With a high-speed train zipping all over Japan, it’s incredibly easy to explore the country with fast day trips from Tokyo. Classic temples, majestic mountains, and soak-worthy springs are all within reach.
Tokyo is one of the greatest cities on earth and there are endless things to see and do. But after a few days of zipping around the subway, eating all the sushi and gyoza, and navigating the hoards of people everywhere you turn, it can be a nice change of pace to get out of the city for a spell. At Culture Trip, we pride ourselves on finding some of the best experiences all around the world, and we’ve put together a unique list of day trips from Tokyo that will keep you busy once you’re ready to escape this crazy metropolis.
Japan’s iconic Mt Fuji is a must-see for visitors to the Tokyo area, and at 3,776 metres above sea level, you can actually see it from the highest hotels in the city. Located in the Fuji Five Lakes region, the mountain and surrounding area is ideal for adventure enthusiasts who want to climb, swim, snow or water ski. On this 9-hour tour, you’ll have plenty of options including a visit to the 400-year-old Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine, a cruise on Lake Ashi, and a ride on the Hakone Ropeway (gondola ride) for the most epic views of the mountain.
Around two hours north of Tokyo on the Tōbu Nikkō line, lies the ancient forest and town of Nikko, whose 103 religious structures form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On this day-trip adventure, you’ll visit the Tōshō-gu shrine, the burial place of Tokugawa Leyasu who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate. From there, you’ll navigate the 48 pinpoint turns of the Iroha Slope as you make your way to the jaw-dropping beauty of the Kegon Waterfall. Other options include a dip in the Nikko hot springs or a leisurely stroll along Lake Chuzenji.
Located in Gunma Prefecture, Kusatsu is Japan’s favourite onsen (hot spring) town. The draw is its strongly-scented emerald waters, which are rich in sulphuric acid, the same compound that gives cooked eggs their (very) unique odour. The hot water spring in the centre of town, Yubatake, is also one of its most popular attractions and is lit up at night. Other than enjoying a good soak, visitors can visit Mount Shirane for hiking in the fall or skiing in the winter.
By train, Kamakura is only an hour outside of Tokyo, and is a must visit for lovers of Zen Buddhist shrines and temples. The real highlight is the 13-metre-high Great Buddha Statue at Kotokuin Temple which dates to 1292, but you’ll also tour the city and get a feel for Kamakura cuisine. Getting around Kamakura is a breeze as the city has its own internal rail system which will help zip you to the other majestic temples like Hase with its renowned architecture and abundance of flowers. The final stop is at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū Shrine which dates to 1063 and is dedicated to the God of War.
Only an hour away from Tokyo, Mount Takao is a nature-lover’s dream with multiple trails leading up to the peak for all levels of climbers. You’ll depart Tokyo in the morning and take a private car (the train isn’t easy from Tokyo) and wend your way through the lush greenery of the mountain. For hikers who want a little assist, there’s a cable car that carries you part of the way up the hill. One of the most impressive sites here is the Yakuo-in Buddhist Temple that was established in 744 and rests on the mountain itself.
While this tour won’t be put in the ‘fun’ bucket, it definitely is a must-do to understand history, global issues, climate change, and manmade disasters. The devastation that came about from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Fukushima can still be felt around the world and this trip will take you right into ground zero of the catastrophe. For 12 hours, you’ll be driven through the wreckage, witness the now ghost town of Namie, and learn about the human cost of this immeasurable tragedy.
When it comes to mega theme parks it doesn’t get any bigger or more popular than Tokyo’s Disneyland. Originally opened in 1983, this was the first Disneyland built outside the US. The layout was modelled after its Californian contemporary and features seven sections known as lands, all based around a different theme. The park sits in Chiba, just outside of Tokyo making it an easy day trip destination. It’s one of Disney’s most popular parks in the world, in fact in 2017, 16,600,000 people visited.
Hakone is a majestic town at the base of Mount Fuji known for its tranquillity and glorious onsen spas among natural springs. But you’ll never experience it quite like this. The tour starts when you board a bus that’s driven by a ninja (yes, a ninja) who then takes you through Hakone with stops at the Mangan Shounin Tomb and the Hakone Shrine. Things get taken up a notch when the bus drives right into Lake Ashi and floats atop the water as the tour continues. Keep two things in mind: the driver only speaks Japanese, but they hand out leaflets in English so you can follow along, and you have to get yourself to Hakone, which is easy via high-speed train.
Yokohama is a seaside city about an hour south of Tokyo and is known for its Minatomirai entertainment area filled with amusement park rides and shopping boutiques, as well as being the home of the biggest Chinatown in Japan. Going to Yokohama at night is especially great as the city sparkles with endless lights. This unique tour includes a boat ride through the Yokohama Bay, an authentic Japanese dinner at a local izakaya, and a tour through the town hitting all the most-famous spots.
On the high-speed train, Nagano is about an hour and a half northwest of Tokyo, and for lovers of both temples and monkeys, it’s worth the wait. Known for its soothing hot springs, Nagano is home to snow monkeys who love to chill in the heated water during winter months. A guide will take you to the bathing macaques and then around the town where you’ll visit the 7th-century Zenko-Ji temple which is one of Japan’s most well-known treasures. From there, you’ll get to slurp some soba noodles, a Nagano specialty, before boarding the train back to Tokyo.
Here’s the thing, Tokyo and Kyoto are not close. But, on the high-speed bullet train, it’s still possible to experience the beauty of this historic city in a single day trip. This full-day tour starts early in the morning as it takes about two and a half hours to get to Kyoto. Once you’re there, you’ll visit the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine with thousands of rows of red torii gates, and you’ll also venture to the 12th century Sanjusangen-do Hall with its awe-inspiring 1001 standing thousand-armed Kannon statues. Finally, you’ll be led to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was first founded in 778 AD and sits on a hilltop overlooking Kyoto.