For getting around Japan, we decided on getting a 14 day JR Rail Pass. The JR Rail Pass is similar to the Eurail Pass and allows unlimited travel on all JR Group Railways-Shinkansen"bullet trains" (except any reserved or non-reserved seat on “NOZOMI” and “MIZUHO” trains), limited express trains, express trains, and rapid or local trains, and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). There are 7, 14, and 21 day passes. The pass is a great deal if you’re doing a good amount of traveling throughout Japan because the bullet train reserved seats get pretty expensive.
Kamakura & Yokohama
In order to take full advantage of our JR Pass we saved our day trips from Tokyo for the last couple of days of our stay in Tokyo. For our first day trip, we took the train to Kamakura to see the big Buddha (see above). Kamakura is about 50 kilometres (31 miles) Southwest of Tokyo and it takes about an hour and a half to get there from Tokyo. Kamakura has many historically significant Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, some of them, like Sugimoto-dera, over 1,200 years old. Kōtoku-in Temple, with its monumental outdoor bronze statue of Amida Buddha, is the most famous. A 15th-century tsunami destroyed the temple that once housed the Great Buddha, but the statue survived and has remained outdoors ever since. We saw that Yuigahama (Kamakura) Beach was nearby, so we walked along the beach then walked back to the train station.
Next we took the train to Yokohama, which lies on Tokyo Bay, south of Tokyo, in the Kantō region of the main island of Honshu. We got there later in the afternoon and were pretty hungry. We tried to go to one restaurant that Diem researched but there was a huge line so we went to cup noodle factory nearby thinking there’d be food there. We took a tour around the factory which was pretty cool. We watched a video about the history of the Cup Noodles and the founder, Momofuku. There were cool sculptures and exhibits about Cup Noodles. They had an option to get to make your own cup noodles to take home but we’d have to wait an hour and a half so we decided against it. We had lunch in their World Noodles Bazaar, which had noodle dishes from a number of different countries. We thought they’d be flavored cup noodle dishes from the different countries but they ended up being actual dishes from the respective countries. I got Vietnamese Pho and Diem got Korean kimchi noodles. There were very small dishes that weren’t very good. We took the train back to our apartment and had dinner at the Yakitori restaurant near our apartment that we ate at a couple of nights ago. The second time around wasn’t as good and the food and service took forever.
We really wanted a nice picture of Mt. Fuji so we decided to take a day trip to Hakone. Hakone is a spot near Lake Ashi with a nice view of Mt. Fuji. It took about 2 hours to get there and we thought we had a clear day so we would get a nice view of Fuji. When we got there though, we looked around but couldn’t see the mountain. We thought we probably just needed to get to a better spot so we first went to a nearby shrine. The shrine was like the other Japanese shrines we’ve seen so we took a few pictures and made our way down to another shrine by the lake. We thought that maybe we needed to go higher to see the mountain so we hiked to an observation deck near the town. It was about a 30-minute hike but when we got to the observation deck we still couldn’t see the mountain. It was blue skies all around the lake but apparently it wasn’t clear around the mountain. It was weird we couldn’t really see clouds but where Mt. Fuji was supposed to be was just a white haze. Below is what we were supposed to see on the left and the right picture is what we actually saw.
We had plans to take a boat on the lake to a spot where we could take a cable ropeway (gondola) up the hills and get even better views of Fuji. However, since there was absolutely no visibility of the mountain, we decided that the view wasn’t going to get better if we got a little bit closer and higher. It was a bit of a bummer, it was such a clear day around us so to get no view of Fuji sucked. We headed back to Tokyo and decided to have dinner at the Tokyo train station. We felt like Ramen and the Tokyo station actually has an entire area called “Ramen Street” with 8 ramen restaurants. We picked one and ate there. Ramen restaurants typically have vending machines outside where you place your order and get tickets for items you want. We got our tickets from the machine, handed them to the server, and grabbed some seats. The place was pretty good but I wanted more noodles in my ramen and when I asked for more, the server told me that it wasn’t possible. It was a bit confusing because I’ve seen the extra noodles offered at other restaurants and there was even a selection for extra noodles on the vending machine. After that we went to bed and prepared for the next day trip.
The next day was our last day trip from Tokyo before we headed west to Hakata. We went to Matsushima which is a group of islands in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. There are some 260 tiny islands (shima) covered in pines (matsu) – hence the name. Matsushima is one of the 3 famous views around Japan. The other two (Itsukushima Shrine and Amanohashidate) are close to Hiroshima and Kyoto, respectively. We visited both of those and I’ll have a separate post covering all three sites later. Two of the three were really spectacular. When we got back to Tokyo from Matsushima we went back to the Ramen St. at the Tokyo station. We went to a different spot which was pretty good but not as good as yesterday or Ichirin. Of course there are many other day trips you can make from Tokyo but we wanted to make sure we saw other parts of Japan so we headed west to Hakata and the Fukuoka Prefecture. That didn’t stop us from returning to Tokyo and doing one last day trip which I’ll write about in Part 3 of our Tokyo adventures.
To read about our Tokyo proper adventures check out the full blog post here.
To see the full gallery of pictures of Tokyo and the day trips click here: Tokyo, Japan.