10 Great Escapes from Tokyo

As I walk to my usual spot on the platform to board the morning train into Shibuya, I whisper a little prayer for a seat on the train so I can sit down and read my book. Getting a seat on a weekday morning train is like winning the lottery because, as it gets closer to Shibuya, more and more people board until everyone is smushed up against each other like canned sardines.

On the days where I’m lucky enough to get a seat, I usually keep my head buried in my book. Before long though, when I look up I’m unable to see anything past the sea of salarymen and women dressed in black or navy blue tailored suits, with gelled hair, heavy bags under their eyes, and grim expressions that show how tired and overexerted they are. So much so that they seem ready to lash out at anyone who so much as steps on their freshly polished shoes. What’s more, politeness occasionally takes a backseat as they push and shove their way out of the train without so much as an excuse me.

As much as I try to stay in my own world on the train, I start to feel like I’m suffocating because there is so much energy coming at me from all of the people around me. When my concentration breaks, I begin to think about where I can go this upcoming weekend to get away from the city, to balance and recharge, somewhere with a slower pace of life, somewhere with a surplus of trees. Here are 10 of my favorite great escapes from Tokyo.

Enoshima

Enoshima / Kamakura
Best Time to Visit: 
Late spring and summer
Enoshima Travel Info | Kamakura Travel Info

Enoshima and Kamakura are an easy 40 minute train ride from my house so they’re the closest escape options. Kamakura is home to some easy hiking trails and one of the most impressive Buddha statues in Japan. Just standing before it is a cleansing experience. Enoshima has a gorgeous coastline where you can go down and dip your feet in the water, go fishing, try catching crabs, or just sit still with nothing but the ocean in sight. You can also buy a giant squid chip the size of your head for an afternoon snack. Both areas offer a nice afternoon away from daily responsibilities.

Takao

Mt. Takao
Best Time to Visit: 
Spring, early summer, autumn.
Takao-san Travel Info

Because of its close proximity to Tokyo, Mt. Takao is one of the most popular day hikes and therefore is often flooded with tourists and Japanese people alike. So if I’m looking for quiet it’s not the place to go, but the beauty of the trails and the view from the top are not to be discounted. I like to hike Takao just once a year on the brink of autumn to kick off the hiking season.

Kyoto Kinkakuji

Kyoto
Best Time to Visit: 
Spring and autumn.
Kyoto Travel Info

Only 2 hours away by bullet train, Kyoto is easily doable as a weekend trip from Tokyo. Though it is still a big city, it’s audibly and visually quiet and has a completely intoxicating atmosphere of its own. Without fail, every time I step out into the city from Kyoto Station, I can hear my own heartbeat again and I feel like I can take deeper breaths. Kyoto has so much to offer in terms of food, history, tradition and events, and I can enjoy it at my own pace. In that way, the city is a detox for my soul.

Jogashima

Jogashima
Best Time to Visit: 
Late spring and summer
Jogashima Travel Info

Jogashima came up in a search for somewhere new to go without venturing too far from home and Google results delivered. The area’s unique shoreline looks like stunning layers of aged, jagged lava, and the town is home to some of the freshest, most renowned seafood in the Tokyo area, maybe even in all of Japan. Mom and pop shops are reminiscent of the S.E. Asia street food atmosphere where stalls are adorned with plastic tables and chairs and the walls and floors are well worn and loved from visitors passing through. No fluff, just great food. On top of all that, Jogashima is also known to be one of the best places to photograph the sunrise and sunset.

Mt. Tsukuba

Mt. Tsukuba
Best Time to Visit: 
Spring, early summer, autumn.
Tsukuba Travel Info

With the exception of the sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji, this is my favorite view from any mountaintop listed here. There are unobstructed views for as far as the eye can see. When you reach the top, there’s this rock edge where you can sort of climb out and sit down to enjoy the view as everyone behind you snaps their pictures. It’s a real “sitting on top of the world” kind of feeling and Tokyo feels universes away. Mt. Tsukuba is a FUN hike as well, one that demands a sturdy pair of hiking boots and even walking sticks, if you feel so inclined. Parts of the trail are steep and require minor rock climbing skills, but don’t let that deter you. It’s all in the name of good exercise. Families with small children as well as elderly folks frequently and successfully challenge this trail so if they can do it so can you.

Mt. Mitake

Mt. Mitake
Best Time to Visit: 
Late summer and autumn.
Mitake-san Travel Info

Mt. Mitake offers a wide network of trails perfect for exploring and taking off in random directions just to see where I’ll end up. If I’ve had a particularly bad day or series of bad days and I find myself not yet ready to head home, it can keep me entertained for hours with only mountains and trees for company. The only downside I can think of is that it’s usually very foggy at the top which means a good outward view if any is rarely guaranteed.

Fuji Selfie

Fuji Forest Adventure Park – Website
Best Time to Visit: 
Summer and autumn.

I didn’t even know this place existed until I saw a trip listing on the Tokyo Snow Club website. The adventure park is a 5-part ropes course complete with ziplines at the base of Mt. Fuji. So on a clear day there are gorgeous views of Fuji abound when you’re up high playing in the trees. Honestly, I wish I lived here or at the very least worked here or got to play here every day. In order to get to the park, you’ll need a car because the trains and buses will only take you so far. Taxis are an option of course, but it’ll be a wallet drainer. Get here if you can though because the air is so crisp and fresh, and the whole area just feels so secluded, it’s fantastic.

Mt Oyama

Mt. Oyama
Best Time to Visit: 
Spring, early summer, autumn.

Much like Mt. Tsukuba, this hike requires a sturdy pair of hiking boots and a good morning stretch to keep the muscles flexible because you’ll be taking some big steps and climbing up some rocks. Additionally, if it rains the night before you go, the trails and rocks will be slippery so proceed with caution. My advice is to hike up, buy yourself an ice cream at the halfway point, and take the cablecar down. Mt. Oyama is my “got nowhere else to be” hike in that it’s not the first place I think of when I want to go hiking but certainly beautiful in its own right.

Shosenkyo Gorge

Shosenkyo Gorge
Best Time to Visit: 
Autumn
Shosenkyo Travel Info

My heart melts when I think about Shosenkyo Gorge. I love it like a teddy bear in that I feel safe in its presence. The first time I went with friends, we just sat up at the top for a bit and let the whole world dissolve away. Out of all the hikes I’ve done, Shosenkyo was the hardest place to leave because nature and time stand still here. Such stillness provides a different kind of quiet at the top like the world beyond where I am sitting is still spinning, life is still moving forward, but I can’t hear a thing. It’s so glorious. Plus, during autumn, the colors are TO DIE FOR. I wish I had a mural of the view on my wall.

Lake Kawaguchiko

Lake Kawaguchiko
Best Time to Visit: 
Spring, summer, and autumn.
Kawaguchiko Travel Info

If I could marry any mountain, of course it would be Mt. Fuji. It is my one true love, and I appreciate how much Japanese people treasure this diamond of a mountain and work hard to maintain and preserve the environment around it. From the opposite side of Lake Kawaguchiko, Fuji stands tall in all its majesty and grandeur. Walking around the whole of the lake (somewhat haphazardly I might add), I just couldn’t take my eye off the pearl at the center. When the clouds finally parted and I could see the top of the mountain, I just stood in awe of its beauty and in disbelief that just 4 months ago I climbed all the way to the top. Lake Kawaguchiko is one of five lakes in the Fuji area that is a popular destination during sakura season, autumn, and New Year’s.

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