Beyond Tokyo - day trip suggestions?
I'm headed to Tokyo for my annual visit and would like to ask for some suggestions for a day trip destination outside of Tokyo.
I'm looking to dine at a good restaurant for lunch, do some cultural and/or nature activity, visit a market, do some local shopping for crafts, etc.
Ideally, the destination is 2 hours away maximum and accessible by rail. Am open to renting a car and driver to get around the town itself.
I've heard of the town of Karuizawa, and I believe many Tokyo residents keep vacation homes there. Not sure if that fits the activities I listed above though.
Would appreciate any input from you Chowhounds.
Typical suggested day trips from Tokyo are Hakone, Nikko, Kamakura/Enoshima and Kawagoe.
Kawagoe will be more like a half-day trip, but it's great especially if you like to browse shops, check out crafts, see historical districts, and have a nice lunch. Take Tobu Tojo train from Ikebukuro to Kawagoe. From Kawagoe station, you keep walking up north along the Crea shopping street which is busy and lined with ordinary Japanese stores and eateries. After a while, you'll end up in the historical district with Kawagoe's distinct kurazukuri houses, some very interesting shops and Kashiya Yokocho (allyway full of traditional Japanese snacks).
Hakone is my favorite. Even though reading about it does not give an impression that it'd be interesting to visit, there's something about Hakone that really appeals to me. It's an awesome place that combines mountain, nature, arts and hot springs. Best to take Odakyu Romance Car from Shinjuku. It's like 90min to Hakone Yumoto. Then you take a series of different modes of transport that link to one another (mountain train, cable car, aerial tram) and you should end up at Owakudani where you get off after a stunning tram ride up over a canyon steaming with volcanic activity. There's a cool little walk through the steam up there. Between there and Hakone Yumoto, there are cool spots including museums (Open Air Museum is the best) and tea/garden at the Fujiya Hotel. You may want to make the time to stop by for a little "higaeri onsen" (hot spring place that's not for overnight hotel guests). There's a lot of those especially in Hakone-Yumoto.
Karuizawa has a very nice atmosphere, very European but with Japanese touch. But there isn't a whole lot to see, per se. I think it's a place that may only be appreciated by Japanese people or someone who's lived in Japan for a while. Also, for me, the large part of my enjoyment of Karuizawa is to go spend a night and soak up the resort atmosphere... and for that, I prefer Oku-Karuizawa over the main area (Kyu-Karuizawa).
chowmouse, your suggestions sound very interesting.
I have not heard of Kawagoe and it sounds like it's right up my alley. The nice lunch you are referring to is in Kashiya Yokocho or would you have another recommendation for a good place to nosh?
I have heard of Hakone, but for some reason I thought it was much further out. 1.5 hrs is not too much travel time and you do make it sound quite appealing. A few questions:
1. Do you think a day trip will do it justice or should I wait for another time where I can spend overnight there?
2. Would you have a suggestion for a great lunch spot somewhere along the journey you described?
3. For someone who has not done it before, is it easy to navigate and connect from one mode of transport to another?
Your comments about Karuizawa confirmed my suspicions. There are resort towns that only locals can really appreciate, or a visitor can only appreciate when hosted by a local.
Thanks for your advice, it is much appreciated.
Kashiya Yokocho is not really a place for lunch, but it's really an alleyway lined with bunch of stores that sell old-age Japanese snacks. It's fun to visit and you can buy and munch on different snacks. But not really a place to have lunch. There're many places to have lunch along the main street in the historical district (Ichibancho-dori). I've had mostly tea/desserts type things only in that area, but one place you may want to try is called Romansabou-Umon (http://www.imokoi.com/sabo_honmaru.html shows a sample lunch menu). A safe, easier (but not exactly gourmet) option is to just head to the restaurant arcade floor of the Atre shopping complex just northwest of the Kawagoe station (you'll see the building on your left as you come out the station's north exit). There're about 10 restaurants and, while they're all ordinary, they're still pretty good and every place has displays of plastic menu item models to make it easier to order if you don't speak Japanese.
Hakone is really great, although 1-night stay at a hot spring inn is ideal. Hakone Yumoto is an 1.5hours away from Shinjuku. That's the gateway to Hakone. Owakudani is probably another 1hour, although Yumoto is already part of Hakone. I really can't recommend a great lunch spot for you in Hakone... I'm sure there are many and hopefully someone else here knows a place. For some reason, we always seem to wing it with convenience store food for lunch whenever we go to Hakone.
The transport in Hakone is extremely easy to navigate. The Odakyu train leads to the mountain train, which leads to the cable car, and that leads to the aerial tram. Everyone around you will be doing the same transfer, and it's all very straightforward. I presume you'd be taking the train. You should get the Hakone Pass (name?) through Odakyu Railway, which is a pass that includes the return train to/from Shinjuku, plus all the different transports in Hakone.
I've done day-trips to Hakone and, if you plan things right, you'll be able to take in a lot of it. I've squeezed in Open-Air Museum, Owakudani, tea at Fujiya Hotel, and a stop at a day onsen (hot spring), all in a day's trip. The last day-trip we took there, we took a friend and it was a nice day, and he was rewarded with a stunning view of Mt.Fuji to boot. But if you haven't been there and you really want to enjoy it, I think it's best to stay the night at one of the nice hot spring inns/ryokans, enjoy the kaiseki dinner and the hot spring.
Both options sound intriguing. I think I will opt for Kawagoe this time and save Hakone for my next visit when I can spend at least one night there.
Thank you very much for the detailed itineraries. Great advice such as this is what makes Chowhound so precious.
If you ever need advice on visiting the Philippines do give me a holler.
When enjoying the sights at Nikko, stop and have lunch in any of the local restaurants serving yuba (tofu skin) - The Nikko area is famous for their yuba.
Also, on the train back to Tokyo from Nikko, try to make stop for izakaya in the city of Utsunomiya. There is a famous tavern there where trained monkeys serve you! Very interesting experience. The gyoza (specialty of the region) are very good as well!
Have you thought about going to see the temples at Nikko.
The journey time from Tokyo is about 2hrs iirc.
I'd get there early though. I had them to myself from 8 am until the tour parties descended about 9.
I ate at Hippari dako. Really small place with a great atmosphere and quite good yakitori.
1011 Kami-Hatsuishi-machi, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan