Transportation fees in Japan can be a killer, but that shouldn’t be stopping us from exploring this amazing country. If you do your research, you’ll find that there are many affordable rail passes to take you out of the city, for example, the popular All-Nikko Pass or the Hakone Free Pass. There is also the seasonal Seishun 18 Kippu (a seasonal discount ticket that allows you to travel anywhere on JR local and rapid trains for 2,370 yen per day), and with a bit of time and planning, you can visit some hot spots in neighbouring prefectures. Taking advantage of ward-subsidized countryside holidays is also a good way to explore.
If you’re just hoping to make a day trip or weekend trip from Tokyo city, here are five off-the-beaten-path trips you can do from Tokyo with less than 5,000 yen.
Misaki & Jogashima, Kanagawa: 3,060 yen
Misaki Town and Jogashima Island are both located in Miura Peninsula in Kanagawa. A quiet little fishing town, Misaki is famous for its fish market that is dedicated to tuna. Get there early enough, and you can watch the tuna auction. Jogashima Island is a rocky outcrop of an island where most of the shops and buildings seem to have remained the same since 1980s.
You can use the Keikyu One-Day Misaki Maguro Pass (3,060 yen) which includes a round-trip train ride between Shinagawa and Misakiguchi Station, unlimited bus rides on Miura Peninsula, a meal coupon and discounted entrance fees to various attractions on the island. It is available at any Keikyu station. From Misakiguchi Station, you can catch a local bus to Misaki Port and Jogashima Island.
The Tuna Auction
From outside Misakiguchi station, take any local bus heading to Misakiko (Misaki Port) from No. 2 bus stand. Upon alighting at Misaki Port, turn right and walk along the port. In about 10 minutes, you will notice the fish market on your left, a huge, unsuspecting building with a post office downstairs. Visitors are only allowed on the second floor, where you can watch the ongoing auction on the first floor. Although the tuna auction ends at 9 am, it is advisable to be there earlier to catch the action. There is also a seafood restaurant next to the viewing area on the second floor, where you can enjoy the freshest of maguro-don (rice bowl with tuna sashimi).
There are no auctions on Sundays. However, you can still catch some action of fishermen bringing in the other seafood. As a consolation, the morning market (about 5 minutes away from the Fish Market) is opened on Sundays until 9am.
After the markets, have a wander around the quiet fishing town where you can find restaurants selling maguro-don, shops selling fresh seafood, and if you’re lucky, even a small weekend flea market!
Jogashima Hiking Course
From Misakiko bus stop, catch bus No. 9 crossing over the bridge connecting Jogashima Island to the main peninsula. Near the Jogashima bus stop, there is a narrow shopping street lined with souvenir shops selling processed seafood, beach gears, and souvenirs that are typical of Japanese sightseeing spots.
Walking down the shopping street, you will come across the Jogashima Lighthouse. The original lighthouse was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake. After emerging from the shopping street, head toward the coastline where you will find local families going about their weekend activity – dads fishing, moms tending the BBQ and children looking for crabs in the tidal. This area is also the start of the Jogashima hiking course. Heading eastward will take you on an easy but scenic hike along the beautiful coastline, passing by the Umanose Domon, a 8m-tall coastal rock formation that looks like a horse, as well as several look-out points. The hike around the entire island is about 3-4 km, and may take an average of 2 hours. Finish the hike at Hakushu Ishibumi Mae bus stop near the bridge back to the main peninsula, and catch bus No. 9 back to the train station.
Mount Mitake, Okutama Region, Tokyo: 3,410 yen
Outdoors enthusiasts will be glad to learn that the outdoors is not so far away from Tokyo city. Located on the westernmost side of Tokyo prefecture, the Okutama region is part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park and offers plenty of hiking and walking opportunities. One of the more popular destinations is Mt. Mitake.
From Shinjuku, it is an 80-min direct train ride to Mitake Station in Okuyama region (920 yen one way). From Mitake station, take local bus no. 10 to the final stop (270 yen one way), the cable car station. The cable car will take you to the summit of Mt. Mitake (1,090 yen round trip).
There is plenty to do on the summit of Mt. Mitake, including visiting the famous Musashi-
Mitake Shrine, taking a short and easy hike to the nearby “Rock Garden” and waterfalls, or even just having a bento and enjoying the scenery on the top. There are also souvenir shops and a restaurant at the top. A simple hike around the top to the various sites will take about 2.5 hours. A useful website is the Mitake Tozan Railway webpage.
For those of us who are looking to spend more time in the mountains, one of the recommended side-trips from the summit of Mt. Mitake is to hike to the summit of Mt. Ohtake. Leave behind the well-paved roads of Mt. Mitake and start the hike towards Mt. Ohtake from Musashi-Mitake Shrine. The hike will take about 2 hours, taking you through the forests, eventually to Ohtake Shrine and the summit at 1,267 m. The trail is well-posted, but only in Japanese. (If you can write down the Kanji characters, it would be pretty straight-forward!) The highlight of Mt. Ohtake is the panoramic view of Mt Fuji on a clear day. To head down the mountain, you’d have to backtrack to the cable car.
Bonus: Nippara Shonyudo limestone caves
Another side-trip in the region would be the Nippara Shonyudo caves, the largest limestone caves in Kanto region. To get there, take bus No. 20 from Okutama Station. The 30-minute ride will take you straight to the cave entrance. About 280 m of the cave is illuminated and accessible to general visitors. Be prepared to spend about 40 minutes exploring the cave and marveling at the natural stalagmite formations!
Atami, Shizuoka: 4,680 yen
A forgotten seaside onsen town, Atami is worth a visit for those seeking to revisit Japan in the late 80s. Back then, Atami was a bustling tourist destination for hot-springs and beach-goers. Today, it is a quiet little town with streets and buildings reminiscent of its glory days. It may not be as popular or new as hot-spring destinations such as Hakone, but the town has its own rustic charm and is also a good place to enjoy the beach.
