You needn't travel far from Tokyo's neon-hazed streets to escape the world's ultimate metropolis and uncover a softer side to Japan. The quiet mountain town of Nikko, the seaside setting of tranquil Kamakura and the springtime blossoms of Mito's many plum trees are just some of the highlights on Tokyo's doorstep.
Given that Japan – between feudal disputes and warring shoguns – has seen its capital change hands some 40 times, Tokyo can be excused for its forward-facing attitude. You just have to set foot on Shibuya’s five-way crossing or pay a visit to the fish markets of Tsukiji to realise that this is a city in motion. However, in the breaks between sumo bouts, it’s not hard to find some peace. Even behind Shinjuku’s skyscrapers you’ll find a secret rabbit warren of five-seater sake bars and intimate sashimi counters while wanders in its immaculate parks reward with forested shrines. With hole in the wall ramen joints sandwiched between towering glass and steel, the Japanese capital is a sensual paradox. Look beyond its neon brashness to urbane restaurants, vast green spaces and a storied history.
Tokyo’s national park green lung – is just a short electric train hop away. Chair rides and funicular railways link pretty hamlets, themselves separated by forest-ringed caldera lakes. It’s the postcard-perfect backdrop to ryokans that have hosted erstwhile emperors and international presidents alike. Featuring Mt. Fuji as its backdrop, only sparkling lakes interrupt dense evergreen forests speckled with Shinto shrines, hot springs and luxury ryokans.
Takayama & Kanazawa
Sometimes known as Little Kyoto, Takayama flourished under shogun rule. Edo period streets lead to dark wood merchant stores and back alley sake breweries. In Kanazawa, Recall the romance of feudal Japan in Kanazawa’s geisha teahouses and historic samurai quarter. It’s also the lantern-lit home to one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens.