Train lines and highways head out of Tokyo in all directions – giving residents and visitors access to hundreds of interesting day-trip destinations. This is a list of my favorite lesser-known spots, in alphabetical order. I’ve noted whether or not it is possible to travel there by mass transportation or if a car is necessary.
1). Kofu Basin, Yamanashi Prefecture
The Kofu Basin is known as Japan’s ‘Kingdom of Fruit’ and is the birthplace of Japanese wine. Farmers grow grapes, peaches, plums, apples, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, etc – some offer fruit picking opportunities. Small, lovely wineries abound and a few have on-site restaurants/cafes. The area also contains some very impressive temples and shrines connected to the famous warlord, Takeda Shingen. The basin can easily be accessed by car. Some sites can be accessed by mass transportation, but they are spread out and coordination of bus timetables is very difficult.
2). Misaki & Jogashima, Kanagawa Prefecture
Located at the tip of the Miura Peninsula (below Yokosuka), Misaki is a ‘rough around the edges’ fishing town with a lot of character. Wander old fashioned shopping streets, explore tiny historic temples and shrines, and shop for seafood at the local fish market. Just off the coast is Jogashima, a tiny island with wonderful walking trails and simple, local restaurants serving freshly caught maguro. Misaki is easily accessible by car or mass transportation. Keikyu even offers a special one-day ticket/passes.
3). Minami Boso, Chiba Prefecture
Minami Boso is a collective term for the cities of Tateyama, Minami Boso, Kamogawa, and Katsuura, which make up the southern tip of Chiba’s Boso Peninsula. The area is full of wonderful sightseeing spots (flower farms, hidden temples, terraced rice paddies…), but almost all are hard, or impossible, to reach by mass transportation and so they are often overlooked.
4). Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture
If you don’t know where to look, the charm of Mishima is easily overlooked. Lush greenery hides narrow streams filled with cold crystal-clear water (melted snow from Mt. Fuji!) that snake through neighborhoods in the city center. Along the recommended route, visit an impressive garden, a historic shrine, and some small, but lovely museums. A short bus ride away is an amazing art garden called Clematis-no-Oka. However, it should probably be #11 on this list since it is best to spend an entire day there. Mishima is easily accessible by car or mass transportation.
5). Nokogiriyama, Chiba Prefecture
Honestly speaking, due to social media, Nokogiriyama might not be that ‘lesser known’ these days. However, I’ve been taking people sightseeing there for almost 20 years and I may have helped put it on the map! It is still, by far, my favorite day-trip hiking destination. Translated as ‘saw tooth mountain’ (it was once a rock quarry), hike or take a breathtaking ropeway up to explore Nihonji Temple – which was built 1300 years ago and whose grounds cover most of the mountain. Nokogiriyama is easy to access by car and is not too difficult by mass transportation (one train change).
6). Ome, Tokyo
Ome should actually be broken down into three fantastic day trips! The town’s main street is lined with traditional buildings, hosts three lovely mini-museums, and is decorated with hand painted retro movie billboards. Ome is also famous for flowers – plum blossoms in February, sakura in March/April, and in late April/early May, the most beautiful display of azeleas I’ve ever seen. More museums and a sake brewery can be visited while wandering along a lovely Tama River walking trail. And, a cable car connects lower Ome with Mt. Mitake – home to a 2000-year-old shrine and some wonderful hiking. Ome is easy to access by car and mass transportation.
7). Oya, Tochigi Prefecture
Oya, the ‘City of Stone’, is also home to a huge rock quarry. Hidden mostly underground, it has not scarred the landscape, but instead has enhanced it. Explore a huge man-made underground quarry-turned-museum, a temple built into the rock face, and a giant Goddess of Mercy carved into a stone cliff. Also be sure to soak in an onsen bath and dine on some of the tastiest Thai food you’ll find in all of Japan! Oya is easy to access by car and very challenging by mass transportation – but it can be done.
8). Minami Ashigara, Kanagawa Prefecture
The city of Minami Ashigara is home to my favorite temple in all of Japan, Saijoji. Hidden in a forest of ancient cedar trees, it is stunningly beautiful, but is almost completely unknown – even among Japanese. Nearby is a lovely onsen facility, ‘Only Yu’, that serves a delicious lunch buffet filled with items made with locally grown vegetables. Or, sit outdoor on an open-air patio and grill your own yakiniku while enjoying a tasty draft at one of Asahi’s beer breweries. In June – also visit the hydrangea festival in Kaisei, the town next door. Minami Ashigara is easy to access by car and mass transportation.
9). Shibamata, Katsushika Ward, Tokyo
Although quite famous for Japanese, Shibamata is still not so well known otherwise. To really get the most of a visit requires some homework. You MUST watch at least one installment, but preferably many, of Japan’s (and the world’s) longest running movie series, ‘Otoko wa Tsurai yo ‘ (It’s tough to be a man) before visiting. Then, you can time travel back to the home of the main character of the series, Tora-san. Highlights of the area include a lively, local shopping street, an impressive temple, a historic home with garden, a museum dedicated to the movie series, and a traditional riverboat ferry ride. Shibamata is easy to access by car and mass transportation – and, depending on your pace, it can be visited in a half-day.
10). Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture
Takasaki City is most famous for its Daruma artisan workshops and related Daruma Temple. But, it is also home to a giant Goddess of Mercy – and near its base, a park with grassy lawns & a cool pedestrian-only suspension bridge, a stunning traditional Japanese garden, a botanical garden, and some very unique caves. Takasaki is easy to access by car and there is bus service from Takasaki Station to the main sites.