Tokyo is a common first stop for travellers to Japan. As the largest city, the capital city and the most publicized city, it is often considered symbolic of Japan. And with so many things to see and do, it is perfect for visitors. However, an often under-utilised option is to use Tokyo as a type of base to take day trips to the surrounding areas. This is a great way to both enjoy the vibrancy of Tokyo while also taking in some of the lesser-known or less popular places.
One of the best day trips from Tokyo by jr trains is to the portside city of Yokohama.
At just a 50-minute train ride from Tokyo, it is close enough to not worry about too much travel time, but far enough to have a completely different atmosphere to Tokyo. As one of the main shipping ports of Japan and the home to the largest Chinatown in Japan, Yokohama has cultivated a great mix of cultures and developed a number of unique fusion foods and cultural quirks. The Yokohama Chinatown is great to visit during events like the Lunar New Year and has a good selection of Chinese food year-round. Yokohama is also home to the Ramen Museum and Cup Noodles Museum, both fun places to visit. They are great for combining an interesting part of Japan’s history with tasting some of the most iconic dishes of Japan. Overall, Yokohama is a fun and interesting city with a variety of foods and cultures to be enjoyed.
Nikko is a small town in Tochigi Prefecture, famous for the beautifully ornate temples of the area and stunning scenery. It is about 1.5 – 2 hours from Tokyo by train and is well worth the journey. Nikko is home to the Toshogu Shrine, which is known as one of the most elaborate shrines in Japan. It is unique in its detailed wood carving work and extensive use of gold leaf, as shrine architecture usually has a focus on simple, naturalistic design. It is located among forest which provides a beautiful background and dramatic contrast to the elaborate shrine. Nikko is also located at the entrance to Nikko National Park, one of Japan’s most beautiful national parks. With amazing mountainous landscapes, tranquil forests and rushing waterfalls, it is a great way to go beyond the big cities and experience the nature of Japan.
Hakone is a popular day or weekend trip location for Tokyo residents located south-west of Tokyo and close to Mt. Fuji. Travel times vary greatly depending on which trains are used but with a JR Pass, the shinkansen can be used to cut the time down to approximately 1.5 hours (30 minutes by shinkansen and 15 – 50 minutes by local train depending on choice of final station). Hakone is famous as a hot springs area with multiple onsens and hot springs resorts operating across the area. Yumoto is one of the most famous hot springs of the area with various different onsen using the water from this hot spring. They largely have outdoor baths to enjoy the beautiful nature of the area as well as the relaxing hot springs. With Hakone being so close to Mt. Fuji, many of these onsens have amazing views of the mountain. For something a little different, there is also the Hakone Open Air Museum, a mostly outdoor art gallery aiming to create a balance between nature and art. There are a number of sculptures and exhibitions displayed outside from both Japanese and international artists. There are also some halls for exhibitions which can’t be outside. Hakone is a beautiful area for taking a break, relaxing and soaking in nature and art.
Kamakura is a small yet historically significant city in Kanagawa prefecture, located about 50 minutes from Tokyo by train. It played a large role in Japan’s history as the political centre of the country through the 12th – 14th Centuries. Because of this, there is an abundance of shrines, temples and other historical locations. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Kyoto of East Japan’. It is home to one of Japan’s Great Buddhas, the second tallest in the country. It is beaten only by the Great Buddha of Nara’s Todaiji temple, but in contrast to Nara, this Great Buddha is in the open air, giving it a much more natural feel. There are also a number of shrines and temples from various sects within Japan. Kamakura is one of the most historically significant and important areas within easy access of Tokyo and is a great day trip option for those looking to delve a bit deeper into Japan’s history.
With so much to see and do in Tokyo many visitors don’t explore too far beyond the city borders, but day trips from Tokyo can enrich your visit to Japan greatly. Whether it’s to the cultural melting pot of Yokohama, the hot spring central of Hakone or the historical city of Kamakura, day trips can make your holiday much more unique and personal than simply staying within Tokyo. With this list, we have covered some of the best day trip destinations from Tokyo to make your visit to Japan the best it can be.