Exploring Greater Tokyo: Top picks for Japan’s most dynamic region

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Explore Tokyo and beyond with this stunning range of experiences set to delight culture and adventure seekers alike.

Whether it’s taking to the hills to bathe in ancient springs, visiting Buddhist temples or sampling the very best local cuisine prepared by masters, the Greater Tokyo area has endless experiences on offer for open-minded travellers with a taste for genuine adventure. Linked through a network of airports, rapid trains and bus connections, the prefectures, cities and towns that surround Tokyo are simply unmissable for anyone thinking of visiting Japan. Here are some of the top experiences in diverse spots across the region.


Wander the path of exiles at Sado Island

Sado Island is located off the west coast of Niigata and is one of Japan’s largest Islands. Over the years it has become a melting pot of religions and cultures as exiles from all over the country made it their home, and now offers tourists a fascinating insight into Japan’s rich history. One such tradition is the use of Tarai Bune boats, the shallow bottom small ‘tubs’ that were perfect for fishermen to navigate the small coves of the island and today take tourists on guided tours from Ogi Port. Today Sado Island is also a sanctuary for the endangered Japanese crested ibis, or toki, and is known for its culture of drumming and music. Every year it hosts Earth Celebration, an event that focuses on nature, culture and drumming. It’s located about 70 minutes away from Niigata city by jetfoil boat and two-and-a-half hours away by car ferry.


Step back in time at Asakusa Senso-ji Temple

This celebrated landmark is known throughout the whole of Japan and is devoted to the goddess of Kannon. It’s also the oldest temple in Tokyo, having been completed in 645. A key site for religious faith, it attracts an estimated 30 million visitors each year. Visitors enter through the Kaminarimon (or Thunder Gate) and pass through a bustling street lined with traders offering tokens and souvenirs, before arriving at the main hall and pagoda.


Walks ancient paths on the Nakasendo Trail

The Nakasendo Trail is an ancient thoroughfare that runs through central Japan, comprising picturesque routes between Kyoto and Tokyo. Previously used by feudal lords and samurai, today the same trail can be followed through sleepy villages. The picturesque Kiso Valley and the mountain town of Karuizawa are unmissable highlights. Some companies offer multi-day trips with accommodation and planned routes. The noble and proud Matsumoto Castle is also nearby. It’s well worth a short detour to explore one of Japan’s last remaining original castles.


Rejuvenate body and mind at Kusatsu Onsen

Bathing in natural hot springs has long been a tradition in Japan, with the sulphurous, acidic water helping to calm and relax the body. High in the mountains of Gunma, Kusatsu Onsen is one of the most famous hot springs the country has to offer with several public baths and ryokan open for visitors. Skiing is also available in winter, while walking and hiking are popular when the snow clears.


Ride the rails and see astonishing sights on the JR Tadami Line

This scenic railway line stretches 135km from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station in Fukushima Prefecture to Koide Station in Niigata Prefecture. Before boarding, however, a trip to Kitakata to savour its historic ramen is a must for food lovers. Appetites appeased, passengers can enjoy a comfortable train journey sweeping through dense forests and farmland and gliding across rivers. The route is in full operation once again after more than a decade of restoration due to torrential rains in 2011. Passing over the Tadami Bridge never fails to fill passengers with a sense of awe and has become the iconic moment of the trip.


Sleep out in nature and go camping along the Nakagawa River

Another top pick for kayaking, canoeing and packrafting, the Nakagawa River runs through Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures, and has a calm, steady flow with some exciting sections of lively currents. River-side camping is fantastic here, as there are many picturesque banks along the route.


Learn about a celebrated artform at Omiya Bonsai Village and Omiya Bonsai Art Museum

Established in 1925, the Omiya Bonsai Village in Saitama is a haven for information on the practice of bonsai in Japan. Several long-established bonsai nurseries can be visited, with examples of trees on display and for sale. 2010 saw the opening of the museum which educates visitors on the history and cultural significance of bonsai. The gardens and museum can be visited on a day trip from Tokyo, but it’s best to arrive early if possible to enjoy it at its most peaceful. A bonsai workshop takes place on the third Sunday of every month at the Bonsai Art Museum, while May sees the local Bonsai Festival being held.


Take to the mountains with the Nikko Yamabushi Bike Tour

Yamabushi can be translated as "monks of the Shugendo", or monks who venture to the mountains to partake in a special kind of worship and mindfulness. Visitors to Tochigi prefecture can take part in a special bike tour that sees participants doing a seven-day cycle through the historic area, passing along snaking paths through picturesque mountains, taking part in unique ceremonies linked to these practices and learning about the way of life. It includes the shrines and temples of Nikko, which achieved Unesco World Heritage status in 1999. The complex there is made up of 103 religious buildings within two Shinto shrines and one Buddhist temple. They’ve been closely linked to the figure of the Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate.


Ascend the stone staircase of Minobusan Mountain

At this special mountain is Kuonji Temple, held sacred by the Nichiren school of Buddhism. At the bottom of the mountain is a stone staircase with 287 steps leading through a forest to a red pagoda with five tiers. The mountain is especially popular in springtime, when an ancient cherry blossom tree at the temple can be seen in full bloom.


Explore the compound of the much-celebrated Kencho-ji Temple

The oldest and most important Zen temple in Kamakura, this landmark was founded in 1253, and sees guests coming face to face with the temple bell (Bonsho) which has been designated a national treasure, before passing through an impressive Sanmon gate. The grounds and garden are stunning, and there are many traditions to view and experience, such as guided meditation or Zazen sessions held multiple times a year.


See how people lived during the Edo period (from 1603 to 1868) at Sawara Suigo area

Also known as Koedo or Little Edo, this historic former merchant town showcases the way people would have lived in times gone by. Historic buildings and former homes of merchants line the canal, which can be seen by a boat ride. The botanical gardens of the Suigo Sawara Ayame Park form part of the Suigo-Tsukuba Quasi-National Park, famous for its lakes and irises.

Beyond the glittering skyline of Tokyo lies an unmissable array of adventure in Greater Tokyo. Whether you’re biking along verdant paths, seeking zen moments, or reconnecting with some of Japan’s stunning natural or cultural offerings, this region will leave you in awe.

Greater Tokyo in the News

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    Discover Japan: Due North and Into the Wild


    Despite its proximity to Tokyo, Ibaraki Prefecture is rich in nature, with much of its bucolic beauty still largely undiscovered by international tourists. Located to the capital’s northeast, the region is simultaneously Japan’s third largest agricultural producer and home to cutting-edge research facilities, making it a place that offers more than what first meets the eye.

  • See a New Side of Japan with These Epic Outdoor Adventures

    See a New Side of Japan with These Epic Outdoor Adventures

    Travel + Leisure

    Just two hours from Tokyo, adrenaline junkies will find plenty of action in Minakami, a mountainous hot springs town in Greater Tokyo’s Gunma Prefecture. Here, it’s all about slipping, sliding, swimming, jumping, and rafting in the region’s fast-flowing waters. Between April and October, professional guides accompany visitors as young as six for a knuckle-gripping few hours in Minakami’s rugged canyons.

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