Book a private experience in

    (0 - 12 years old)

    Book a private experience

    Historical day trips around Tokyo: Step back in time

    By Emily Sasaki

    November 2, 2023

    Kanteibyo (Kuan Ti Miao Temple),red torii gate at Nezu

    Hello there! I’m Emily, your insider for captivating historical Tokyo day trips! Born in Sydney, I have been lucky enough to call Tokyo home for the last ten years, absorbing its fascinating blend of ancient traditions and modern marvels.

    Discover Japan's history through uniquely curated Tokyo tours, and embark on adventures that are just a stone’s throw away from the city’s energetic epicenter.

    Join me, and together let’s uncover the remarkable stories and hidden treasures that make Tokyo’s surroundings a rich and mesmerizing journey through the ages. Dive into the beauty of Tokyo, immersing yourself in a whirlpool of extraordinary times and cultures.

    • 1. Kamakura: The samurai city
    • 2. Nikko: A day trip into world heritage
    • 3. Yokohama: The harbor of history
    • 4. Kawagoe: Edo period preserved
    • 5. Odawara: The castle town
    • Last thoughts

    1. Kamakura: The samurai city

    - Leave from: Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station

    - Line: JR Yokosuka Line

    - Approximate travel time: About 50 minutes from Tokyo Station

    View of Kamakura city

    Kamakura, easily accessible for a delightful day trip from central Tokyo, is a gateway to Japan's samurai heritage. This ancient city unfolds stories of the majestic Edo period, with its venerable temples, traditional structures, and the imposing Great Buddha narrating the sagas of a glorious past.

    Embarking on a journey to Kamakura is like traveling through history. Whether you start your trip at Tokyo Station or the bustling Shinjuku Station, you find yourself transported to a place where the echoes of heroic samurai legends reverberate through the antiquated streets.

    An insider's tip is to enhance your visit to Kamakura by downloading a map of the surrounding area or a reliable travel app before your trip. This will help you easily locate the myriad of temples, historic structures, and other hidden gems scattered around the city.

    When planning your journey to Kamakura, ensure that these three attractions top your list of must-visit historical sites:

    Great Buddha at Kotoku-in Temple

    Great Buddha (Daibutsu)

    Taking one of your first-day trips to Kamakura? One spot you definitely can’t miss is the awe-inspiring Great Buddha (Daibutsu). Nestled in the heart of Kamakura, this monumental outdoor bronze statue of Amida Buddha is one of Japan’s most celebrated icons.

    The moment you walk into the serene premises of the Kotoku-in Temple, where the Buddha resides, you’re met with its undeniable majesty. Standing at a height of about 11.4 meters and weighing approximately 121 tons, the Daibutsu is a testament to the craftsmanship of the artisans of the Kamakura period.

    But it’s not just about its size; the Great Buddha is also a symbol of resilience, having withstood multiple natural disasters over centuries. For a truly immersive experience, you can even go inside the statue and witness the intricacy of its construction.

    The nearby locale also offers delightful spots to grab local specialties, turning your visit into a delightful blend of history and culinary exploration. So, if you’re plotting out your Kamakura itinerary, ensure that meeting the Great Buddha is at the top of your list!

    Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

    Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

    The vibrancy and cultural richness of the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is a must-experience on any Kamakura day trip!

    Located at the heart of the city, this magnificent shrine is not just a spiritual center but also a place that beautifully encapsulates the essence of the samurai era. Founded in 1063 and later moved to its current location in 1191, it has become a significant symbol of the city's fascinating history.

    The architecture here is captivating, featuring an elegant blend of Shinto and Buddhist styles. Walking through its spacious grounds, you’ll be welcomed by impressive gates, colorful carvings, and a majestic main hall that speaks volumes of its architectural brilliance and historical essence.

    The shrine is also a vibrant host to several events and festivals. The most spectacular among these is the Reitaisai Festival, held in September, an extraordinary event filled with samurai processions and horseback archery, giving you a thrilling glimpse into the samurai culture.

    So, if you are planning day trips from Tokyo, make sure to schedule a visit here. Not only will it be a feast for your eyes, but it also offers a wealth of history and culture to dive into.

    Samurai holding his sword

    Samurai and museums

    Day trips to Kamakura offer a splendid opportunity to delve deep into the heroic sagas of the samurai era. One can’t help but be enchanted by the tales of valor and honor encapsulated in this historic city.

