As beautiful as Japanese gardens are, sometimes I want to escape from city life into the wilderness. As such, here are my ten favourite green oases in the steel and concrete desert of Tokyo. My list is organised into two sections:
- five places within an hour of central Tokyo, which you can visit in just a few hours or half a day.
- five places which would require an extra train ticket and a full day’s trip (or better yet, two or three days) to fully explore.
I hope you have a wonderful time exploring the nature that surrounds Tokyo!
Places for Nature Within 1 hour of Central Tokyo by Metro
1. Todoroki Gorge
Only 20 minutes from Shibuya, Todoroki Gorge offers a ghibli-esque path through a lush, forested valley. The path leads along a small stream criss-crossed with fun stepping stones and bridges. It ends in a small shrine and tea house, as well as a temple with dragon-headed fountains. Todoroki is a great place to take the whole family! But remember, if you’re going in the summer, like all natural areas in Japan, be sure to spray with mosquito repellant!
A traditional town well known for its lovely architecture and giant Buddah, Kamakura also boasts a wealth of hiking trails, winding past temples and leading to the top of small yama (which means mountains in Japanese, although here they are technically hills). From the top of these mountains, you can see Mt. Fuji over the ocean on a clear day! Another reason to visit: Kamakura has a bamboo grove similar to the one in Kyoto, located in the garden of the Hokoku-ji temple. Heading in the opposite direction, Kamakura also has a lovely beach (if you prefer swimming to hiking). From the beach you can also spot Mt. Fuji, as a silhouette against the sunset, like in the photo below!
For a more detailed description of all of Kamakura’s hiking trails and activities you can check out their official site here.
3. Mt. Takao
Mt. Takao is a great place to explore for nature, with many numbered hiking trails in the area. The main one (trail number 1) takes around 90 minutes to reach the summit of the mountain. Near the summit along the path, you will reach the lovely Yakuoin temple. Takao-san is a sacred mountain, and has been a central place for mountain worship for over 1000 years. And, along the same path, there is a monkey park (no need to go all the way to Kyoto!), where you can see Japanese macaques. At the base of the mountain, after a long hike, you can enjoy the Keio Takaosan Onsen, a natural hot spring bathhouse. Mt Takao is an especially great place to see the beautiful fall foliage. Every year they hold a large festival in November to celebrate the changing leaves.
You can find out more on their official site here.
4. The Institute For Nature Study in Ebisu
Did you know that there is a forest growing in the heart of Tokyo? It’s called the Nature Institute, and it’s located in Ebisu, one of Tokyo’s most fashionable districts! Right next to Shibuya, the institute has 20 hectares of lush trees and marshland, and over 130 species of birds, 1436 species of plants and 2130 species of insects! It was once the domain of a local lord, and it shows what the natural landscape of Tokyo might have looked like back in the Edo Era, before it became a city. There are also many seasonal flowers, including cherry blossoms.
Their official site can be found here.
5. Meiji Shrine
Meiji shrine, located right next to the bustle of Harajuku, is not the first place you would think of for nature. But the shrine is actually surrounded by forest and gardens! The Inner Gardens are full of serene natural beauty, with paths winding through the trees, ponds filled with turtles and koi, as well as fields of irises which are splendid in spring.
Places for Nature near Tokyo (Good for a Day Trip)
6. Nagatoro river
Nagatoro river is a beautiful location for outdoor activities, especially river boating, as seen in the photo above. You can also go whitewater rafting, hiking and biking. If that’s not enough, there is a ropeway that ascends Hodosan mountain and an actual steam powered locomotive, to give you a tour of the surrounding countryside.
The official website for Nagatoromachi, with links to all the activities, can be found here.
7. Nikko national park
A short train ride from Tokyo, Nikko National Park has one of Japan’s most beautiful waterfalls, a lake surrounded by mountains, as well as a world heritage site, the Toshogun shrine, where Tokugawa Ieyasu is entombed. In winter the mountainous snowy landscape is amazing, and there are all kinds of winter sports available. In summer, you can go river rafting, fishing and hiking.
8. Hitachi seaside park
Hitachi Seaside Park is amazing from spring to fall. In spring there are a series of beautiful flowers, including fields of blue nemophila, tulips and narcissus all against a backdrop of blue ocean and blue sky. In the fall the area is blanketed in crimson kochias (called summer cypress in English). On the weekend during peak bloom season, the park can get very busy, so it’s best to go on a weekday if you have the opportunity.
The official website, with a calendar of the blooming dates of all the flowers can be found here.
9. Hossawa falls
Hossawa waterfall is located in the Okutama area, only two hours outside of downtown Tokyo! The area has all kinds of outdoor sports, including hiking, rafting, fishing and kayaking. But one of the main draws of the area is an easy hike that passes a tofu stand, a post office turned into a souvenir shop and culminates in the lush, mossy Hossawa Waterfall. Parking is limited, so it’s better to go by public transportation, if possible.
A couple hour train ride outside of Tokyo, the hot spring town of Hakone is worthy of one, if not two or three days of visiting. It has a magnificent lake, wooded mountains and even an active volcano! You can also get a good view of Mt. Fuji from the top of the volcano, where you can also eat black eggs, cooked in its sulphuric waters and said to extend one’s life. With cablecars you can take up the mountainside, a ferry across the beautiful lake (with views of a “floating” torii gate), and plentiful natural hot springs to relax in, Hakone is a wonderful escape from city life.
Hakone’s official travel site can be found here.
Where do you like to go for natural beauty? Are there any places I missed? Let me know in the comments below!
This is a guest article by Marie Kitsunebi, a writer and model living in Tokyo. She also runs a blog all about yokai at: https://www.yokaistreet.com