For families who have explored Japan’s capital thoroughly and would like to get a taste of life farther afield, Tokyo is within striking distance of numerous kid-friendly destinations that are an easy train ride away. Here are our top destinations for memorable day trips from Tokyo, focused on spots that offer cultural stimulation and interesting attractions while still being a manageable distance from Japan’s largest city in a single day.
YokohamaYokohama is the capital of the Kanagawa prefecture and was one of the first ports to be opened to foreign trade in 1859. This one-time fishing village is now the second-largest city in Japan, and there is no shortage of things to do on a day trip here. Start your day at the traditional Japanese Sankei-en Garden, which was built in 1907 and has many buildings emblematic of Japanese heritage, including a three-story pagoda. Afterward, satisfy your hungry crew with dumplings and other tasty treats in Japan’s largest Chinatown.
A great place to while away the rest your day in Yokohama is the Minato Minari 21 “Harbor of the Future.” This waterfront promenade features just about everything you can imagine, from a theme park to restaurants, shops and a spa/relaxation center. Families will enjoy the views from the Yokohama Landmark Tower, the second-tallest building in Japan. If time allows, add in a stop nearby at the quirky Cupnoodles Museum, which pays homage to this iconic ramen noodle snack. Learn how cup noodles are made and even create your own version in the My Cupnoodles Factory workshop.
Hakone is an extremely popular destination, famous for its onsens, meaning hot spring; beautiful scenery; views of Mt. Fuji; and museums. If you’d like a comfortable introduction to the hot springs, consider Yunessun, which bills itself as a hot-springs theme park — it’s co-ed and requires swimsuits. Another option is to enjoy the outdoor beauty of Hakone by taking the Hakone Tozan cable car and then the Hakone Ropeway up the mountain. Get off at Owakudani to see the crater that was left when Mt. Hakone erupted 3,000 years ago. For adventurous eaters, legend says that eating the kuro-tamago (black eggs) cooked in the natural springs will extend your life by seven years. Don’t worry: The sulphur turns the shells black, but they are just normal hard-boiled eggs on the inside!
Other attractions include the Hakone Open Air Museum, full of massive sculptures and installations that will delight everyone in the family, and Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, which is home to Mt. Fuji. If you still have time, you could even stop in for a quick visit to the beautiful Odawara Castle, which is on the way back to central Tokyo.
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Kamakura is another classic Tokyo day trip, appealing because of its close proximity to the city, its compact size and number of historical sites. The most popular is the Kamakura Daibutsu (great Buddha) on the grounds of the Kotoku-in Temple, one of the three great Buddhas in all of Japan. Take the Enoshima railway, go souvenir shopping on Komachi Street or catch a ride in a traditional rickshaw. The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine is also walking distance from JR Kamakura station, along a pretty path known as Danzakura — a gorgeous spot for photos, as it’s lined with cherry blossoms.
Enoshima, a small island just over an hour by train from Tokyo, is known as a great escape from the bustle of city life, thanks to its beaches, food, shrines and attractions. In the summer, locals flock here for sand, sun and the chance to swim. Enoshima Shrine is a serene and welcoming attraction and the younger set might also enjoy the Enoshima Aquarium. Feeling adventurous? Try the local specialty of tiny baby sardines, called shirasu, at popular lunch spot Akimoto.
Nikko is a little under two hours from Tokyo, and it is worth a day trip for the entirely different sensibility of its environs, which date back to the 8th century. One of the most famous sights to see here is the Toshogu Shrine, which pays homage to and houses the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the longstanding Edo shogunate (who also became the focus of James Clavell’s novel Shogun). Several of the buildings at Toshogu feature animal ornamentation; one of the most famous examples is the sculptures of the Three Wise Monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil). Also keep an eye out for the Yomeimon Dragon Gate.
After visiting Toshogu, families might get a kick out of learning to be a ninja or get a feel for living in Edo-era Japan at Edo Wonderland amusement park. If time allows, visit Lake Chuzenji and take out a pedal boat or check out Kegon Falls, the spectacular waterfalls that form at the outlet of Lake Chuzenji. There’s an elevator that runs between the bottom and top of the viewing areas — a bonus for parents with little ones.
Ask most people about Chiba, and the first thing they will mention is Disney. Although Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea may be the impetus for your family’s interest in Chiba, there are plenty of other reasons to go. Chiba Castle is an iconic spot that houses the Chiba Folk Museum; you can also visit the Chiba Zoo. For those interested in baseball, Chiba is the spot to catch a Chiba Lotte Marines game at their home stadium. There are also several museums where you could easily spend a day, including the hands-on activities at TechnoTown and WonderTown (part of the Chiba City Museum of Science) and even the Kikkoman Soy Sauce Museum and factory tour.
Where to go and what to do for a week in Tokyo and beyond >
Located southwest of Tokyo on the Izu peninsula, the coastal hot-springs resort of Atami is another great place for a family outing. It has its own shinkansen (bullet train) stop, making it a quick 40-minute trip from Tokyo. Highlights of this locale are the beautiful ocean views, hot springs, museums and Atami Castle, where kids can dress up and learn about Samurai life. There are also several tranquil shrines and temples, the most popular being Kinomiya Shrine with a 2,000-year-old camphor tree that’s rumored to house a Shinto god. Make time for the castle’s adjacent “Trick Art” Museum, which features wacky paintings that fool the eye and offer plenty of laughs.
You can get a feel for Edo-era Tokyo in Kawagoe (also called Little Edo), just an hour from Tokyo. Its warehouse district dates back to the 1600s, including remaining structures from the original castle on the site. On the west side of the warehouse district is pedestrian-only Kashiya Yokochō Street, which became known as “Candy Alley” after the 1923 earthquake hit Tokyo, leaving Kawagoe as the main producer of Japanese sweets. Don’t miss the statue garden at Kita-in Temple, with over 500 figures representing disciples of Buddha set among Japanese gardens. Each has its own facial expression and the garden makes for a great game of hide and seek, or finding a statue that looks like each member of your family. Also, keep an ear out for the bells of Toki No Kane, which are rung daily at 6a, noon, 3p and 6p — a throwback to Kawagoe’s Edo roots, when there were no clocks.
It would be a mistake to leave Mt. Fuji off this list, but families might prefer taking in the beautiful views from Fuji City or Shimizu instead of making the climb. Another option is to visit Lake Kawaguchi or try the Kachi Kachi Ropeway, which offers stunning views over Lake Kawaguchi and the mountain. For adventurous families who would like to get more than just a glimpse of Fuji-san, try the Kawaguchi-ko Trail, accessed from the Fuji Subaru Line Fifth Station (a.k.a. Kawaguchi-ko Fifth Station), which has direct access by bus from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. If you attempt this climb in a single day, you’ll have to start super early — guides suggest allowing five to six hours to reach the top and about three hours to descend, plus 1½ hours for circling the crater at the peak.
If you plan to take a day trip from Tokyo, be sure to invest in a rail pass. It’ll make your travel more affordable and improve your experience overall. Navigating a train station in Japan is part of the fun (most signs are translated into English). Sometimes the journey is just as culturally eye opening at the destination itself!
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