One of the busiest, most vibrant cities in Asia, there is no shortage of things to do in Tokyo. However if you’re looking to take a breather from the skyscrapers and neon lights, there are a few destinations on the outskirts of the city that will easily fit into your itinerary. The following list contains some of my favourite destinations for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city to enjoy views of Mount Fuji, the rocky coasts, and to relax in hot springs!
Hakone, an area famed for volcanic activity and onsen (hot springs) has the advantage of being the most easily accessible from Tokyo. Located in the neighbouring prefecture of Kanagawa, it only takes one hour on the Odakyu Romancecar, which departs from Shinjuku Station multiple times daily.
Hakone, Kanagawa, Japan
The most interesting spot to visit in Hakone is probably Ōwakudani, a name that in English, translates to “Great Boiling Valley”. Volcanic steam erupts from vents, and the strong smell of sulphur permeates the air. All this is an entirely natural occurrence- the valley was formed around 3000 years ago as a direct result of the explosion of the Hakone volcano.
Ōwakudani, Sengokuhara, Hakone, Kanagawa, Jap...
The best way to see the valley is by taking a ride on the Hakone ropeway, which travels directly above the extraordinary, otherworldly landscape.
When in Ōwakudani, be sure to try the famed kuro-tamago, or black eggs. These are ordinary eggs that have been boiled in the hot springs, giving the exterior shell a pitch-black colour. Taste-wise they’re about the same as a regular hard-boiled egg, but they smell a little sulphuric. The Japanese like to dip them in salt and they’re really delicious. There’s even a saying that eating one egg will add seven years to your life!
Hakone Sightseeing Cruise
If the weather permits, take a cruise atop a decked-out pirate ship that sails around Lake Ashi, where snow-peaked Mount Fuji can be seen in all its glory. It’s not only great fun for the kids, but an unobstructed view of the water, sky, and green mountains will certainly make a lasting memory.
Lake Ashi, Motohakone, Hakone, Kanagawa, Japa...
A really cool cafe to check out in Hakone is Naraya Cafe, and it’s guaranteed to be unlike any cafe you’ve ever seen before. Here, you can drink your favourite tea and coffee while dipping your feet into ashiyu, hot springs pools meant for the feet.
Japan, Kanagawa, Hakone, Miyanoshita, 404-13,...
Itō (Izu Peninsula)
The Japanese like to head to the Izu Peninsula for short trips away from the city, to be surrounded by nature. Itō is a popular town located on the peninsula and boasts several exciting places to visit.
Izu Shaboten Zoo
You might have seen videos on social media of capybaras, a rodent originally from South America, taking relaxing dips in Japanese hot springs. A good number of them probably came from Izu Shaboten Zoo, a petting zoo slash cactus park where you can get up close to gentle animals.
The capybara bath is the highlight event at the zoo in the colder months, and they’re adorable when they’re floating about and relaxing a joy to see them floating about and relaxing. You can even pet and feed them afterwards!
Izu Shaboten Zoo
Izu Shaboten Zoo, 1317-13 Futo, Itō, Shizuoka...
If you walk across the road from Izu Shaboten Zoo, you’ll see Mount Omuro. Shaped like an upturned rice bowl, Mount Omuro might be the most perfectly-shaped mountain you’ve ever seen. It is actually an extinct volcano, and the only way to get to the top is via a ski lift. Once on top, you can walk along the perimeter of the crater and enjoy the view of the peninsula’s coastline on one side, and the mountainous region on the other.
Mt. Omuro, Ike, Itō, Shizuoka, Japan
Aside from sightseeing, take a stroll around the town and you might find some tasty street food to eat. Niku no Tsukubaya serves golden, battered and fried cuts of meat and croquettes that you can buy and eat as you explore the town.
Atami (Izu Peninsula)
Atami made its name in the 80s during Japan’s years economic boom as a resort town for business retreats and family vacations. Famed for its spectacular hot springs, the name Atami translates literally to “Hot Ocean”.
Atami, Shizuoka, Japan
If you’re in Japan too early for the sakura season, check out Atami Baien to see if you can catch a glimpse of the fleeting blooms. While the park’s main draw is plum blossoms, (baien means plum park) which are in much darker shades of pink than sakura, the park nonetheless houses hundreds of plum and cherry blossom trees in multiple varieties.
Baiencho, Atami, Shizuoka, Japan
At Atami Baien, the plum and cherry blossom trees bloom the earliest in the year, and the hot water that flows throughout Atami is said to be the reason. The flowers can be seen as early as January, long before Japan’s cherry blossom season, which typically occurs sometime in March.
Onsen (Hot Springs)
Atami’s history as a vacation town means that there are plenty of amazing hotels and ryokan (Japanese inns) to choose from. These range from budget-friendly rooms to luxury resorts that all feature natural hot spring baths with water pumped straight from the source.
It is customary to use a hot spring naked, just as you would a normal bath at home. For more privacy though, look out for hotels with private baths, which are available to rent for little to no fee.
There’s a long shopping street just outside of Atami Station, and there’s lots of cute cafes to visit and street food to eat too! The hanpen, or fried fish cake is a delicious Japanese treat, and be sure to try out Atami Purin too.