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10 Intriguing Things to Do Near Tokyo

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Before I visited Japan, the images in my mind’s eye were mostly of bustling Tokyo. Busy intersections, hurrying business men in suits, neon signs, karaoke bars and Harajuku fashions are certainly an interesting part of modern Japan. But there’s so much more to experience just outside the world’s most populous metropolitan area. Check out these 10 intriguing things to do near Tokyo.

10 Intriguing Things to Do Near Tokyo

1. Visit a shrine to dogs.

Legend has it that a beloved prince built Hodosan Jinja (Mount Hodo Shrine) in honor of dogs who rescued him from a forest fire. This gorgeous Shinto shrine features beautifully painted and carved images. It was originally built in 1900 but the current facade (seen in the photo below) was built about 160 years ago.

To follow Japanese etiquette and tradition, be sure to purify your hands and mouth at the water station at the base of Mount Hodo. (Do not transfer the water from the ladle directly to your mouth or swallow the water!) If you would like to approach the shrine, throw a coin to the donation box, bow deeply twice, clap your hands twice, bow deeply once more and then, if you are so inclined, pray for a few seconds.

The mountain setting here is exquisite and quite the opposite of the Tokyo’s city vibe. It is located in Saitama Prefecture near Nagatoro-machi, an 80-minute train ride northwest of Tokyo. Read more about Hodosan Shrine on TripAdvisor.

Hodosan Jinja is a Shinto shrine to dogs ~ 10 Intriguing Things to Do Near Tokyo

Hodosan Jinja is a Shinto shrine to dogs (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Shoot the Arakawa rapids near Tokyo.

Japanese and foreign tourists looking for adventure flock to Arakawa (Kawa River) to shoot rapids aboard a traditional boat. There is no motor, just one boatman at the front and another at the back, each of whom steer with long bamboo poles. Boat rides are typically open March through early December each year. For a more thrilling journey, go in spring when the water is high from recent snow melt. Or, enjoy a more mellow float in fall when you’ll be treated to gorgeous fall foliage.

All ages can enjoy a Nagatoro River White Water Rafting. In fact, my group was seated with an elderly man who had to be carried on and off the boat. I love this about Japanese culture. They don’t let a little thing like age or mobility get in the way of their adventures!

Shoot Arakawa rapids on a traditional Japanese boat ~ 10 Intriguing Things to Do Near Tokyo

Shoot Arakawa rapids on a traditional Japanese boat (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Dine in a traditional Japanese mansion.

Enjoy Arakawa river views while dining at Kyotei, a Japanese mansion. Of course, shoes must be removed before walking on the tatami mats at this elegant, high-end restaurant. You’ll sit at a traditional table on the floor in a room with sliding Shoji doors. The specialty here is freshwater trout, or ayu, mixed with rice.

Excuse yourself from the table for a walk through the beautiful grounds. Slide into a pair of their slippers at the door before getting your serving of zen while wandering the garden.

A meal at Kyotei will long be remembered ~ 10 Intriguing Things to Do Near Tokyo

A meal at Kyotei will long be remembered (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Eat a frosty dessert made from mountain ice.

If visiting Hodosan Shrine and the Arakawa rapids during a day trip from Tokyo, be sure to stop for a sweet treat before heading back to the city. A wee cafe with a lovely outdoor patio, Asami Reizo Kanasaki Honten specializes in shave ice supposedly made from real mountain ice. Top your frosty dessert with a drizzle of sweet bean sauces, or purees made from real fruit. This is the best shave ice you’ll ever taste, I promise!

For the best shave ice of your life, head to Asami Reizo Kanasaki Honten ~ Things to Do Near Tokyo

For the best shave ice of your life, head to Asami Reizo Kanasaki Honten (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Stay at a hot spring bathhouse owned by a sumo wrestler.

For a truly unique experience, book a stay at an onsen, or traditional hot spring Japanese bathhouse. There are traditional unisex baths, but modest bathers should ask for a room with a private bath. I bedded down at Miyamotoke, which is owned by a former champion sumo wrestler. Here you will be submersed in Japanese culture and you just may be treated to a viewing of the owner’s multiple sumo awards and costumes.

Embrace the experience. Choose from an array of borrowable kimonos in a variety of colors to look the part. These are actually yukata, specifically created to be worn at bathhouses.

Meals are served family style, with fish cooked in the center of the main house over hot coals. Sushi lovers will rejoice at the quality and variety of offerings here. More timid eaters (like me) may find the menu intimidating, but intriguing nonetheless.

Ask about the onsite “bar.” Here you can pay extra for a shot of shochu, a vodka-like liquor made with rice and infused with different fruits and herbs. The very adventurous can even try a sip of snake-infused elixir, if you’re not scared off by the serpent coiled within the clear glass decanter.

Instead of a bed, you’ll sleep on a tatami floor mat. There is no TV here. The interesting food, the traditional accommodations, the incredible service and the baths make Miyamotoke a memorable experience indeed. If you prefer more western comforts, book a one-night stay to get the old school onsen experience and then move on.

Experience a traditional Japanese bathhouse at Miyamotoke Onsen ~ 10 Things to Do Near Tokyo

Experience a traditional Japanese bathhouse at Miyamotoke Onsen (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Get a glimpse of old Tokyo in Little Edo.

You can get an idea of what Tokyo looked like at the turn of the 20th century during a day trip to Kawagoe, also known as Little Edo. Tokyo officially became the capital of Japan when Emperor Meiji moved from Kyoto to Edo, which has been renamed Tokyo. Much of Tokyo was destroyed during World War II and subsequently rebuilt in more modern styles. Kawagoe was destroyed in a fire in 1893 and subsequently rebuilt in the Tokyo style. Since Kawagoe was not bombed in the wars, the buildings remain unharmed. Famous for three things, be sure to visit Kawagoe’s famous temple (Kitain), castle (Kawagoejyo Honmaru Palace), and shopping street (Ichibangai). Want some guidance? Book a tour of Little Edo with Viator now.

Get a glimpse of old Tokyo in Kawagoe ~ Intriguing Things to Do Near Tokyo

Get a glimpse of old Tokyo in Kawagoe (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Appreciate the art of Bonsai near Tokyo.

If you don’t want to venture far from the city, or you want to make a pitstop on your way to Kawagoe, take a quick trip to Omiya Bonsai Art Museum near Tokyo. Some of the trees on display are over 800 years old. Made from a wide variety of full-sized tree species, these plants are pruned to create miniature living works of art. The art of Bonsai exemplifies Japanese culture: harmonious, hard-working, meticulous.

Omiya Bonsai Art Museum ~ Things to Do Near Tokyo

You’ll get a whole new appreciation for Bonsai at Omiya Bonsai Art Museum (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

8. Tour samurai warrior homes.

Fascinated by the Japanese samurai way of life? Then you’ll want to visit Sakura, sometimes referred to as Samurai Town. It’s about 30 miles from Tokyo and accessible by train. Here you can visit three restored Samurai Houses located about a 15-minute walk from the train station. These homes once belonged to samurais of different social rankings: low, middle and high. Significant differences in standard of living between the ranks are apparent. Free tours of the homes are available in English, with guides providing all sorts of interesting information about how the samurai fought and lived.

Visit samurai homes to learn more about these Japanese warriors ~ Things to Do Near Tokyo

Visit samurai homes to learn more about these Japanese warriors (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

9. View the first sunrise in the land of the rising sun.

When you think of Japan, images of an oceanfront vacation probably don’t spring to mind. But as an island nation, Japan boasts over 18,000 miles of coastline. Choshi makes a good choice for a seaside getaway. It’s about two hours from Tokyo by train (or half-hour less if you drive). Expect extremely good seafood here, where fishing is the primary industry due to favorable water currents from both north and south. Be sure to order the red eye snapper, the local specialty.

Choshi is a relaxing place to take in the gorgeous beach views. Located on the easternmost point of Chiba Prefecture, many people come to Choshi to ring in the New Year with the first sunrise viewable from mainland Japan.

If you’d like to experience a Japanese bathhouse (with more Western amenities than the one described in #5 above) book a stay at Bettai Umitomori. Great for families, the spacious rooms come with three double beds, a sitting area, small refrigerators and a large dining table. Private traditional Japanese baths offer gorgeous views of the ocean and the Inubozaki Lighthouse, just a short hike away.

Choshi seaside town ~ Things to Do Near Tokyo

Visit Choshi for a seaside escape from the city (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

10. Eat soy sauce ice cream at a soy sauce factory.

Especially if traveling with children, plan a visit to the Yamasa Soy Sauce Factory Visit Center in Choshi. Learning about the production of soy sauce may not thrill the kids, but the on-site tasting room will. Here you can toast your own rice crackers by holding them above little grills with chopsticks. Then drizzle soy sauce over them for a savory snack. Better yet, buy a cup of soy sauce ice cream. Yes, it sounds weird but it tastes like a delicious salted caramel treat.

Taste soy sauce ice cream at the Yamasa Soy Sauce Factory Visit Center ~ Things to Do Near Tokyo

Taste soy sauce ice cream at the Yamasa Soy Sauce Factory Visit Center (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

No matter which of these things to do near Tokyo you choose to try, be sure to explore Japan beyond the big cities. You’ll get a more in-depth understanding of the country and its people. And you’ll experience some intriguing things, too!

Which of these things to do near Tokyo sounds most intriguing to you? Let us know in the comments below!

My visit to Tokyo was hosted by visitors bureaus in Japan but I did not receive any compensation related to this story. This post includes affiliate links. Your clicks and purchases help keep a free resource for readers like you.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says

    Oh my. I would love to do all of these things! We’ve had our eyes on Japan, and the Tokyo area in general, for a while now.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Japan is such a clean, polite and modern country. It makes a wonderful choice for first-timers to Southeast Asia!

  2. Vera Sweeney says

    Seeing Tokyo and the area around it sounds like so much fun! I’ve always been fascinated with Japanese culture. I would love to have the chance to experience everything in this post.

  3. Tripindicator - Travel Services says

    Definitely very interesting! Haven’t been in Tokyo yet but I am looking forward for that moment in the future. I’ve been hearing a lot of beautiful things about this very beautiful country but it’s my first time to hear these very intriguing indeed activities that one can do in Japan which makes it even more interesting to visit.

  4. robin rue says

    My husband was there for a while when he was in the Air Force and loved it there. He talks about going back all the time.

  5. Japan is on my bucket list for sure! I would love to do all these things but the ice dessert sounds super intriguing and yummy!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      That shave ice really was crazy good. I’m ruined for all other shave ices now!

  6. Catherine Sargent says

    Visiting Japan has been at the top of my bucket list for years. I would love to tour samurai warrior homes.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      The samurai homes really provided an interesting glimpse into Japanese culture and history, for sure!

  7. Liz Mays says

    Oh these are some cool ideas. I’m glad there is more to see than the big city. I think I’d have a good time exploring!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I really loved Tokyo but I’m so glad I got to experience more of Japan beyond the city!

  8. So many cool experiences. The shaved ice made of real mountain ice is so unique.

  9. Brianne says

    Tokyo is so on my bucket list! This is such a great list. Hopefully one day I will get there!

  10. Theresa says

    There really is so much to do in Tokyo. Those samurai warrior houses intrigue me, as does the soy sauce ice cream.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Who would think soy sauce ice creams tastes good? But it really was delish!

  11. Sarah @ The Outside Family says

    Haha, my husband would starve in Tokyo! But he’d endure that to tour the samurai warrior homes. Your trip sounds amazing!!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      LOL! I must admit that I lost a few pounds while in Japan (which I was quite happy about!). My travel mates were thrilled with the food, though. There are plenty of more western dining options in Tokyo for picky eaters like your husband.

  12. Amanda Love says

    I’ve been planning to go to Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland but I never imagined that I would love to stay longer to experience all of these. It’s a beautiful place with a lovely culture.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I would love to visit Tokyo Disneyland, too. But it would be a shame to go to Japan and not see more of the country!

  13. Seattle Travel Blogger says

    These look like some great travel tips. I will have to check with my father-in-law to see if he did any of these during his visit.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Some of these were pretty off-the-beaten path but so worth the journey!

  14. Toni | Boulder Locavore says

    This is great! We’ve been to Tokyo but we’ve never done some of these! I can’t wait to go back and try all these!

  15. Our Family World says

    I would love to visit Tokyo! Japan has such a rich culture and looks so pretty. If I were to travel to Japan, the things in this list that I would love to see are the bonsais, the sunset, and the dog shrine.

  16. Louise Bishop says

    I love Japan so much. There is so much history and culture there, it can be hard to sum it up in 10 items.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      So true, Louise! This is just one of three planned posts about Tokyo and nearby attractions. I can’t wait to go back to Japan someday and explore even more of this intriguing country!

  17. Veronica Solomon says

    Tokyo is such a beautiful and intriguing city. I would love to visit there or anywhere near there

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Tokyo’s such a great choice for first-timers to Southeast Asia too – so clean and friendly!

  18. I had to pin this! Toyko is my dream place so very much so will be checking these spots out when I get there!

  19. Nitin Khanna says

    Japan is awesome place to plan next trip with family! Dine in a traditional Japanese mansion really interesting. I just add on Japan in my list.

    Thanks for Sharing!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Thank YOU for your comment. I’m so glad I could inspire some wanderlust for Japan!

  20. Agness of eTramping says

    I love Tokyo and these thing you listed are just awesome, Colleen! 🙂

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Tokyo is so amazingc. Glad you like my suggestions for things to do outside the city!


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