    For a personal brush with samurai culture, head over to the Kamakura Museum of Literature. There, amongst the serene gardens and traditional buildings, you'll find an array of well-preserved samurai armor and swords, each echoing the profound stories of the warriors who once wielded them.

    You'll find yourself captivated by the legends that breathe life into these relics. For instance, the legendary tale of the Kamakura Shogunate, where Minamoto no Yoritomo’s military government laid the foundations of samurai rule, is a tale that resounds through the city’s historic sites.

    Remember, your day trip isn’t complete without a stroll through Kamakura’s atmospheric streets, where samurai once roamed.

    2. Nikko: A day trip into world heritage

    - Leave from: Asakusa Station

    - Line: Tobu Nikko Line (limited express services like the "Spacia" are faster but might require an additional fare)

    - Approximate travel time: About 2 hours by limited express service

    Grey torii gate at one of Nikko's temples

    Nikko is a testament to Japan's historical depth and artistic achievement. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, its significance goes beyond mere beauty. Nestled in the heart of Eastern Japan, Nikko stands as a preserved slice of the nation's illustrious past, just a day trip away from the hustle of central Tokyo.

    Embarking on a journey to Nikko is a delightful experience. Starting from the center of Tokyo, Shinjuku Station is a gateway to various enchanting destinations in Japan; you find yourself aboard a train that transcends not just distance but also time. It is one of the best day trips for history buffs.

    Shinjuku Station, with its maze of passageways and platforms, teems with the energetic vibe of modern Japan, but as you travel towards Nikko station, the scenery outside your window gradually unfurls Japan’s rich historical landscape.

    The town, with its serene ambiance, offers a refreshing contrast to the capital city's pace, making it a favorite spot for those looking to immerse themselves in Japanese culture and history. The World Heritage status isn't just a title; it's a recognition of Nikko's role as a guardian of stories, traditions, and architectural marvels that span centuries.

    Each corner of this enchanting town, with some spots offering breathtaking views of Mount Fuji, resonates with tales of emperors, spiritual leaders, and the intricate rituals of the bygone era. So, while the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku Station may seem a world away, the journey to Nikko allows a harmonious transition from the vibrant present to the awe-inspiring past, letting you experience Japan's wonderful legacy.

    The charm of Nikko lies not just in its main attractions like Nikko National Park but in its historical monuments and in the way it effortlessly blends the past and the present. Here are some spots that have stolen my heart, and I recommend you visit on one of your next-day day trips to Nikko:

    Toshogu Shrine in Nikko

    Toshogu Shrine

    Every time I visit the Toshogu Shrine, I can't help but feel an immense sense of respect for the meticulous craftsmanship that has stood the test of time. A closer look at Toshogu’s architecture reveals the sheer brilliance of Japan's artisans.

    Every corner of the shrine is adorned with detailed carvings, and as you might guess, there's always a story behind them. One of my personal favorites is the "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" monkeys. 

    They’re not just a photo opportunity; they are a profound representation of life principles that have transcended time.

    Being the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, it's not just any shrine. It signifies the legacy of a leader whose vision brought about an era of unparalleled peace and artistic flourish in Japan.

    As you navigate through the expansive shrine complex, there's more than just history to experience. The ambiance, especially during quieter moments, evokes a deep sense of contemplation. I often find myself lost in thought, surrounded by the towering cedar trees.

    For those planning a visit, here's a piece of advice: Dedicate a whole day to Toshogu; there's so much to see, from the grand Yomeimon Gate, with its ornate decorations, to the numerous rituals that offer a glimpse into traditional Japanese religious practices.

    This isn't just a sightseeing spot; it’s an immersion into a significant part of Japan's history. So, whether it's your first time or a return trip, Toshogu always offers fresh insights, making every visit feel like a new discovery.

    Shinkyo Bridge in Nikko

    Shinkyo Bridge and other nearby sites

    Taking day trips from Tokyo to explore the heart of Nikko presents a delightful opportunity to step back in time. Beginning at Shinkyo Bridge, where it is said legends are woven into its very structure, the journey takes on a color of its own.

    Shinkyo Bridge, gracefully arching over the Daiya River, is more than just a pathway—it’s where you cross into a realm of historical wonder. Legend has it that a divine intervention occurred here, allowing a priest to be carried across the raging river on the backs of two serpents.

    Now, from a local’s perspective, I can say that each season brings a new spectacle; for example, some consider autumn as off-season, but I consider it ideal. The foliage erupts in a riot of reds and golds, making it a photographer’s dream! If you find yourself there in such a season, take a moment to absorb the beauty—it truly is a sight to behold.

