The Land of Rising Sun is home to many amazing tourist attractions. You may have been told to visit Kyoto and Nara, or an MWR tour may already have taken you on a trip to Mount Fuji.
According to travel comparison site Travelko, the most popular traveler’s destinations within Japan (as of autumn 2017) include Tokyo Disneyland, Sapporo (Hokkaido), Kyoto, Hakata (Kumamoto), Naha (Okinawa) and Osaka.
Although I can’t argue with the rankings, these sightseeing spots are often extremely crowded with domestic and international tourists. Looking for a hotel room or parking in these areas? It’s usually tough and often comes with a high price tag.
If you want to enjoy one-day trip near your location in a relaxing and less-crowded atmosphere, why don’t you try the following attractions, instead? I’ve visited them several times and see them as great places to enjoy an easy one-day trip. Visit them and you’ll find out why!
KAWAGOE (Kanto Plain)
Called “Koedo” (little Edo), streets lined with traditional clay-walled warehouses, a three-tiered bell tower, a majestic castle and numerous Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples make the town a highlight of eastern Japan. The historic town can be reached in only a couple of hours by car or train from any of the U.S. military installations in the Kanto Plain, making it an ideal destination for a day trip. The town is very tourist-friendly, with its main attractions, such as Kawagoe Castle, classical fire observation tower and “Candy Street,” centrally located and close together. A free parking lot caters to visitors and tourist information centers are located everywhere, providing a variety of invaluable background on the town, including free sightseeing maps. The classic-looking Koedo Kawagoe Loop Bus also enables tourists to access most of the sights quickly and easily with guides available in English, Japanese and Chinese.
NAMAMUGI (Kanto Plain)
Namamugi is home to Soji-ji temple, one of the largest and busiest in Japan. Each of its 26 buildings, such as Buddha hall, bell tower and main hall has a unique majestic look with traditional tile roofs and elaborate black wooden walls. Namamugi Uogashi Dori (literally, fish market street) is filled with countless fish shops where you can buy fresh seafood. The street is very busy from 6 to 10 a.m. The town also has a Kirin Brewery that you can tour and get a free tasting at the end. The beer is fresh and very tasty, and a staffer will teach you the perfect way to pour canned beer into a glass.
SHUZENJI (Camp Fuji)
Situated in the hilly center of the Izu peninsula, the town offers hot spring resorts, open-air bathes on a river bank, elegant Japanese bridges, classical gray-tiled inns and pristine, yet charming temples and shrines. Shuzenji Onsen is considered the oldest of its kind in the Eastern Japan and is listed as one of the nation’s greatest 100 hot springs. All the hot water in town comes from a hot spring in the middle of the river. Shuzenji is one of the best places to check out the gorgeous autumn colors in late November. The colors are great, but the town has year-round appeal.
A two-hour drive west from Misawa AB gets you to Kuroishi, an attractive city that is home to impressive streets filled in traditional wooden arcades, an abundance of hot springs, a craft art museum and Inn of Lamps in a pristine forest. As the name indicates, this impressive hot spring relies solely on light produced from its lamps. Situated deep in the valley, it sure will offer you a surreal, quiet and serene bathing experience. Tsugaru Kokeshi-kan Museum displayed countless Kokeshi dolls, charming wooden folk craft dolls widely produced in Tohoku (northeastern) region of Japan. Walking down Nakamachi Komise Street is fun, as it is home to sake breweries, tasty restaurants, souvenir shops and live music.
Anyone wishing to experience an air of Japan’s traditional and elegant past should consider visiting Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture. A three-and-a-half-hour drive from MCAS Iwakuni brings you to this quiet, calm and conservative city that harkens back to its old-world roots. The streets are filled with old-fashioned eateries and clothing stores as well as countless souvenir shops catering to tourists drawn to the 400-year-old Himeji Castle. The castle is one of a very few to have remained standing after World War II. There are many volunteer guides on hand, some that speak English. In addition to the historic landmark, Himeji offers visitors a classic Japanese garden, Koko-en, and a decent zoo. In all, Himeji not only impress you with the majesty and elegance of traditional Japan, it will give you new memories that will last a lifetime.
The exotic look created by traditional Japanese homes shadowed by gothic-style cathedrals and a Dutch Trading Post with stone port facilities, makes Hirado a great attraction on the Western island of Kyushu. Fortunately, Hirado is only a 40-minute drive from Sasebo Naval Base. You can check out majestic Hirado Castle, which gives you a good view of the whole town and harbor against a backdrop of blue sea and the Matsura Peninsula. The Dutch Bridge is Hirado’s signature stone-made arch bridge over the river between the castle and downtown. The main street is lined with shops, restaurants and cafes housed in traditional Japanese buildings. Walking up a sloping stone path to the Hirado Church, you will encounter a very impressive view of the spire and cross of another Catholic church in combination with the traditional Japanese tiled roofs and grave stones of Komyoji and Zuionji temples.