Although Atami is easily accessible by a 50-min Shinkansen ride, for those who are not in a rush, you can a leisure local train ride (about 2 hours direct train) on the Tokaido line (1,940 yen). Once at Atami city, you can get a Yu-yu Bus pass for unlimited rides in town for one day for just 800yen!
With its long-standing history as a popular hot spring destination, it would be a shame if you didn’t visit any hotspring while in town. Some of the ryokan (Japanese-style hotels) do offer a one-time use of their hotsprings facilities. You can get a list of the ryokan in town from here. In addition, there are a total of 7 hotspring sources in downtown Atami, each with its unique water qualities. It’s a good way to explore the town and get acquainted with its hotspring history!
Atami Sun Beach
Get off at Sun Beach bus stop and walk along the Atami Sun Beach. In the summer, this place is crowded with locals coming here to enjoy the sea, the fireworks display and the summer festival. There is also a promenande, Shinsui Park / Moon Terrace that is great for a stroll along the beach!
Museums and cultural sites
Thanks to its long history, Atami also boasts of a few cultural assets, including the Kiunkaku, a former luxurious ryokan from the early 20th century, as well as the MOA Museum of Art which holds 3,500 pieces of art mainly from Oriental antique. Both are accessible with the Yu-yu bus pass.
Mt. Nokogiriyama, Boso Peninsula, Chiba: 4,740 yen
Although Nokogiriyama is home to the largest stone Buddha in Japan, it is not an area that is known to many. This could be because it takes a while to get to this secret temple site hidden in the mountains.
With this place situated on the Boso Peninsula, it is a bit of a hassle to get to. First, catch a 1-hour train from Shinagawa to Keikyu Kurihama Station in Kanagawa prefecture (¥796 one way). From Kurihama station, catch the bus bound for Kurihama Port from bus platform No. 2 (¥200 one way). After 10 minutes, you will arrive at Kurihama Port, where you will catch the 35-min ferry across Tokyo Bay (¥1,000 one way).
Congratulations! You’d have arrived at the third prefecture, Chiba, of the day! And finally, catch the Nokogiriyama Ropeway up the mountain (¥930 round trip). That seems like a lot to cover for a one-way journey, but surprisingly, it will only sum up to about ¥2,000 each way. And of course, this will be a great day trip from Tokyo city!
Nihonji Temple and Mt Nokogiriyama
To sum it up, you will be spending the next few hours at Nihonji temple (entrance 600 yen), the temple situated at Mt Nokogiriyama, gawking at the two large Buddha statues, exploring the vast temple grounds, hiking down (and then back up) the mountain, looking at the 1,500 small Arhat statues, and admiring the spectacular view of Mt Fuji and Tokyo Bay.
Now, for those of you who are thinking what’s the big deal, especially since the Great Buddha of Kamakura is so much more accessible, hold your horses. This 31m-tall Buddha is about twice the size that of Kamakura, making it the largest stone Buddha in Japan! Also, look closely at each and every one of the Arhat statues, symbolizing people who have attained enlightenment, and you will notice that they are all different!
If you are wondering about food options, there is a seafood restaurant / market place, with a few souvenir shops near the Kanaya ferry terminal (side of Nokogiriyama). There is also a restaurant at the top of the ropeway.
Chichibu, Saitama: 2,320 yen
For the temples, shrines and history buffs, Chichibu has one of the three traditional Kannon pilgrimage circuits in Japan. Although it’d take a few days to cover all 63 miles (about 101km) and all 34 sacred temples, it is possible to make a day trip to visit a few of those temples, most of which are within walking distance or a short bus ride from Seibu-Chichibu station.
You can easily get to Chichibu with the Seibu Railway Chichibu 2-day pass. It is only ¥2,320 and includes 1 round-trip between Ikebukuro and Seibu-Chichibu station. You can get the tickets at most stations along the Seibu Line. It takes about 1 hr from Ikebukuro to Seibu-Chichibu Station.
Around Chichibu Station
Upon arriving at Seibu-Chichibu Station, it is advisable to drop into the information center to get a map and essential transport information. From the station, one of the nearest temples is Temple 13, Jigenji Temple, a temple known to bring good health to your eyes and eyesight. It is also a good starting point for the mini pilgrimage—you can get a copy of the English guide, as well as the small booklet (1,200 yen) to collect temple seals (usually about 300 yen each) issued to pilgrims by temples. If you are serious about it, you can also purchase the clothing, hat, prayer beads and walking sticks at Jigenji.
There is no specific order to go about the pilgrimage. With some careful planning, it is possible to cover 9 to 10 temples in a day. A recommended route starting from Seibu-Chichibu station would be to cover Temples 10 to 19, finishing up at Temple 19, Ryusekiji Temple, near JR Onohara Station. From there, catch 6-minute train right back to JR Ohanabatake Station, which is within walking distance from Seibu-Chichibu station.
Each temple is different from the last, and pilgrims usually visit the temple halls, pray and request for temple seals at each temple. Like the route, there is no hard and fast rule about how long to stay or what to do at each temple. Even for the non-religious, the entire experience is an excellent way to discover Japan’s cultural heritage while experiencing the countryside. Perhaps the only one rule about a pilgrimage is that you have to visit ALL the temples, so it gives you a good reason to come back for a few more day trips.
As expected in Japan, there are no shortages of convenience stores, vending machines and small shops along the way. You will realize that there are also plenty of other people on this pilgrimage and it is highly likely to bump into the same people at different temples, making it a great opportunity to interact with the locals.
This information is accurate as of 14 Jan 2015.