By Lindsay Wong
The Kanto region is rich in culture and history, but modern at the same time. It comprises the Greater Tokyo Area, as well as seven neighbouring prefectures, including Saitama, Yamanashi, Shizuoka, and Kanagawa.
Whether you’re looking to explore the Japan of the Edo era, enjoy soaking in hot springs surrounded by nature, or even experience the thrill of roller coasters in the shadow of Mt. Fuji, the Kanto region is close enough for short excursions from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo.
Japan’s capital Tokyo is a popular travel hub with plenty of things to see and do, whether you’re into history, gastronomy, pop culture, or its futuristic cityscape. With its well-established transport network, you can pack in a lot into your itinerary if you plan well.
The bustling area in and around Shibuya is ground zero for shopping and entertainment, and a place where the youth often hang out.
The newly-opened Shibuya Sky is a 360° open-air observation deck at the rooftop of Shibuya Scramble Square, the tallest building in Shibuya for shopping, dining, and entertainment. The panoramic view includes the newly-constructed Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo Tower, and even Mt. Fuji on a clear day. Get your selfie at Sky Edge, have a drink on the 46th floor cafe, or simply relax on a hammock on the rooftop and watch the clouds go by.
Connecting Shibuya and Harajuku, Cat Street – named in honour of catwalks rather than felines – is lined with stylish clothing stores and cafes where the youth hang out. Jewelry brand Tiffany & Co’s opened their first concept store in Japan here, including The Tiffany Cafe @ Cat Street.
For an Insta-worthy photo, order the elderflower lemonade and a blue donut! The cafe only has eight tables and requires a reservation in advance.
Adventurous diners can try Wagyu Otoko Cowboy – a halal restaurant that specialises in fresh meat dishes, like their famous raw assortment of beef, horse, and chicken sashimi served on a staircase-like plate. Don’t worry, they also have cooked meat.
Tokyo & Ginza
Relatively more sedate than Shibuya, the Tokyo and Ginza areas hold pockets of old-world charm, from royal history to elegant shopping streets.
Located underground at Tokyo Station near the Yaesu exit, Tokyo Ramen Street houses eight restaurants that serve a range of different styles of ramen, from miso to shio and tonkotsu ramen with prices around 1,000 yen. Ordering is simple: via a vending machine.
Nearby is the Ginza branch of KitKat Chocolatery, which offers a special cafe menu featuring handmade delicacies like cakes and parfaits, as well as seasonal specialties and limited-edition KitKat creations.
If you’re in the Ginza area, check out Muji Hotel, located just above the five-story flagship store.
A short train ride away is Tokyo Tower – this symbol of Tokyo was once the country’s tallest structure.
These days, people come here for its observation decks, which boast amazing views of Tokyo. Inside the tower is the Tokyo One Piece Tower, a theme park for the popular manga series One Piece; stretching across 4 floors, attractions include a live show.
Opposite Tokyo Tower is the Buddhist temple of Zojoji, the family temple of the Tokugawa shogunate; the mausoleum here contains the tombs of six shoguns and their families. A poignant scene is the temple’s collection of stone jizo statues, some adorned with hats and aprons – they represent unborn children lost to miscarriages, abortions, or stillbirths.
Kawagoe (Saitama Prefecture)
Kawagoe is only a 30-minute train ride northwest from Tokyo, but it literally whisks you back in time to Edo-era Japan. Kawagoe was known as “Little Edo” in the 18th century, where merchants used to live. The town is lined with shophouses and old warehouses which still retain their traditional Japanese architecture, some dating back 400 years.
A popular activity in Kawagoe is renting a kimono (from 3,900 yen); being in traditional attire will allow you to authentically appreciate Kawagoe’s historic look. Once you’ve chosen your outfit – which includes innerwear and tabi (split-toe socks) – the attendees will help you put on the multiple layers of the kimono.
Explore the old town
Kurazukuri (Warehouse District) is the main shopping street of Kawagoe which is lined with souvenir shops and eateries housed in traditional Edo-era architecture, selling delicacies like Japanese rice cakes (okaki) and sticky buns (manjyu).
Nearby is one of Kawagoe’s landmarks is Toki no Kane, a bell tower, established more than 300 years ago, that rings four times a day. There’s a small shrine behind where people pray for good eyesight. A popular destination next to the tower is a unique Starbucks – the building blends in seamlessly with the surrounding Edo-style structures, and even has a zen garden at the back.
The famous Kashiya Yokocho (Candy Alley) is a narrow alley lined with confectionary shops selling traditional Japanese sweets like warabi mochi, rice crackers, and candy. Kawagoe is famous for its sweet potatoes, and a popular snack is imokoi, which is sweet potato and sweetened soy beans wrapped with mochi.
Just north of the old town, the 8th century Hikawa Shrine with its huge torii gate is known for relationships and match-making. Test your luck in love by “fishing” out a fortune-telling sea bream or red snapper omikuji (fortune telling paper) and read your fate (300 yen). You can also send off paper dolls down a river to purify yourself.
Fuji Q Highlands (Yamanashi Prefecture)
Just under 2 hours by bus or train from Tokyo is Fuji Q Highlands – an amusement park located near Mt. Fuji. Famous for its thrilling rides, many of which hold Guinness World Records, FujiQ also houses three themed parks: Thomas Land, La Ville de Gaspard et Lisa, and Naruto x Boruto Fuji Hidden Leaf Village.
Scream your way down Fuji Q’s most popular rides, like the Do-dodonpa (the fastest roller coaster in the world), Takabisha (the steepest outdoor roller coaster), Eejanaika (4D hypercoaster in which both the seat and railway rotate), and “king of coasters” Fujiyama – the world’s longest roller coaster ride at over 3 minutes.
Other worthy attractions include a haunted hospital tour called the Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear, an AI-themed escape game, and Nagashimasuka, a free-spinning raft ride where you spiral down water chutes (getting wet is inevitable).
For lunch, try the local delicacy: houtou noodles – once samurai food, these handmade thick, flat noodles are best enjoyed in a hearty vegetable broth, with a topping of pumpkin.
Gotemba Premium Outlets (Shizuoka Prefecture)
Under 2 hours from Fuji Q or Tokyo is the Gotemba Premium Outlets – a popular discount shopping destination for locals and tourists for 20 years – which has over 200 shops (mostly brand names) as well as restaurants and food courts. A new wing on the “hillside area” with 88 new shops is set to open in April.
The newly-opened HOTEL CLAD is located nearby to accommodate shoppers, located within walking distance of the soon-to-open hillside area (buses currently shuttle shoppers to the mall). More than half the rooms in this minimalist modern hotel – with free hot spring facilities for guests – boasts beautiful views of Mt. Fuji.
From Gotemba, you can easily head to Hakone, a popular weekend excursion from Tokyo, famous for its hot springs, rich nature, and amazing views of Mt. Fuji. Continue here.