Tokyo and Beyond

Greetings from Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)

Most visitors to Japan will visit the nation’s capital, Tokyo. When doing so, be sure to take the time to discover the surrounding prefectures, with each of them offering excellent overnight, or day trip excursions, full of natural and historic landscapes, culinary experiences, and adventures all just waiting to be explored.

Join us in this edition as we venture to one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens to experience the delight of plum blossoms, visit a UNESCO World Heritage site of exceptional natural and architectural splendour, learn about and live Japan’s obsession with ramen noodles, visit an historic Buddhist temple complex located near Narita Airport, and allow us to introduce two of Tokyo’s most recent attractions that opened in 2020.

Before the Cherries are the Plum Blossoms – Ibaraki Prefecture

Visiting Japan for the annual cherry blossoms is a bucket-list dream for many. However, prior to the cherries taking centre stage are the spectacular plum blossoms that should also not be missed. Flowering from mid-February through to mid-March, plum blossoms herald the beginning of spring. One of the most iconic places to enjoy them is at Kairakuen Garden, in Ibaraki Prefecture, which is not only considered to be one of Japan’s 3 most beautiful gardens, but also boasts around 3,000 plum trees of 100 different varieties. The result is a tapestry of pink and white clouded tree tops through which to meander, while enjoying the sweet plum-scented atmosphere and immaculately curated garden landscapes.

Tip:

When in Ibaraki Prefecture take the time to visit the Fukuroda Falls, which are a 75-minute drive from Mito City. The breathtaking scenes offered by the four-tiered cascading waterfall, which has a height of around 120 metres, and a width of 73 metres, will make it well worth the trip. Each season offers its own beautiful setting. Winter, however, offers something truly special as the waterfall freezes to create a stunning ice sculpture spectacle.

Where Architectural & Natural Beauty Dwell – Tochigi Prefecture

Nikko Toshogu is a must visit for those looking to discover traditional Japanese architecture at its best. The elaborate shrine complex includes 55 buildings ornately crafted and beautifully set amongst a deep-green forest. The complex was created as the resting place for the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Its lavish designs and intricate wood carvings are second to none, resulting in the area becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site. Whether a first-time visitor or otherwise, Nikko Toshogu never disappoints. In 2020 the newly opened The Ritz-Carlton Nikko also seeks to excite visitors with its luxury offerings and stunning views of Lake Chuzenji, making it the perfect place to leisurely savour the serenity of Nikko and the nearby Kegon Falls with an overnight stay. The hotel’s 94 spacious guest rooms and suites all feature private balconies to enjoy the surrounding scenery.

Tip:

Tochigi Prefecture is the top producer of strawberries in Japan. When visiting Nikko, be sure to sweeten your trip and drop by the Nikko Strawberry Park. . The park receives many international tourists annually and is famous for its 30 minutes all-you-can-pick and all-you-can-eat strawberry courses. It’s great fun, and delicious, for adults and families alike. Strawberry picking can be enjoyed from the end of December right through to the end of May.

A Historic Pre-Flight Tour – Chiba Prefecture

Visitors from the Middle East to Tokyo will most likely either arrive or depart through Narita Airport. Even while on a quick business trip, if you have three or more hours to spend around the airport and wish to catch a glimpse of historic Japan, a visit to Naritasan Shinshoji is a must. The expansive and highly popular Buddhist temple complex is located in Narita City and was founded in the year 940AD. It includes the temple’s new and former main halls, a three storied pagoda and a huge Tahoto style pagoda, named the Great Pagoda of Peace. The grounds also include a park, which incorporates both traditional Japanese and European elements. Part of the fun of visiting Naritasan is its one-kilometer approach called the ‘Omotesando’. It’s a lively street lined with numerous restaurants and stores, that have been selling traditional crafts, delicacies and souvenirs to pilgrims and tourists for centuries.

Tip:

With easy access from both downtown Tokyo and Narita airport, the Mitsui Outlet Park Makuhari is filled with duty-free shops and brand outlets offering excellent bargains, making it the ideal place for last minute shopping before leaving Japan. It is also conveniently connected directly to Narita Airport by a 40 minute bus ride.

A Giant Buddha & Zen – Kanagawa Prefecture

Less than an hour south of Tokyo lies the historic town of Kamakura, a coastal town in Kanagawa Prefecture that was once the political center of Japan in the late 12th century. With its many historical sites, old residences often renovated to restaurants and cafes, and curated gardens where you can enjoy seasonal flora, Kamakura offers a plethora of sightseeing and photography opportunities, as well as an opportunity to delve into Japan’s early history. The foremost attraction is naturally the bronzed Great Buddha of Kamakura, or Kamakura Daibutsu, which dates back to the 13th century and standing at 13.35 meters is the second tallest bronze Buddha in Japan. As the country’s largest outdoor Buddha, the statue is an iconic sight and one of the most visited tourist attractions in the Kanto area.

While in Kamakura also make a visit to Hokokuji, which is a small Zen temple situated in the Kamakura area and rated 3 stars in the Michelin Green Guide Japan. It is best known for its grove of 2,000 green bamboo stalks. For a small fee of 300 yen (around US$3) visitors can navigate the narrow pathways that lead to a tea house. On arrival, relax and enjoy a cup of traditional matcha tea while soaking up the beauty.

Tip:

When in Kanagawa Prefecture be sure to visit the Ramen Museum in Shinyokohama, which is a 40-minute drive from Kamakura. Displays showcase the variety of noodles, broths, toppings and bowls used throughout the country, along with demonstrations on how the noodles are made. Nine ramen restaurants are located at the museum featuring different ramen tastes and traditions from various regions of Japan. Non-pork and vegetarian ramen menus are also available.

Where Confectionery & Art Thrive – Tokyo

Over recent years the western-style confectionery company YOKU MOKU, has been making a name for itself within the Middle East for their exceptional cookies. The company is best known for their Cigare cookies, which are light textured roll shaped cookies highly appreciated as gifts, or for self-indulgence. First established in 1969, the current chairman of YOKU MOKU, Mr. Toshiyasu Fujinawa, recently opened the YOKU MOKU MUSEUM in October 2020, in the highly stylish Tokyo neighborhood of Aoyama. Through various exhibitions, the museum showcases over 500 ceramic pieces of art created by Pablo Picasso, which were selected by the chairman for YOKU MOKU collection over a period of 30 years, making it one of the best collections of its kind. Mixing art with the sweet life of confectionery, the museum’s “Café Vallauris” serves a limited series of mignardises, or bite-sized desserts, especially created for the museum which cannot be experienced anywhere else in the world.

Tip:

One of Tokyo’s latest urban developments is Miyashita Park in Shibuya. Recently opened in July 2020 as a trendy three-storey complex, it features numerous shops, a variety of restaurants, cafés, and a hotel. A major highlight of Miyashita Park however is the spacious rooftop park that extends 330 metres in length and is complete with sports facilities, including a skate park, a bouldering wall and even a sand-covered court perfect for beach volleyball.

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