I still vividly remember the first time when I set my foot in the Land of the Rising Sun three years ago; I paused my step while strolling along the vibrant streets in Shibuya and realised that I am deeply in love with Japan due to its remarkable history, colourful culture, polite people to brilliant innovations, turning this country into my favourite destination to visit not only once, but multiple times.
With its impressively extensive public transportation networks, travelling in Japan is more convenient and definitely safe for travellers from different walks of life. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit this country again and decided to explore three different prefectures using TOBU Railway.
Travel with TOBU Railway
Tobu Railway is one of Japanese commuter railway establishments, which owns a massive network that extends through Tokyo including several prefectures such as Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba with its 463.3-kilometre operating track. Being the largest private railway in Kantō region, this group also has a wide range of properties like theme parks, shopping malls, hotels and several attractions, including Tokyo Skytree and Tobu World Square. There is also a Free Wi-Fi connection available for use at the main stations and facilities managed by TOBU Group.
Browse www.tobu.co.jp to explore more of what this company offers.
Travel companion: With Samurai WiFi by Visondata, I am able to stay connected to the Internet while exploring Japan. To find out more, visit www.visondata.com.my.
Asakusa in Tokyo
From the largest pleasure district filled with geishas and gangsters to a fashionable place to live, work and visit, Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s popular districts because of its traditional Japanese atmosphere. Located in Taito-ku, it is also best known for various temples, shops and entertainment spots. There are also many traditional events held here including Sanja Matsuri (famous for palanquin parade), Hozuki-ichi (ground cherry market), Tori-no-ichi (rooster market) and Hagoita-ichi (Japanese battledore market).
Tip: Besides exploring on foot, you may opt for a guided tour on a rickshaw that will ferry you around and dispense interesting insights about Asakusa.
1. Nakamise Street
Said to be one of the oldest shopping streets in Japan, Nakamise Dori attracts local and foreign visitors with numerous shops and vendors selling myriad of snacks and souvenirs. This shopping street stretches 250 metres from the vermilion-lacquered Kaminari Gate to Sensoji Temple.
It is a good place for travellers to sample a selection of Japanese street food or find traditional items like Japanese yukata, wooden combs, folding fans, chiyogami (coloured paper) and chopsticks. You could also find Japanese’s halal-certified snacks here.
Opening time: Most of the shops generally open from 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.
GPS: 35.717758, 139.796017
2. Sensōji Temple
For temple and shrine lovers, a trip to Asakusa would not be complete if you don’t visit the most famous and one of the oldest temples in Tokyo: the Sensoji Temple. It is an ancient Buddhist temple boasting with almost one and half millennium of history.
Expect to witness many Japanese and foreign visitors coming here to pray. Besides, you can admire the classic colourful Japanese architecture and decorations on the building – carefully look at the temple’s ceiling or upper part of the walls to see Sensoji’s greatest artworks. Be sure to also marvel at the Goju-no-To five-storey pagoda because there are only a few of them left in Tokyo.
Located adjacent (east side) to the temple is Sanja-sama, popularly known as Asakusa Shrine. It is one of the famous Shinto shrines in Tokyo, which honours the three men who founded Sensōji.
Opening time: 6.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (from 6.30 on during October to March)
3. Skytree Tokyo
Being the world’s highest stand-alone communication tower, the landmark Tokyo Skytree soars 634 metres high. You can go on the two observation decks located at the heights of 350 metres (Tembo Deck) and 450 metres (Tembo Gallery) that offer breathtaking panoramic views of Tokyo (you can even see the glimpse of Mt. Fuji if you are lucky).
Besides the stunning view, the other thing that I like about Tokyo Skytree is the interactive touch screen that is available on every observation deck which I can play with and figure out where things are.
Tip: Avoid the long queue by purchasing the Skytree Fast Ticket, which might be pricey but will save up your time. Do check the weather forecast before planning to go up the tower.
Getting there from Asakusa by train: You can take a train from Asakusa Station to Tokyo Skytree Station on Tobu Skytree Line. The ticket price is JPY150 per way.
Opening hours: 8.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m.
Entrance fee: Click here
Nikkō in Tochigi
Located 125 kilometres north of Tokyo and at an altitude of 1298 metres above sea level, Nikkō lies at the foot of Mt. Nyoho in the western part of Tochigi Prefecture. This city is home to lavishly decorated shrine, beautiful natural monuments and gorgeous natural scenery, making it one of Japan’s major destinations. Besides, it is also the country’s third-largest city (by area) after Hamamatsu and Takayama.
Those who love onsen (hot spring), shrine and landscape are highly recommended to visit Nikkō. There is a Japanese expression that goes “Never say kekkou until you’ve seen Nikkoō” – kekkou means magnificent and this phrase portrays how charming Nikkō city is.
Getting to Nikkō from Asakusa via Tobu Railway: Travel to Nikkō (Kinugawa Onsen Station) from Asakusa (Asakusa Station) with Tobu Express SPACIA 105, which takes around two hours. I found the ride was wonderful as I get to enjoy the views of the city and mountains along the way.
4. Tobu World Square
If you ever dreamt of glimpsing into all of the world’s most iconic landmarks but have a budget to visit only one country, you can fly to Japan and visit Tobu World Square in Nikkō, a theme park that exhibits over a hundred 1:25 scale miniatures of world’s popular buildings, including 45 of the World Heritage Sites.
