Spring Day Trips from Tokyo

After the whirlwind cherry blossom season has swept across Tokyo, leaving only fond memories of streets blanketed in pink and perhaps a throbbing head from one too many drunken hanami parties, we remember that a world does indeed exist outside of our beloved city.

Tokyo is bordered by four prefectures: Chiba to the east, Saitama to the north, Yamanashi to the west and Kanagawa to the south. As the spring warmth knocks on the door of the towns throughout these prefectures, awakening the cherry blossoms as it goes, our attention is brought to some extremely beautiful areas. This year, I followed the sakura trail to three different areas, all of which I highly recommend.

Kumagaya and Kawagoe, Saitama

Route:
1. Shinjuku to Kumagaya: 1 hour JR train 
2. Kumagaya to Kawagoe: 1 hour JR train (change at Omiya)
3. Kawagoe to Shinjuku: 50 min JR train


The first of my sakura day trips took me to Saitama Prefecture. The cherry blossoms here reach their peak only a day or two later than Tokyo.

The spectacle I went to see was along the banks of the Arakawa River, just a short walk from Kumagaya Station. Like smoke billowing from a bushfire, the row of giant sakura trees seemed to engulf the field of canola flowers in front of it. The blue sky, pink sakura, yellow blossoms and green stalks – it was such a striking contrast of colours.

This strip of colours stretched as far as the eye could see in both directions. Swarms of people waded waist deep through the flowers, sometimes disappearing completely! Peeking under the sakura branches revealed a whole community of picnickers. It was like two worlds – one on top and one underneath.

KumagayaKumagayaKumagaya

KumagayaKumagaya

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After dusting the yellow pollen off my pants, I hopped on the train and made my way to Kawagoe. This is one of the most popular day trip destinations from Tokyo, no matter the time of year. It’s commonly referred to as Koedo or Little Edo because it has a beautiful historical quarter full of merchant houses from the Edo Period.

On the outskirts of town is Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine i.e. the shrine of love! Couples come here to pray for happiness, and others come to pray they find their perfect match. You can go ‘fishing’ for a fortune-telling fish, and hang up an ema (plaque on which you write your wishes) in the much-photographed tunnel of ema.

Behind the shrine is a small, tranquil canal. Lined either side with cherry blossoms, it really is one of the most stunning places to come to in spring. There are many picturesque canals around Japan, but one thing unique to this place is its old-style boat rides. Men dressed in traditional happi coats and straw hats use long bamboo sticks to push the wooden boats down the petal-filled waterway.

I couldn’t get enough of the warm afternoon sun lighting up the clouds of sakura. It was like the whole world had turned rose gold. At dusk, the festival lanterns flickered on, and the flowers glowed deep red. Have you seen a more romantic sakura spot?!

KawagoeKawagoe

KawagoeKawagoeKawagoe

Kawagoe

Odawara Castle, Kanagawa

Route:
Shinjuku <> Odawara: 1 hr 20 min Odakyu train


My second day trip from Tokyo was to the prefecture directly south of Tokyo: Kanagawa. I’d seen the roof of Odawara Castle poking out from the trees many times either from the train on the way to Hakone or on the shinkansen travelling further south, but I’d never gotten off at Odawara Station let alone gone to the castle.

The only thing I knew was that it had a lot of cherry blossoms. And as often happens when you have no expectations, I was surprised at how impressive it was—and not just the flowers!

The castle tower is a 1960 reconstruction and the inside is a museum where you can learn about its history, watch videos and see things like 16th century samurai armour. From the top floor, you get a spectacular 360-degree view of the sea, the coastline, the city and the mountains. I loved looking down at all the cherry blossoms scattered throughout Odawara town. In fact, the castle is ranked in Japan’s Top 100 sakura spots!

They have also done a lot to restore the rest of the castle grounds. Although today we can just go through the back gate, the original gates (which have been reconstructed) were a maze around the different moats, making the castle very secure. At one point in history, it was one of the largest citadels in the country.

OdawaraOdawara castleOdawara castle

OdawaraOdawara castleOdawara castleOdawara castleOdawara castleOdawara castleOdawara castleOdawara castle

Kawaguchiko, Yamanashi

Route:
1. Shinjuku to Shimoyoshida: 2 hr JR train
2. Shimoyoshida to Kawaguchiko: 13 min Fujikyu train
3. Kawaguchiko to north shore of lake: 10 min bus
4. Kawaguchiko to Shinjuku: 2 hr 25 min Fujikyu and JR trains (change at Otsuki)


My final day trip was to see the one and only Mt Fuji. The Fuji Five Lakes area is at a much higher altitude (around 800-900m), so the cherry blossoms usually bloom here two weeks later than Tokyo.

My first stop was Chureito Pagoda at Arakurayama-Sengen Park, which can be accessed from Shimoyoshida Station. I did go here last year, but the conditions weren’t great so I was determined to try again. I did a lot more planning this time, checking the sakura progress, the weather and the air quality forecasts! It paid off. The flowers were in full bloom and the sun was out, and the sky was clear.