    Close by are other historical sites that each tell their own tales. Connected to significant events and figures from Japan’s rich past, places like the Rinnoji Temple and Futarasan Shrine offer not just architectural marvels but stories that have shaped the culture of Japan.

    3. Yokohama: The harbor of history

    - Leave from: Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station

    - Line: JR Tokaido Line or JR Keihin-Tohoku Line. The faster option is the JR Yokosuka Line or Shonan-Shinjuku Line.

    - Approximate travel time: About 25 minutes from Tokyo Station by the JR Yokosuka Line

    View of Yokohama city from the harbor

    Yokohama, a top destination on my list of Japan-Tokyo day trips, boasts a vibrant history intricately connected to Japan's monumental opening to the West.

    Once a small fishing village, Yokohama underwent a remarkable transformation in the latter half of the 19th century, becoming a pivotal port that bridged Japanese culture with the Western world. The city's bustling waterfront is a testament to its historical significance, with traditional buildings standing proudly alongside modern skyscrapers.

    One of my top tips to make the most out of your trip to Yokohama is to consider purchasing a one-day pass for unlimited rides on the city's public transportation. This will allow you to explore the vibrant history and culture of Yokohama more efficiently and at a lower cost.

    As you wander the city center, the traces of foreign influence from the Edo period are palpable, from the European-style architecture to the local specialty dishes infused with a foreign touch. While Yokohama is not a hot spring town, it offers a different kind of relaxation and cultural exploration with its rich history.

    What makes Yokohama truly special is its harmonious blend of the old and the new. For example, amidst its rich history stands the vibrant Cosmo World, an amusement park featuring exhilarating rides and attractions that artistically juxtapose the city's historical essence. Compared to the enchanting realms of Tokyo Disneyland, this theme park emerges as a captivating alternative, granting visitors a distinct blend of amusement and historical exploration.

    Day trips from Tokyo Station or Shinjuku Station via the bullet train get you right into the heart of this harbor city's history. And for anyone considering a weekend trip from the capital city, this is a journey not to be missed. Now, if you're wondering where to start, these are my favorite historical spots to see while in Yokohama:

    Sankeien garden in Yokohama

    Sankeien Garden

    Heading down to Yokohama for the day? Make sure to carve out time for the mesmerizing Sankeien Garden!

    Created by the successful businessman Sankei Hara, who had a soft spot for Japan’s rich culture and historical buildings, the garden unfolds his vivid tales and appreciation for tradition and aesthetics. This isn’t just a garden; it’s a living museum dotted with remarkable buildings from across Japan. From elegant pagodas to quaint tea houses, each structure has a soul and a story to tell.

    But let's talk seasons because Sankeien knows how to flaunt them! Spring parades a burst of cherry blossoms, while autumn flaunts a resplendent robe of red and gold foliage. It’s almost like the garden has a life and rhythm of its own, offering fresh, stunning vistas with each changing season, making it a year-round delight.

    Planning your visit is pretty simple. Catch a train from Tokyo Station to Yokohama Station, and from there, it’s a breezy bus ride to the garden. Once there, wander, explore, and lose yourself in the timeless beauty of Sankeien’s history-soaked paths.

    Before you leave, maybe stop by the café for some matcha and sweets—it’s my little ritual to wrap up a day of exploration!

    Visitors standing in front of the red brick warehouse

    Red Brick Warehouse

    Yokohama’s Red Brick Warehouse is a treasure trove where history and contemporary culture intertwine beautifully, making it a must-visit during your stay. Nestled comfortably by the harbor, it once stood as a pivotal customs building, a guardian of Yokohama’s bustling trade, but has since transformed into a cultural icon of the city.

    The sturdy red bricks echo stories of the past, creating a nostalgic atmosphere. However, it’s not just a short walk down memory lane! The warehouse is now a hotspot featuring quirky boutiques, art galleries, and an array of dining options that delight with local specialties.

    Curate your experience based on your interests. Passionate about art? Dive into the ever-changing art exhibitions housed here.

    If shopping is more up your alley, explore unique, high-quality items ranging from crafts and fashion to delightful souvenirs to commemorate your trip.

    Not to mention the stunning events that are held here year-round! From mesmerizing light-up events in winter to beer festivals in summer, it plays host to an exciting line-up, promising something enchanting each time you visit.

    Immerse yourself in the multifaceted vibrancy of the Red Brick Warehouse, where every visit feels like a new, exciting chapter of your Yokohama journey!

    View of Yokohama city from the harbor

    Smaller historical attractions

    Embark on a captivating journey through Yokohama’s Harbor of History. One of my favorite stops here, and a must-visit for you, is the Osanbashi Pier. Here, not only can you marvel at magnificent ships, but it’s also a spot where you can deeply feel the historic international influences that shaped Yokohama.

    For a touch of drama and a glimpse of the city's narratives, consider attending the Yokohama Noh Theater. 

    Traditional performances here are fabulous tales, breathing life into the old legends and folklore of the harbor town. Check their schedule; it might be the highlight of your trip!

    Don’t miss the Yokohama Archives of History, located near the scenic Yamashita Park. Wander through fascinating exhibits, where detailed displays and documents narrate the city’s transformation from a small fishing village to one of Japan’s gateways to the world.

    And remember, wandering through the old neighborhoods, like Kannai, is like stepping into stories of the past. You’ll find buildings with architecture that narrate a blend of Eastern and Western influences, a testament to Yokohama's colorful past.

    So, explore, immerse, and let the historical narratives of Yokohama’s harbor captivate you!

    4. Kawagoe: Edo period preserved

    - Leave from: Ikebukuro Station

    - Line: Tobu Tojo Line (express or rapid services are faster)

    - Approximate travel time: About 30 minutes by limited express service

    Kawagoe's Time Bell Tower

    If you want to experience a slice of Japan’s past without traveling centuries back in time, let me whisk you away on a delightful day trip to Kawagoe!

    Located just a convenient train ride away from Shinjuku Station in central Tokyo, Kawagoe, or "Little Edo" as it’s lovingly called, is a city where time seems to have paused. Navigating from the bustling hive of Shinjuku Station to the quaint streets of Kawagoe offers a wonderful contrast, taking you from the heart of modernity to a place where the Edo period ambiance is palpable.

    Although Kawagoe is not primarily known as a hot spring town, the tranquility that one might seek in a serene onsen can still be found here. Hidden within its historical embrace, there are local hot springs that offer a peaceful retreat from the walk through time, allowing you to soak in relaxation and comfort, enhancing your delightful dance through the pages of time.

    Remember to wear comfy shoes because you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny of this extraordinary place! These are my favorite historical spots to see while in Kawagoe. Soak in the charm, breathe in the history, and let your journey be an unforgettable blend of history and serene relaxation!

    Kurazukuri buildings in Kurazukuri street in Kawagoe

    Kurazukuri buildings and streets

    Walking through the Kurazukuri streets of Kawagoe is like stepping into the beautiful history and architecture of the Edo period. Each Kurazukuri building stands as a testament to ancient ingenuity, with fire-resistant clay walls and tiles designed in an era where vulnerability to devastating fires was a significant concern.

    To fully immerse yourself in the historical ambiance, consider visiting the Kawagoe Kurazukuri Museum, where you can delve deeper into the architectural marvels and the lifestyle of the Edo period.

    Also, as you stroll through the streets, be sure to stop by some local shops to try the sweet potato treats, a delightful specialty of Kawagoe.

    Enhancing your exploration with these activities will allow the Kurazukuri streets to unveil amazing tales and traditions from the fascinating chronicles of the Edo period.

    Kitain Temple with cherry blossom trees

    Temples and timekeeping

    In Kawagoe, the intricate tie between spirituality and time is ever-present, and for me, each visit feels like a step back through the ages.

    A must-visit is the Kitain Temple. It’s not only a serene place for reflection but also has a rich history. Strolling through its ground, you'll find parts of Edo Castle, where Shogun Iemitsu was born, allowing a rare glimpse into the Edo period's architectural elegance.

    Close by is the unmissable Toki-no-Kane (Bell of Time). For me, its beautiful chimes echoing through the streets encapsulate the essence of Kawagoe's olden soul. You can also partake in an enlightening guided tour that unveils the Bell Tower's intriguing narratives and its role in the townsfolk's lives.

    Don’t miss the chance to explore the Hikawa Shrine, known for blessings of love and good fortune. With a history spanning over 1500 years, it’s the spiritual heartbeat of the city.

    Meandering through the temple's torii gates, you feel a sense of tranquility and timelessness, encapsulating the enduring spiritual and historical ethos of Kawagoe.

    Incorporating these temples into your day trip itinerary offers not just a journey of exploration but a deeply enriching historical and spiritual experience. So, let’s make your next trip to Kawagoe a memorable voyage through time and spirituality!

