Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi

Southern Chiba: Much to explore in underrated destination

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

The Kanto-area, Yokohama, Kamakura and the surrounding Mt. Fuji-area are all popular day trip options if you’re trying to get away.

Besides heading to the airport or Tokyo Disney parks, you may not have considered Chiba as a great place to spend the day. Let Minami Boso, the peninsula in the southern part of the prefecture, with its picturesque landscapes, farms and old castle town, change your mind.

Still not convinced? Minami Boso is also home to Japan’s largest stone-carved Buddha.

All these attractions and more are easily accessible from most of the Kanto by ferryboat or car.

On a fine spring day, my wife and I hopped on the 8:10 a.m. ferryboat out of Kurihama Port. A total of 14 ferries depart from the port per day from 6:20 a.m. to 7:15 p.m., making it a great option if you’re traveling by car.

The fee for a standard sedan with a driver is 3,990 yen one-way (about $36) or round-trip for 7,100 yen. Each additional passenger is 720 yen or 1,320 yen round-trip.

We parked our car on the hangar deck and entered the cabin to enjoy the comfortable sofas and benches. We grabbed breakfast and checked out the onboard shop offering various food, drinks and souvenirs.

Our short 30-minute voyage gave us great views of the busy Tokyo Bay and the city skyscrapers.

When we arrived at Kanaya Port in Chiba, we headed to Takatorigama Ceramic Studio owned by a ceramic artist who used to be an engineer on Yokosuka Naval Base.

Our next stop was “Michinoeki Hota Shogakko,” a refurbished elementary school converted into a community meeting place with various restaurants, shops, an event hall and playground.

We stopped into Satoyama Shokudo, a cafeteria serving up school lunches, in one of the building’s former classrooms.

The décor, with tiny chairs, kids’ drawings on the walls and blackboard took us back to our days as elementary school students. Even our lunch was served on school plates and cups just as if we were students. I ordered the “aji furai” (fried horse mackerel) lunch set for 1,000 yen, and my wife ordered soba noodles with tempura for 900 yen. My horse mackerel tasted really fresh, which is probably due to the fishing port nearby.

After lunch, we headed to Nihonji Temple on Mount Nokogiriyama. Founded in 725, it is one of the oldest temples in Kanto Plain and is home to the largest Buddhas carved into a mountainside. The 102-feet high figure was originally carved in 1783, but was renovated in 1969.

The temple is known for its majestic Daibutsu (Great Buddha) and several other gigantic stone sculptures. But there are other attractions that draw visitors, including Jigokunozoki, an observation platform located in the hills above the temple. It provides a beautiful view of Tokyo Bay, but if you look straight down, it’ll take your breath away as you peer into the deep ravine.

Our hike around Nokogiriyama lasted a few hours, then we drove to Mother Farm.  We didn’t make it in time since it closes at 4 p.m. but we could still see cows and sheep in the fields from a distance.

This 600-plus acre farm is home to sheep, alpacas, horses, pigs, cows and rabbits, along with seasonal flower gardens. Activities here include a sheep marching show, sheep hair trimming, and pig races. While you can ride on a horse and milk cows year-round, there is also strawberry picking and potato digging available depending on the season. The farm has a small amusement park area with a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, and zip-lining and bungee jumping activities. It’s a great place for families!

On our way home, we stopped at Kururi Town, an old castle town famous for its spring water. With pure, quality water, the town accommodates 20 wells and four sake breweries, which have been producing high-end sake for over 100 years.

Visitors can come and sample the different water at the wells around the town. We liked the water at the Sudo Honke Brewery well as it had a smooth and slightly sweet flavor.

Besides the water spots, the streets of this town are a trip back to old Japan. Take a stroll and visit some of the shops, breweries and eateries housed in traditional wooden buildings.

For our trip back home, we took the Tokyo Bay Aqua-line Expressway. The expressway gives an unusual and thrilling driving experience, as it takes you over and under Tokyo Bay via tunnels and bridges. We dropped by a popular, island-like rest area, “Umihotaru”, situated in the middle of the expressway. While checking out various restaurants, cafés and souvenir shops in the parking facility, we enjoyed the night view of Yokohama, Kawasaki and Tokyo lit up beautifully, with some notable landmarks, such as Tokyo Tower, Bay Bridge and Tokyo Skytree on the roof deck. It was a great way to relax at the end of a busy day exploring a new place.

Southern Chiba gave us, in one day, a trip worth a couple of days and it was easy to get to. Next time you’re planning a nice day trip, check out Chiba for an underrated, fun destination beyond the airport and Disney.

takiguchi.takahiro@stripes.com

 

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