Tokyo is a great city not only in itself, but also because it is surrounded by interesting sights and places that you can easily reach within a couple of hours, and come ”home” at the end of the day.
Here are five places we have visited and enjoyed. We travel a lot around Tokyo so our kids get to see and enjoy lots of different things. Not everyone will enjoy the same things, of course, but perhaps you will find some of these interesting.
These trips are easily doable in a day, leaving in the morning and coming back in the afternoon. And even though I have written about how crowded the trains in Tokyo can be during the mornings, it is likely to be less bad on these lines. You are going against the commuter flow, away from Tokyo and the corporate headquarters and governement offices that fill up with commuters traveling from the furthest reaches of the Kanto plain to slave away until long after dark. If you start a bit later, these trips are still easy.
Mt Tsukuba is in Ibaraki, to the north of Tokyo. The mountain is only 800 meters high but it juts out of the surrounding plain, making the view completely unobstructed.
There are two peaks on the mountain, served by respectively a funicular cable car and a ropeway with gondolas. Since the cable car leaves from the main Tsukuba shrine, in the little city with all the tourist shops, it is often quite crowded. The ropeway is less crowded and the view from the gondolas is much better, but you have to go halfway around the mountain to get there.
To get to Mt Tsukuba, you take the Tsukuba Express train from Akihabara to the end station. Take an express train, then the ride is only 45 minutes. At Tsukuba station, take the bus up the mountain and get off at the Tsukuba-San Guchi station for the cable car, Tsutsuji-ga-oka for the ropeway. You will want to remember that the last bus leaves the mountain station already around 6 PM.
The best thing about mt Tsukuba is the view, and many other visitors will think the same. Since the best part of the view is to see the sunrise reflected off mt Fuji, you had better be early. That is a great way of beating the crowds too, since many visitors hike up the mountain, and then take the cable car or ropeway down. It is not a particularly strenous hike, although you should probably not try it until your kids are about seven or eight. And it is absolutely not doable with a stroller. Once you get to the top, it is easy to get around with a stroller.
2. Mt Takao
Most visitors are surprised when they find out that Tokyo has actual wilderness inside the city limits, but Tokyo is both a prefecture and a city. The westernmost corner borders Yamanashi, where mt Fuji is located. But the Tokyo mountains are not nearly as tall as Fuji. As a matter of fact, mt Takao is a mere 599 meters tall (that missing metre must be a thorn in the butt for many people in Tokyo).
That it is not as tall makes it much more accessible. You can easily walk around the mountain in a couple of hours (even with a stroller), once you have got up to the top. And since there are no other mountains in the way, the view can be amazing on a clear day.
The little city between the cable car station and the train statio is full of stores selling the staples of Japanese mountain tourist attractions: Soba noodles, pickles, and manju. Try the soba noodles with mountain herbs, they are delicious.
There are two ways to get up Mt Takao: Either take the chairlift, or the cable car. But with a stroller, the chairlift is not really an option. When you are there, it is easy to go around the mountain paths, mostly paved or consisting of hard gravel. Your kids will insist that you go to the monkey park, but for adults this is more depressing than fun. The Buddhist temple on the top has been in operation for more than 800 years.
Getting to Mt Takao is easy. You can do it in two ways: The Keio line from Shinjuku to Takaosanguchi, which takes about 50 minutes with the express train; or the JR line to Takao, and then change to the Keio line to Takaosanguchi.
You know Narita, right? That was where you landed in Tokyo, unless you flew in to Haneda. But Narita airport is a latecomer compared to the city of Narita, which has grown up around the Narita buddhist temple. The city streets leading up to the themple from the stations look exactly like you would imagine a Japanese city.
And it is worth a visit in itself. Plus it is very easy with a stroller. Even considering it has been in operation for more than a thousand years. It is probably the only place you will find where the same ceremony has been repeated every day for more than one thousand years.
Getting to Narita is easy, but do not take the airport train. Instead, you need to take the train to Narita city, either JR line or Keisei line from Keisei Ueno station.
When Edo, the city that would become Tokyo, was still small it had a little brother. The city of Kawagoe was so prosperous and important that it become known as Ko-Edo, or ”little Edo”. Most of the buildings in the city today were built in the 19th century, after a fire devastated the city.
Today, the city largely retains the 19th century atmosphere. Even modern buildings are being replaced by buildings in the old style, like the Koedo Kurai traditional goids shopping mall. This is what makes Kawagoe an attractive destination, that and the Kita-in temple. This temple was so important in the 17th and 18th century that the shogun donated some buildings from Edo castle to renovate it after an early fire. Since Edo Castle burned down shortly after, this is the only place you can find buildings from Edo castle today.
Kawagoe is the endpoint of both the JR Kawagoe line and the Seibu line. That means there are plenty of trains each day from Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. Take an express train, then the trip takes a little more than an hour.
Before Edo was even a small village, Kamakura was briefly the capital of Japan during the two Mongol invasions. Both unsuccessful, but not thanks to the shogun, the military commanders who ruled the land from Kamakura. Rather, the reason the invaders were deteated was that their fleet was destroyed by storms.
While the city was capital, it also became headquarter for several of the Buddhist sects that are integral to Japanese religious life. Those temples are still there, and the reason to go to Kamakura today.
actually, the best way to see Kamakura is not to go there first, but get off the JR train in Fujisawa, and then take the Enoshima line to Hase, where you can find both Hase-dera, one of the most interesting temples, and about 20 minutes walk away Koutoku-in, with the great Buddha statue. From Hase it is only two stops to Kamakura station.
Did you think this was interesting? Did you know that I am writing an entire book about great daytrips from Tokyo? And did I tell you that I just finished my guidebook to Tokyo for families and will edit it soon? If you want to know more about what is coming, sign up below!
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning six - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.