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Exploring Around Tokyo

When backpacking around Japan it’s very easy to get sucked into the city vibes and stay pretty central to where the main tourism lies. However, the real culture and often the charms of this country lie around the city outskirts. Some places may be more obvious than others to visit, but escaping the neon lights and hustle and bustle, is more what Japan is about. Take Tokyo, for example. This is a fantastic city and I don’t discourage anyone from spending time here, however if you do have some extra days, it is definitely worth exploring what else is around this capital.

Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji is probably the most popular and most well-known place around Tokyo. Japan’s tallest mountain and a recent ‘World Heritage Site’ this spectacle is worth a visit. However, the need to climb Mount Fuji may not be for everyone. If anything, this mountain is best explored from a far to see the beautiful views and the sunset behind. But if you do want to go to the mountain then the easiest way is to go by bus or train from Tokyo. There are no trains directly to the mountain point so catch a train to either Fujiyoshida or Gotemba and get a bus from there. However, the best viewing points for this mountain are in Hakone or in Fuji itself.
If you intend to climb the mountain the season to do it is between July and August. Even then don’t be fooled by the surrounding temperatures. The mountain is very cold to climb up and you need lots of thermals and proper mountain clothing. Any other time of the year is do-able to climb if you are an experienced and trained mountain climber; however you often have to submit a route to the police or mountain guiders. Tour guides are available at the mountain but can be very expensive, around 20,000¥ plus for one day.

Hakone
Hakone is a traditional Japanese town close to Mount Fuji, and offers some of the best spots for good Mount Fuji views.  The town is known for its onsens (link to Japanese onsen) and scenic aspects. For example, you can visit the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, which is an active volcano, thus resulting in a lot of hot springs and bathhouses around the area, which are great to unwind in. Furthermore, take a visit to the Hakone Glass museum, which I visited on my trip. It did seem to be in the middle of nowhere, but the museum was busy enough from tour buses so I assume there are some tours from the town centre to the museum. The museum showed was inside and out and looked like an enchanted garden with various glass decorations which glistened in the light. A must-see if in Hakone.

Kamakura
Kamakura is another small traditional Japanese town, south of Tokyo. Kamakura is a common spot in the Japanese tourist guide books and a good place to spend a short day. You can catch the train easily from Yokohama (25 minutes) and the Tokyo JR Yokosuka line (one hour). Some might say Kamakura is difficult to cover on foot, but I managed to see all of the main sights by walking, so it is doable if you have the time and energy. The town is full of different temples and shrines, which are more traditional and less touristy than what you’ll experience in Tokyo. A popular sight is the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine which is quite close to Kamakura train station. The shrine and temple is very large and beautiful, and very traditionally Japanese, so I’d argue is a most-see in the area. The second most popular sight is the Great Buddha at Kōtokuin, which houses the second largest Buddha in Japan. Usually quite busy in the area, but cheap to see and you can go into the Buddha itself.
Another way to spend your day in Kamakura is to hike the Daibutsu hiking course which starts near the Great Buddha. Not a difficult hike and do-able within a day’s visit. If you’re lucky enough like me then you’ll meet some old Japanese men at the top of the trail offering free sake, which was worth the hike in my opinion. The town is also on the coast, so in good weather you can take a trip to the beach, but watch out for hawks as one swopped down and tried to claw the icecream out of my hand. Now known as the day I touched the Pacific Ocean for the first time, and the day I got attached by a hawk.

Yokohama
Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan, but not huge on tourism. The city is large due to its extensive business and port links, rather than tourist spots; however it is still a place which is worth a visit. Yokohama is only 30 minutes away from Tokyo, and accessible from many of Tokyo’s main train lines. The city can also be accessed straight from Narita airport. The sights which may interest most tourists include Chinatown, the Bay Stars baseball stadium, Marine Tower, Yamate which is essentially a piece of Europe placed in Yokohama, and Yokohama Cosmo Ward. Yokohama Chinatown is the biggest Chinatown in Japan, but essentially just like any town in my opinion, so not a massive must-see. However, if in Japan during baseball season then I advise to go to a baseball game. Depending on the time of year and the game depends on the price and how easily you’ll be able to get tickets, but you’ll have more luck at the Yokohama bay stars stadium than any stadium in Tokyo. Prices are reasonable and the crowd really get involved, making it worth the trip.