    5. Odawara: The castle town

    - Leave from: Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station

    - Line: JR Tokaido Main Line. For a faster option, you can take the Kodama or Hikari services of the Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train), but they might require an additional fare.

    - Approximate travel time: About 1 hour 20 minutes by the regular Tokaido Main Line, and about 35 minutes by Shinkansen from Tokyo Station.

    View of Odawara castle at a distance

    Taking a journey to Odawara, nestled a comfortable distance from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, unfolds a remarkable chapter of Japanese history. Easily accessible for a fulfilling day trip, you can reach Odawara from Shinjuku Station or Tokyo Station in less than an hour by bullet train.

    Once there, the small town almost effortlessly unveils its historical charm, strategically significant as a fortress town in the days of samurai and shoguns. Odawara's prized possession, Odawara Castle, is an experience not to be missed!

    The castle town ambiance extends beyond the historical monument, filled with delightful pathways leading to local cafes, eateries, and hot springs. Finding hidden culinary gems in its historic surroundings is one of the best parts of the adventure.

    So, gear up for a journey where each step seems like a stroll through the pages of a rich historical tale, bringing you closer to the essence of Japan's captivating past!

    Odawara Castle

    Odawara Castle

    Odawara Castle is not merely a historical structure but a vibrant epicenter of culture and heritage located in the charming town of Odawara.

    As you traverse its elegant hallways and robust walls, each corner unveils a chapter of its intriguing past. Inside, a wealth of historical artifacts and meticulously curated exhibits invite visitors to immerse themselves in the vibrant lives and tales of its ancient inhabitants.

    Adorned with a stunning tower that offers breathtaking panoramic views, the castle is a confluence of natural beauty and architectural splendor.

    Timing your visit to coincide with the engaging historical reenactments, frequently showcased within its majestic grounds, can amplify your experience, breathing life and color into the historic samurai tales.

    Moreover, Odawara offers an enticing culinary landscape waiting to be explored and savored. A visit to Odawara Castle transforms your journey; it is where architectural grandeur, historical narratives, and culinary delights seamlessly intertwine, promising a fulfilling and enriching experience.

    Bridge in Odawara over a lake

    Odwara museums

    Embarking on a journey through Odawara’s museums is an enthralling dive into tales of battles, politics, and the daily lives of its historical inhabitants. I recommend starting at the Odawara Castle Historical Museum, where the exhibits vividly narrate the samurai sagas and political dramas.

    Next, consider visiting the Rekishi Kenbunkan Museum, where a variety of artifacts from the Edo period are showcased.

    It’s a more intimate setting, allowing for a closer look at the items that encapsulate the essence of life during this fascinating era.

    For a unique experience, the Odawara Art Museum offers a blend of history with contemporary art, making it a refreshing stop to appreciate the evolution of cultural expressions in this castle town. Always check the latest exhibition schedules online to ensure you make the most of your visits. Happy exploring!

    Last thoughts

    Our journey through these extraordinary historical day trips from Tokyo has been nothing short of magical. Each destination, from the scenic views of Nikko to the vibrant castle town of Odawara, unfolds tales as vivid as the landscapes themselves.

    Every corner has a tale to tell, and every tale seems woven into the very fabric of the atmosphere, waiting for eager souls to uncover and cherish.

    Embarking on these day trips is not just about witnessing historical places; it’s about immersing yourself in stories and experiences that have shaped the culture of eastern Japan. It’s a vibrant canvas of adventures waiting to unfold their beauty to every enthusiastic explorer.

    So, why wait? Dive deep into these fascinating tales, embrace the remarkable experiences, and let the past enrich your present on your next round trip!

    Hello, curious traveler!
    Embark on a unique experience with
    Hello, curious traveler!
    Embark on a unique experience with
    City Unscripted Tokyo.
    Our personalized, private tours, led by local hosts, make you feel like you’re exploring the city with a knowledgeable friend. We’ll take you to well-known sights and reveal Tokyo’s hidden gems, unveiling stories typically missed by traditional tours. So unscript your journey, and see Tokyo through the eyes of our local hosts!

    We’ll pair you with the perfect host

    face animation 1
    face animation 2
    face animation 3
    face animation 4
    face animation 5
    face animation 6

    There is no better way to see a city than with a friend who lives there. This is why we carefully match guests with their perfect host based on interested, personality and type of experience so they can discover a city beyond the tourist trail.