Golden Week is here and you’ve decided to spend the holidays in-country. It’s late spring, the weather is often fine and it’s a great time to get out and about. But, what to do? Where to go? What to see?
It turns out to be easier to determine the things not to do. With so many people off work and looking for entertainment, many popular destinations are too crowded to be fun. Any shopping district around a major train station is guaranteed to be wall-to-wall people. Five other destinations that might be best avoided are: Kamakura, Mt Takao, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Skytree and Yumenoshima. These are all great places, but best enjoyed on a weekday or otherwise in the “off” season.
Instead, here (in no particular order) are 10 suggestions on the “less beaten track.”
Nagatoro – Situated in Chichibu in western Saitama, about 2 hours from Ikebukuro on the Seibu or Tobu train lines, Nagatoro is best known for the “tatami-stacks” rock formations of its scenic gorge. Take a traditional wooden boat down the Arakawa River, passing through the gorge as well as a bit of white water. At the foot of nearby Mt Hodo is the enchanting Hodo-san Shrine. There is a ropeway to the top of Mt Hodo for expansive views and a short walk to the mountain-top satellite shrine. If you have time for a two-day trip, stay in Nagatoro or Chichibu and also visit Hitsujiyama Park, which sits between Seibu Chichibu and Yokoze Stations. The park is famous for “shibazakura” (pink moss), which blooms at this time of year. For more information, see http://www.seibu-group.co.jp/railways/tourist/english/special/
Shibamata – Anyone old enough to remember the movie character Tora-san knows that he hails from Shibamata in Katsushika-ku. A statue of Tora-san graces the plaza just outside Shibamata station on the Keisei Kanamachi line and various sweets that bear his name are sold at shops along the approach to Shibamata Taishakuten, the Buddhist temple that dominates the neighborhood and which is also featured in the movies. Be sure to check out the intricate wooden carvings on the main temple structure. Behind the temple, alongside the Edogawa River, you will find Yamamoto-tei -- a Taisho-era house and garden -- and the Tora-san Museum. Even if you’re not that familiar with the movies, the exhibits here are quite fun.
Sakura – Once a castle town, now better known as a station on the way to Narita Airport, this is a surprising hidden treasure. The National Museum of Japanese History is about a 15-minute walk from JR Sakura station, on the site of the castle, which was demolished in the late 18th century. The museum’s extensive and varied exhibits provide insights into Japan’s history, archeology and folklore. A 10-minute walk through the Sakura Castle Park takes you to Miyakoji, a street lined with old samurai houses.
Mt Nokogiri/Nihonji – Sitting on the lower Boso Peninsula, Mt Nokogiri is known for its views of Tokyo Bay and, on a clear day, even Mt Fuji. But it’s even better known for its old stone quarry and the Nihonji temple complex, which includes a 31-meter statue of a seated Buddha and other images carved out of living rock. Take the JR Uchibo line to Hamakanaya Station (about an hour and a half from Chiba), then walk 10 minutes to the Nokogiriyama Ropeway, which will take you to the top of the mountain.
Todoroki Gorge – A gorge in suburban Tokyo? You bet! You’ll find it just a short walk from Todoroki Station on the Oimachi train line. Stroll along trails through 1.2 kilometers of gorge, enjoy the greenery and the waterfall, and at the low end of the gorge, climb up to the Todoroki Fudo Temple.
Jindaiji – A visit to this temple and botanical garden in Chofu, a western suburb of Tokyo, is a great day out. The temple is the second oldest in the area (next to Asakusa’s Sensoji), and is fronted by a variety of quaint shops and restaurants, and even a small shop where you can paint your own dish and have it fired while you visit the temple. There’s always something blooming in the botanical garden, but just wandering around its wide open spaces can be refreshing. To get there, take bus #34 from the north side of Chofu Station.
Nihon Minka-en – This open-air museum is a collection of 18th and 19th century buildings arranged like a village so that you can wander among them, and in and out of them, to imagine the lives of the people of the times. In addition to farmhouses with steep thatched roofs and shops with the family home behind/above them, there is a mill house and an old kabuki stage. One old house contains a soba restaurant. Less than a 15-minute walk from Mukagaoka Yuen station on the Odakyu line.
Hike from Jimmuji to Taura – This is just one of the many hiking trails in the hills and mountains on the outskirts of Tokyo but easy to access and not too strenuous. Pack a lunch; there are several great spots for a picnic. From Jimmuji station on the Keikyu line, head northeast on highway 205 for about half a kilometer to the Zushi Junior High School, turn right (keeping the school on your left) and follow the road, which becomes a hiking trail climbing upward through a bird sanctuary and on to Jimmuji, an historic mountain temple (Hideyoshi’s men massacred fugitives from Odawara castle here) and site of a botanical laboratory used by the late Emperor Hirohito. Follow the trail on up behind the temple and along a ridge that leads over the expressway and eventually to an old stone quarry now popular among rock climbers. Keep going through the quarry to pick up the trail again and follow it on to Keihin Taura Station. Small handmade signs point the way.
Jogashima – A small island at the bottom of the Miura Peninsula that sports a great fishing port (and therefore great seafood restaurants) and an historic lighthouse. Accessible by the #9 bus from Misakiguchi, the terminus of the Keikyu train line, after you’ve explored the island, it can be fun to walk east and north along the waterfront of the mainland peninsula, just to enjoy the volcanic rock formations and the surf. Buses bound for Miura Kaigan Station come along highway 215 regularly, giving you an “out” whenever you’re ready for it.
Izu Oshima – This volcanic island, technically part of Tokyo, is a 2-hour hydrofoil trip from Tokyo Takeshiba pier (three daily departures between 7 and 8 a.m.) or take an overnight ferry departing at 11 p.m. The island is just over 26 kilometers in circumference; rented bicycle is a great way to explore the whole island. Geology -- the volcano, the beaches, the rocks — and botany — farms and camellia groves — and a chance to just slow down and relax. This is a nice little overnight getaway.© Japan Today