The gorgeous ancient town of Nikko is located 150km north of Tokyo. It is a Unesco World Heritage site, with intricate temples and shrines, set against a backdrop of breathtaking mountains, lakes and waterfalls. While the area provides picture-perfect scenes all year round, it is especially stunning in autumn, when the leaves of its luscious forests turn to warm shades of gold. October is, therefore, the optimum month to visit Nikko, but it gets busy at weekends.
Said to be one of the three finest bridges in Japan, the Shinkyo Bridge can be found at the entrance to Nikko’s shrines and temples. Nestled further into the woods, Toshogu Shrine is one of the most lavishly decorated shrines you’ll ever see. The buildings are decorated with gold leaves and demonstrate phenomenal craftsmanship. It is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years.
Kanmangafuchi Abyss is another must-visit site, formed by an eruption of nearby Mount Nantai. The gorge is surrounded by a beautiful riverside walking trail, lined with over 70 stone statues of Jizo, a bodhisattva who cares for the deceased. Each statue looks out on to the river, and it is said that each time you count them, the numbers change. Come here on a quiet evening for a romantic stroll, but head back before the sun sets – there are no street lights.
Lake Chuzenji is the famous scenic lake in the mountains, accessed by a local bus. A walk around it is absolute bliss, and there are decks and seating for the perfect picnic. The area is also home to Nikko’s most famous waterfall, Kegon. At 100m tall, it is ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful waterfalls.
How to get there: Nikko is accessible from Tokyo by Tobu Railway and Japan Railways (JR). The journey takes between two and three hours depending on the train you select, as they include a mix of local, express and limited express trains.
The second largest city in Japan, Yokohama is located south of Tokyo. It has one of the world’s largest Chinatowns and the seaside port area, Minatomirai is a popular date spot.
Minato Mirai has many large high-rises such as Japan’s tallest building until 2014, the Landmark Tower, but it is along the promenade where couples love to go for a stroll. The Cosmo World amusement park is also found along this pretty waterfront, packed with arcade games and a giant Ferris wheel for that sunset kiss.
Yokohama is also home to a number of fantastic museums, including the unique Cup Noodles Museum. It follows the history of instant noodles via interactive exhibits, and visitors can even design their own cup noodles to take home. Meanwhile, the Yokohama Museum of Art displays works from contemporary artists including representations of Yokohama itself.
In central Yokohama you will discover Japan’s largest Chinatown; a maze of colourful, narrow streets and mouth-watering Chinese cuisine from sweet pastries to dim sum. The entrances to Chinatown are marked by four colourful gates, which make for lovely photo spots.
How to get there: Yokohama station can be reached via the Tokyu Toyoko Line from Shibuya Station. The journey takes between 30 minutes to an hour depending on connections and train service (buy a ticket for a limited express or express train if possible).
Why do people visit Chiba? The answer is simple: Tokyo Disney Resort. Located 25km south-east of the centre of Tokyo, it is without a doubt the most popular day trip for visitors to the capital.
Tokyo Disney Resort is home to two parks: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. Tokyo Disneyland has seven themed lands and is the classic Disney experience, where popular rides include Big Thunder Mountain and Pooh’s Hunny Hut. Tokyo DisneySea is revolves around the myths and stories of the sea. The more ‘grown-up’ of the two, it also has seven themed areas, with rides including the Tower of Terror and Indiana Jones Adventure.
For entertainment beyond Disney, check out Ikspiari. It is a shopping, dining and entertainment complex adjacent to the resorts. There is a 16-screen cinema showing new and classic films (perfect for putting your feet up after a long day at the parks), and restaurants include Tsukiji Tamasushi, which serves Edomae-style sushi with fish shipped straight from Tsukiji Market.
How to get there: Tokyo Disneyland Resort can be reached in under an hour via the JR Keiyo and JR Musashino lines. Alight at Maihama Station where the parks are situated.
Hakone is a major onsen (hot spring) destination south-west of Tokyo and easily accessible via train. Tourists gather to take in the stunning scenery, as well as dip their toes in mineral-rich waters.If you’re planning on touring Hakone you’ll definitely want to purchase a Hakone Freepass. This gives you an amazing round trip of the most scenic parts of Hakone across different modes of transportation. It begins with a steep mountain train ride from Hakone Yumoto Station, through forest and cliffs, followed by a cable car ride that swerves past Mount Kami and Mount Myojyogatake. Next, it’s a ropeway that towers through the active Owakudani volcanic valley and finally, a traditional Japanese ship takes you across the famous Lake Ashi. The tour includes tickets to and from Shinjuku in Tokyo, and can be bought for 5,140 yen (US$46) via the Japan Experience website.
As for onsen experiences, visitors are spoilt for choice in Hakone which has many bathhouses and onsen hotels. The Japanese-style Yumoto Fujiya Hotel has a beautiful onsen that is open to both inhouse guests and visitors. There are indoor and outdoor baths. Admission for non-staying guests is 1,800 yen.
How to get there: The Odakyu Line at Shinjuku Station will take you to Hakone Yumoto Station in around two hours.
5. Lake Kawaguchi
Lake Kawaguchi is in the Yamanashi Prefecture and is one of the famous Fuji Five Lakes. It is the ideal spot to view Mount Fuji in all its glory. For the best view, head to the lake’s northern shores. Although Lake Kawaguchi is extremely popular with tourists who want to see Mount Fuji, the sheer size of the place means you can get a great selfie without the crowds. Our only tip is to turn up on a clear day, as clouds will obstruct views of the top of the mountain.
When enough photos have been taken, continue with riding roller-coasters against a backdrop of remarkable nature. Fuji Q is the famous theme park nearby, with 40 amazing rides including Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear – the longest and scariest house of horrors in the world – and Fuji Airways, a flight simulator with an aerial tour of Mount Fuji.
How to get there: Kawaguchiko Station can be reached in around two hours via the JR Chuo line. Two retro bus lines provide tourists with local transportation around Lake Kawaguchiko. For Fuji Q, take the Fujikyu Line to Fuji-Q Highland station (this will take approximately 11 minutes from Kawaguchiko Station).
The coastal town of Kamakura is around an hour south-west of Tokyo, and many regard it as East Japan’s answer to Kyoto. This is due to the number of stunning temples, shrines and historical monuments that can be found there. The most famous is the Great Buddha of Kamakura, which is a bronze statue at the Kotokuin Temple and is the second tallest Buddha statue in Japan.
While visitors can spend a full day touring all the temples to decide on a favourite, ours is the Hase Temple. It features an array of beautiful carvings and sculptures, including a golden statue of Kannon – the goddess of mercy, and sculptures of Benten – the goddess of feminine beauty and wealth. In the summer, it is worth taking a short train ride over to the Enoshima beaches which line the coast. There are quaint local bars, cafes and restaurants in the vicinity.
How to get there: Kamakura Station is accessible via the JR Yokosuka Line, direct from Tokyo Station. The journey takes under an hour.
Singapore Airlines flies to Tokyo six times daily. To book a flight, visit singaporeair.com
PHOTOS: 123RF.COM, CUP NOODLE MUSEUM YOKOHAMA FACEBOOK, PEH YI WEN (TOWER OF TERROR, LAKE KAWAGUCHI), INSTAGRAM, FUJIQ FACEBOOK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.