora-san Museum was established for film fans - making it also one of the highlights of this place! But even if you haven't seen the film, don't think that this memorial has nothing to look at! In addition to the many scenes and models that appear in the movie, you can still catch the simple and laid-back life of Japan in the past. There are also many interactive exhibits that you'll find very interesting as well!
★ Popular must-have food:
Along the sides of the old streets of the main road, there are a variety of delicious restaurants and classic snack shops worthy of tasting. For example, the signature restaurant "Ebisu-Ya" was built in the Edo period. A well-known store in Shibamata, the wooden structure of the store building was built in the Taisho era, and the store also has a beautiful garden pond view. Diners at the shop can enjoy the famous dishes it offers and enjoy the rich sense of being somewhere lost in Japanese history.
If you want to give Japanese rice bowls a go, you must head to the "Yamatoya" to eat a Tendon! The two large fried prawn and vegetable tempura, with a splash of sweet sauce, will definitely make you fall in love!
After enjoying a meal, sampling some Japanese desserts is a great way to finish things off! Along the side of the street is a century's-old mochi dumpling shop called Takagiya. The wooden building itself is quite interesting to look at - but be sure to venture inside and eat the signature "Kusa Dango" - soft rice dumplings covered with delicious red bean paste. The taste of sweet and soft glutinous rice will definitely make you crave more.
Don't forget to take a bunch of savory rice crackers home either - or take a handful for snacking as you go along! Asanoya, one of the famous shops here, has crisp rice crackers made by the traditional method and they're baked in the store. It’s all very tasty and perfect as a gift - either for yourself or as a souvenir for people back home!
Naritasan: The popular old Japanese street that's close to Narita Airport
If you flew into (or out of) Narita Airport, you'll be interested to know that there is an incredible way to begin your Japan adventure right nearby, in the town of Narita! It's all the more perfect for people on longer layovers too: get in some shopping while enjoying a perfect taste of Japan.
This scenic spot is about 10 minutes drive from Narita Airport, and on the tram route to Narita Airport: "Naritasan Omotesando" area. This sightseeing street is lined with many merchant buildings from the Edo period. It has a very charming Japanese style to it. You can enjoy strolling around here, or take a leisurely walk to Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, which is listed as an important cultural property of the country and a great spot for getting in last-minute photos.
★ How to get to Naritasan:
・Take a train from JR Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Ueno, etc. to JR Narita Station, Keisei Electric Railway Keisei Narita Station - About 1 hour 30 minutes
★ Must-see attractions: Naritasan Omotesando Street / Naritasan Shinshoji Temple
Naritasan Omotesando street is located near the JR Narita Station and the Keisei Narita Station of the Keisei Electric Railway. From the station exit to the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, about one kilometer away, the road is also filled with the traditional Japanese atmosphere. There are also many handmade shops, grocery stores, old pharmacies, gourmet restaurants, Japanese-style dessert shops, local famous liquor stores, etc. With over 100 exquisite merchants, you'll enjoy having a gander around before returning home. And if you're looking for that perfect souvenir - Japanese food or something handmade - you're bound to find it here!
Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, which dates back over 1,000 years, is a very popular temple in the area. As one of the key temples designated for worship in Japan's New Year, the temple draws crowds from all around, people praying for good luck or good business. And in addition there's a spot here especially for praying for luck in love that's quite popular!
★ Popular must-try food:
One of the most famous restaurants on Naritasan Omotesando is the old-fashioned squid and rice shop, Kawatoyo. The fresh and tender squid is carved by the skilled chefs in the store every day; these are then grilled to perfection, with their sweet aroma spreading through the vicinity. It tastes delicious! Not only is the squid cuisine quite famous and popular, it's something enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. But if sushi is more your style, give it up to Edokko! The fresh flavor and natural sweetness of seafood will impress you.
For dessert, why not give Miyoshiya a go: it's a place that has been serving happy guests for over a century. The most popular item in the shop is the baked dumplings and red bean dumplings. Even the red bean stuffing is hand-made by the store. The various desserts here are the shop's pride. And if you still have time, come back here for the Japanese-style afternoon tea with dessert. Not only can you enjoy the shop's semi-outdoor seating, but also the view of the Japanese garden while sitting indoors.