Good to know: The artisans took five years to create the miniature reproductions of the world historical sites including the Great Wall of China, World Trade Center, Taj Mahal and Sphinx. Creating the miniatures require buckets of patience, determination and excellent eye for detail.
Walking around the park was surreal. I was blown away with their impressive miniatures, which are as precise as the real things. The park is divided into five geographic regions, starting with Modern Japan, North America, Europe, Asia and finally Ancient Japan.
Muslim travellers are welcomed to dine at “Heian” Japanese Restaurant to enjoy some of their Muslim-friendly dishes. Besides, Tobu World Square also provides a room equipped with wudhu space for Muslims to perform prayer.
Opening hours: Opens everyday from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (9.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. from Dec. 1 to Mar. 19).
GPS: 36.808003, 139.709721
Entrance fee: JPY2,500 (Adult) and JPY1,400 (Children). Enjoy a cheaper rate when you purchase the ticket in advance.
5. Kegon Waterfall
Up on a windy mountain road, you will see Kegon Waterfall, which is 97 metres high and the most famous waterfall in Nikkō. Most local and foreign visitors flock to Nikkō and visit this waterfall due to its rank as one of Japan’s most beautiful falls along with Fukuroda (Ibaraki) and Nachi (Wakayama).
Tip: Best time to visit this waterfall is during autumn (September to November) where travellers can enjoy a colourful landscape. Expect to see the waterfall freezes over, becoming almost completely solid during winter (December to February).
There are two options for you to enjoy the waterfall view: one way is from the free observation platforms that is accessible on foot, and a paid platform costing JPY550 per person that offers better vantage view of the waterfall, including the cascades below, which I highly recommend because the scenery is ideal for photography.
Opening hours: 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (March to November) and 9.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. (December to February)
GPS: 36.738268, 139.502004
6. World Heritage Tōshōgū Shrine
Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tōshōgu Shrine is an impressive masterpiece located in an outstanding natural setting. This shrine is widely visited among Japanese and foreigners due to its significance as the final resting place of Tokugawa leyasu, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years.
You can wander around this shrine to admire its alluring designs and discover interesting carvings such as the Sozonozo Elephants (Imagined Elephants), carved by an artist who had never seen a real elephant before and the famous Three Wise Monkeys, which can be found on the Sacred Stable (Shinkyusha), demonstrating the Tendai Buddhist principle of “hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil”. Also don’t miss the dazzling ‘Sunset Gate’ Yōmei-mon that is decorated with gold leaf, coloured carvings and several paintings of flowers, mythical beasts and dancing girls.
Tip: Tōshōgū Shrine attracts many tour groups. It is highly recommended for you to visit early in the morning or during weekday to avoid the crowds.
Click here to check on the festivals and events that will be held at Tōshōgū Shrine.
Since Futarasan Shrine and Taiyū-in Mausoleum are located close to Nikko Tōshōgu, travellers mostly go to all three to discover the differences among the three significant heritage sites.
Opening hours: 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (4.00 p.m. November to March).
GPS: 36.757451, 139.599984
Entrance fee: JPY1,300 (Shrine), JPY1,000 (Museum) and JPY2,100 (Shrine and Museum).
Kawagoe in Saitama
Located at about 30 minutes’ train ride from Central Tokyo, Kawagoe is a town that retains the charming culture and architecture of Edo period and has become one of the popular day-trip destinations among those travelling from Central Tokyo.
Locally known as “Little Edo”, Kawagoe is an ideal place to visit if you wish to savour the best taste of the Edo era while being in the central part of Japan. Did I mention that Kawagoe is also famous for its sweet potatoes?
Getting to Kawagoe from Nikkō or Asakusa: Travel to Kawagoe from Tobu Nikkō Station with Tobu Express SPACIA (Kinu 124) train, which takes around one hour and 50 minutes. After arriving at Asakusa Station, simply take a taxi to Kawagoe Station, located 67 kilometres away.
7. Kawagoe Warehouse District, Bell Tower and Candy Alley
Wandering around Kawagoe Warehouse District feels like stepping into the Edo period due to the replete clay-walled buildings constructed using Edo architectural elements. Many of the buildings here survived from the period until today. There are a few restaurants for travellers to dine in and shops to purchase unique Japanese souvenirs.
No trip to Kawagoe Warehouse District would be complete without the visit to the Bell Tower, the iconic symbol of the city. This tower was originally built in the early 1600s, then rebuilt in 1894 after it was destroyed during the Great Kawagoe Fire in 1893.
Tip: Visit Kawagoe Warehouse District during the third weekend of October, every year, to witness the Kawagoe Festival that involves the parading of tall and uniquely-decorated floats through the streets of the city.
Located only a few steps away from Kawagoe Warehouse District, there is a street called Candy Alley, lined by shops selling traditional Japanese sweets and cakes. Travellers are welcome to purchase and taste some of the offerings such as rice crackers, karinto (sugar coated, deep friend cookies) and delightful cakes made from sweet potatoes, which are Kawagoe specialty.
GPS: 35.923997, 139.482777
Gaya Travel extends a heartfelt gratitude to Tobu Railway for making this memorable trip possible. For those who plan to visit Tokyo, Chiba, Gunma, Tochigi or Saitama, kindly browse www.tobu.co.jp | Facebook Page | e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org