Tokyo's filled to the brim with enough stimulation to keep a traveler occupied for weeks, but it's also nice to get out of town and experience a different side of Japan - the quieter, more rural side that can be found within day trip distance of the busy capital city.
Kamakura - Explore Buddhism in Japan
Located 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, Kamakura enjoys a legacy as one of Japan's great religious centers. From the 12th to the 14th centuries, Buddhism spread rapidly through Japan, and evidence of this takes the form of the many temples and shrines — many designated National Treasures — in the area. Perhaps the most famous of Kamakura’s 65-plus Buddhist temples and 19 Shinto shrines is Kotoku-in, a temple dating back to 1252 that houses a 43-foot (13-meter) bronze statue known as the Great Buddha. If you only have time for one day trip from Tokyo, this is the one to take!
Mt. Fuji - Japan’s Natural Icon
Mt. Fuji, rising 12,388 feet (3,776 meters) above sea level, symbolizes Japan on the covers of guidebooks and in the imaginations of travelers around the world. Fuji-san, located 62 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo has been attracting poets, painters, pilgrims and adventurers for centuries, and even if you’re not ready to conquer its peak, taking a trip to see the revered mountain is well worthwhile, especially given the plethora of other nearby attractions, like Lake Ashi and the Mt. Komagatake Ropeway.
Kyoto - Cultural Hotbed of Japan
While Kyoto, one of Japan’s most historic and atmospheric cities, deserves a trip all its own, travelers to Tokyo who are pressed for time can catch the highlights on a day trip on the zippy bullet train from the capital (with views of Mt. Fuji on the way). A typical “Best Of” excursion through Kyoto often includes stops at the 19th century Heian-jingu Shinto shrine, the thousand life-size Buddha statues at Sanjusangen-do Temple and the hilltop Kiyomizu-dera Temple, arguably one of the most stunning in the city.
Nikko National Park - Mother Nature Meets History
While the 200,000-acre (80,000-hectare) Nikko National Park boasts undeniable natural beauty, its biggest claim to fame — and one of the best reasons to visit — is the Toshogu Shine. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was made famous by the novel Shogun by James Clavell, which told the story of a fictional shogun based on a very real 17th-century shogun by the name of Tokugawa Ieyasu. The shrine was constructed in his honor and doubles as his mausoleum.