Mt. Takao: Enjoy respite in the embrace of nature - yet still close to Tokyo
Located in the suburbs of Tokyo, Mt. Takao has rich natural landscapes, breathtaking forest scenery, and well-planned facilities along the mountain route. For a mountain, Mt. Takao isn't particularly high and attracts many elderly and middle-aged people and is popular on holidays. It is also a great spot for Tokyoites who want to get away from the city and feel the comfort green embrace of nature. And it is especially incredible to visit in autumn, when the trees adorn the hillsides with hues of gold, crimson and orange.
You can choose to hike up one of the several trails - or ascent the easy way by taking the mountain cable car straight to the top of the mountain. There are several temples along the way, plus gardens, shops and more along the trail. It is undoubtedly one of the best day trips in the greater Tokyo area!
★ How to get to Mt. Takao:
・From Tokyo Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Ueno, etc. to the Kobe Yamaguchi Station of Keio Electric Railway - about 1 hour 30 minutes
★ Must-see attractions: TAKAO 599 MUSEUM / Yakuou-in Temple / Mt. Takao Monkey Park & Wildflower Garden / Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu
There are quite a lot of sightseeing spots and facilities around Mt. Takao. Here are the four most representative places.
Near Takaosanguchi Station and the Kiyotaki Station (cable car station) is the TAKAO 599 MUSEUM, which is open to the public free of charge. It is mainly to show visitors the natural ecological resources of flowers and trees and insects in each of Mt. Takao's four seasons. Each exhibit is presented as a beautiful artwork, and people will fall in love with Mt. Takao without knowing it.
Yakuou-in Temple, which is located on the hiking trail of Mt. Takao, has a history of nearly 1,260 years. There are many "power spots" in the area as well. Here in addition, many people will pray for love, money and good fortune.
When you reach the peak of Mt. Takao, you'll be rewarded with a panoramic vista - on one side are the buildings of Tokyo, in between, green. And you might even spot the top of Mt. Fuji as well - or even Kamakura in the distance. To find out which is where, be sure to drop by the Takao Tourism Center, which provides visitors with detailed information on the sights and even the natural surroundings.
In the Mt. Takao Monkey Park & Wildflower Garden, around 70 monkeys are raised. The monkeys here are freely stocked, so the most primitive monkey ecology can be observed. People who like being close to small animals are sure to enjoy it!
At the end of your journey, the Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu awaits for you! It's a hot spring complex constructed right at the station, letting you relax both body and mind. Here you can find a variety of hot springs, from open-air ones with a comfortable effect on your skin, to ones with rocks you can rest on - even carbonated ones. In addition there is a restaurant here where you can taste the local specialties of Mt. Takao!
★ Popular must-try food:
When viewing the exhibits at the TAKAO 599 MUSEUM, there is also the 599CAFE at which you can find a variety of desserts and light foods as well as special siphoned coffee. If you feel hungry or want to take a break on the way to climb the mountain, there are also a number of tea houses at which you can stop and rest. These sell dumplings and other snacks, plus tea to help you relax and gain energy for the hike ahead! At the Yamabiko tea house near the top of the mountain you can enjoy the greenery of Mt. Takao just outside the window. It is surrounded by a forest full of freshness. Don't miss trying out the warm and delicate soba noodles!
And if you are someone who loves celebrating with a pint, head to the Mt. Takao Beer Garden for a few sips before satisfying your appetite! In addition to the major brand beers there is also a bar offering wine, Japanese sake, and shochu in addition to non-alcoholic beverages. Plus, a buffet offering Chinese, Western and Japanese cuisines will satisfy your stomach! The restaurant is blessed with a view of the day and night, and the scenery is beautiful!
During your visit to Tokyo, be sure to round off your vacation with a day trip to the suburbs! Be sure to include at least one of these four spots in your next trip itinerary and explore a new, unique area!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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