Tokyo may be one of the most well-known cities in the world but did you know that it is part of a large region called ‘Kanto’? This densely populated piece of land comprises metropolis Tokyo, as well as other prefectures of Japan such as Gunma and Tochigi.
For us, a well-rounded Japan itinerary would look something like this—soaking in the bustling ambience of the city (hint: shopping), a touch of culture to learn more about the locals and their way of living, and the addition of sightseeing activities because we are in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, after all!
From the dazzling city lights in Tokyo to catching a glimpse of the magnificent Mount Fuji, going up close to wild monkeys bathing in an onsen and admiring the lovely pink and white plum blooms at Akima Bairin, go for a wild adventure around northern Kanto and even to the Shinshu region!
If you need some recommendations, here is our detailed 5D4N Kanto itinerary with 16 tips on what to see, do and eat there.
DAY ONE – TOKYO
#1 TSUKIJI TAMA SUSHI
Begin your trip on the right note—with the freshest sashimi and sushi delicacies offered at Tsukiji Tama Sushi. The sushi bar is a mere 10-minute walk from the famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and is one of the many choices you can find along the restaurant-laden street. The fine art of sushi is something we will never get tired of and you get to watch the masters in action.
Hearty eaters cannot go wrong with the standard sushi set (¥1,520) which comes with chawanmushi and miso soup.
#2 GINZA DISTRICT
Ginza is where you will find the young and fashionable crowd because the bustling street is flanked with sophisticated cafes, large shopping malls and big brands.
We paid a visit to Bistro Marx, a French cafe nestled on the seventh floor of a commercial building. Here is where you can watch the locals going about their everyday lives while you indulge in high tea.
#3 MATCHA CEREMONY
Matcha addicts have to sign themselves up for a matcha ceremony at Chazen. The tea master will perform the full tea ceremony for the guests who will also get a chance to try making their own matcha beverage too.
It takes years of experience for the tea masters to learn the tea ceremony rules as it consists of traditional methods that are passed down through generations.
#4 MORI TOWER AT ROPPONGI HILLS
Standing at 238 metres tall, Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills offers the most spectacular view of Tokyo city from the observation deck. Visit during the evening time and watch the grand Tokyo Tower light up against the mesmerising sunset. We promise you this is one memory you will not forget in a hurry.
DAY TWO – YAMANASHI PREFECTURE
#5 SUNTORY HAKUSHU DISTILLERY
Whisky fans must not miss a trip to the famous Suntory Hakushu Distillery where you go on an educational journey to learn more about whisky making through a guided tour. Fun fact: The oldest whisky in the warehouse is more than 74 years old!
Besides getting a preview of the husky production process, visitors can also have a taste of their single malt whisky Hakushu at a tasting class.
#6 WHITE TERRACE
Have a meal at White Terrace, a restaurant serving Japanese dishes and snacks near Suntory Hakushu Distillery. Featuring seasonal dishes that are made using local Yamanashi produce, guests are treated to a delectable meal against the scenic background.
We had the Okemori-mishi, also known as “container rice” that is piled up with sweet potato, seaweed, trout and more.
#7 SHOSENKYO GORGE ROAPWAY
When in Yamanashi Prefecture, you have to go to Mitake Shosenkyo—one of the most well-known gorges in Japan. Take the cable car up Shosenkyo Roapway (¥1,200) and you will be treated to a clear view of Mount Fuji and the Southern Japanese Alps during good weather. Needless to say, this makes the best backdrop for OOTD pictures!
Autumn is the best period to visit as you will get to witness the fall foliage but the panoramic view is, nevertheless, breathtaking throughout the year!
DAY THREE – NAGANO PREFECTURE
#8 JIGOKUDANI SNOW MONKEY PARK
If you are into wildlife and nature, nothing beats watching these cheeky, yet adorable monkeys bathing in the hot onsen during winter. The hike up to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park takes about 30 to 40 minutes but it is worth all the effort when you get up close with the wild animals.
Be sure to wear appropriate clothing and hiking boots, especially in winter as the roads are icy and slippery but there is also a rental shop nearby for those who do not have proper footwear.
Ten minutes ride away from Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, Hakko is a Japanese bar that serves up local dishes that come with a twist. While you may think this looks like your typical western fare, the ingredients that make up this grilled chicken dish are actually locally-sourced!
Go for their wide range of Japanese sake and whisky if you are feeling up for some alcoholic beverages.
#10 ZENKOUJI TEMPLE
This Buddhist temple is so old that nobody knows its exact age but it is believed by the historians that the building was erected more than 1,400 years ago. We were told that there is a secret Buddha hidden beyond the temple halls and it is so sacred that even the priests are not allowed to look at it. Imagine that.
DAY FOUR – GUNMA PREFECTURE
#11 AKIMA BAIRIN
Cherry blossoms may be beautiful to look at but we have found a new favourite and it is no less spectacular. Yes, we are talking about ume (plum) blossoms and the best time to visit is between early to mid March.
One of the best places to witness the gorgeous pink and white hues is at Akima Bairin where the ume trees spread across a large plot of land that is almost the size of 100 football fields! To say that we were in awe of the bright ume blossoms is surely an understatement and you have to see this delicate beauty for yourself.
Okkirikomi is a Gunma delicacy and it is essentially thick udon noodles simmered in miso-based soup. The ingredients are simple, mostly featuring seasonal vegetables but what you get is a humble and comforting dish prepared in a homestyle manner.
#13 KAISEKI DINNER AT A RYOKAN (HOTEL SEIKO)
Fancy an over-the-top meal with your travel companions? You cannot go wrong with a Kaiseki (multi-course) dinner served in a traditional ryokan. A typical Kaiseki meal can comprise more than 10 dishes and they are impressive, to say the least. What you can expect is a combination of appetisers, side dishes, soup, Japanese hot pot, tempura and others.
DAY FIVE – TOCHIGI PREFECTURE
#14 NIKKO TOSHOGU
Japanese shrines are a dime a dozen in Japan but if you are looking for one that will leave a deep impression, Nikko Toshogu in Tochigi Prefecture is the perfect choice. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the shrine is a sight to behold.
There are more than 5,000 statues built on the pillars and walls of the buildings and the intricate wooden carving designs are unbelievable. Some notable ones include the “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” monkeys and the Sozonozo Elephants.
#15 YUBA YUBATEI MASUDAYA
Yuba (beancurd) is a Nikko speciality and you should not leave without trying a Yuba set meal. Enjoy an exquisite meal boasting beancurd prepared in various culinary techniques.
#16 KIRASSE GYOZAKAN
Utsunomiya may be slightly out of the way but if you are heading back to Tokyo, make a pit stop here and try your hand at making gyoza because that is what the town is known for. Allow the chefs at Kirasse Gyozakan to help you in creating your very own dumplings!
Once you are done, the dumplings are pan-fried and you can enjoy them with condiments and soup.
This post is brought to you by Japan National Tourism Organisation.