Chureito PagodaKawagoeChureito PagodaArakurayama-Sengen ParkArakurayama-Sengen ParkArakurayama-Sengen Park

 

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Lake Kawaguchi is a short train and bus ride from the pagoda. The north shore has a long row of beautiful cherry blossoms, but I don’t think there was anyone actually having a hanami picnic – everyone was too busy taking photos! It was nice to stroll along the path under the blossoms. I’m so thankful I’ve been able to see Mt Fuji framed with momiji and sakura now. It was the perfect way to end my 2018 sakura season.

KawaguchikoKawaguchikoKawaguchikoKawaguchikoKawaguchikoKawaguchikoKawaguchiko

If you could see the cherry blossoms anywhere in Japan, where would you go? Recently, I have been hearing a lot about spring at Hirosaki Castle up in Aomori. The pictures look absolutely breathtaking, so for me, that’s where I’d go.

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73 thoughts on “Spring Day Trips from Tokyo

  1. Hi Celia,
    Where would I go to see the sakura? I think I’d simply follow your recommendation after the season you’ve had :). I do like your first pic with three main colours and I thought having the people on the borderline so to speak added interesting contrast. Another interesting post – thanks!

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    1. Thanks, John :) This was a great trio of sakura spots but I was expecting you to choose somewhere in Kyoto! Haha.
      Thanks for your comment about the first picture. After giving up on trying to get a shot without any people, I ended up having fun experimenting with different compositions!

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      1. Hi Celia,
        I am a bit Kyoto biased I guess and I would say the Heian Shrine was the most impressive display I have seen. In terms of places with a good vibe, the Keage Incline would be my pick. Everyone just seemed so happy to be there. You can, however, be my adviser for the Tokyo area :).

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thank you – that was a great day! I feel like I’ve discovered a special secret now that I know about air quality forecasts and can predict when it’ll be a good day to see Mt Fuji!

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  2. I love how those three trails have their own character. One with canola field, the other with a reconstructed castle, then the last (but certainly not least) with Mount Fuji as the backdrop. Such beautiful places to see the sakura! I had my first ever experience seeing sakura up close last week when I was in Seoul. It was so pretty and now I can see why people are willing to travel far from home just to see these blooms.

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    1. You’re right – they were three places special in their own right. I’ve only ever experienced sakura in Japan, so I wonder what it’s like in other countries. I often hear Seoul is also very beautiful. Of course I’m biased and believe nowhere would compare to Japan, but I think part of what makes them so popular here is how you can see them combined with amazing backdrops unique to Japan like a shrine or castle!

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  3. Wow – what beautiful photos, those blossoms are amazing!! I’d never heard of tunnel of ema, what a beautiful picture…This post has definitely fueled my wanderlust for Japan further!!

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    1. Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine has become super popular just for that tunnel of ema!! I hope you get to come over one year to see the blossoms and experience Japan – it’s definitely worth it!

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  4. Oh man you got such good shots! I live in Sendai Japan and the sakura here is still in bloom. I really want to visit some of these spots though :( Maybe next year! Thanks so much for sharing. I’m saving this!

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    1. Thanks, Viola! There must be loads of awesome sakura spots around Sendai, too. Where do the locals like to go the most?? I really want to explore more of Tohoku in the spring sometime.

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  5. 私は2年程前の初春に、梅の花が咲き誇る小田原の田舎町を訪問しました。再建された小田原城は見事ですね。ここの桜の木は、戦国大名の山城に始まって、北条氏の城郭拡大の際に植えられたのでしょうか。北条氏も徳川家も滅亡してしまいましたが、桜の木は600年か700年もの年月を通して、毎春美しい花を咲かせてきたのかもしれませんね。晴天下の桜は爽やかで、イルミネーションされた桜は艶やかに見えます。

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    1. 小田原城の桜の木はその時代からずっとあったかどうか分かりませんが、とても美しかったです。ここに行く前に小田原の歴史を知りませんでしたので、桜を楽しむことだけじゃなくていろいろ学びました。本当に行ってよかったです!

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  6. I love this post! I wish I had read it before our trip to Tokyo in January. :) Sakura looks so beautiful and I’ve always wanted to visit during spring. Thanks for taking me there virtually! xo

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  7. Hi Celia,
    Saw your blog and its very beautiful. I am from India and last month i was in Yokohama. It is a beautiful city. Had a good time during Sakura festival. Nice blog and beautiful pics.

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    1. That’s really great! I actually applied for JET many years ago but ended up coming to Japan through a different company. Do you know what city/town you’ll be placed in?

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  8. Just lovely. Vancouver, British Columbia also has cherry blossom festival right now. It is the best in Canada and many mountains surround Vancouver. So views are different than Washington DC.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful work, Celia! :) You’ve captured the very essence of spring! And pushed Tokyo way up on my bucket list! Thank You so much for sharing! <3

    Like

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