Hidden Japan: A Guidebook to Tokyo and Beyond

hidden japan
Hidden Japan: A Guidebook to Tokyo and Beyond by Chiara Terzuolo is the ultimate guide to exploring the roads less trahttps://amzn.to/4acIQGtveled, in Tokyo and beyond.

Chiara Terzuolo takes us on a journey through Tokyo and its surrounding cities, uncovering the hidden treasures lying beneath the well-trodden hustle and bustle of one of the world’s most-traveled destinations.

Onsen
Onsen in Oita, Japan. Photos by Discover Oita.

From tucked-away bars to quirky vending machines, themed walks to secret tea houses, Hidden Japan is your guide to the art of wandering off the beaten path.

There are unique ideas for travelers. Fashion lovers will want to go to Tokyo Kimono Shoes to purchase shoes and handbags made from silk kimono and genuine Japanese leather.

If you crave a retro dining experience, there are suggestions for gastronomic time travel. Nature lovers can craft their very own floral arrangements or Bonsai.

Hidden Japan gives travelers the ability to tailor-make experiences. This is a must-read for anyone looking to explore Japan’s many hidden marvels.

Excerpt from the Book: One-day Hiking & Nature Adventure in Tokyo

After days of subway rides, museums, temples, shrines, and more good food than you can shake a stick at, you might start craving a slightly less urban adventure. No problem: a large section of westernmost Tokyo is part of Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park.

Head to the Okutama area for a bit of rural Tokyo sightseeing and a gentle hike of Mount Mitake. (There are more challenging peaks if you’re up to it.) Make sure to wear suitable footwear, especially if you plan to take on more advanced hikes.

It takes just under 2 hours from Shinjuku Station on the Chuo and Ome lines, then a short bus ride, to get to the Mount Mitake cable car. While you can technically hike up from here, it isn’t particularly noteworthy and takes quite a while, so spring for the 10-minute cable car ride that will drop you off in a little village above the clouds.

Mountains in Japan.
Mountains in Japan.

Mitake Musashi Shrine

The houses and lodgings here are all associated with Mitake Musashi Shrine, built on the top of 929 meters (3047 feet) Mount Mitake and from where, on a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji.

For something a bit special, book an overnight stay in Shukubo lodgings run by Shinto priests. Komadori Sanso is particularly popular, as the priest also offers takigyo (waterfall meditation) experiences!

A little road winds up towards the shrine through the various houses and eateries, where you can get bowls of soba and other traditional fare. Pick up a few things to eat if you intend to do one of the longer hikes, as well as a map at the visitor information center, just in case.

Several hiking trails start at the foot of the shrine’s long stone staircase. For a pleasant, not overly taxing hike that will leave you plenty of time to explore other spots in the Okutama/Ome area, I recommend doing the Rock Garden loop, which takes about 2 hours in total. The well-marked trail takes you down into a tapering, forested valley where you follow a pretty stream to multiple spots with stones and boulders lushly covered in moss until you reach a sacred waterfall.

Japanese tea ceremony is an immersive cultural experience (Photo by Camellia Tea House)
Japanese tea ceremony is an immersive cultural experience (Photo by Camellia Tea House)

Before heading down the mountain, climb up to the shrine to pay your respects. You may notice several dog statues (and people visiting with their pooches). This is because the deity enshrined here is Oinu-sama, the wolf who accompanied Yamato Takeru, a hero from ancient Japanese legends.

Take the cable car and bus back down the mountain, then look for a little street leading down towards the river (it’s between the bus stop and the bridge). This 1.5 km (0.9 mile) riverside trail is well-paved and offers great views of the river and sneak peeks into well-tended private gardens and wooden homes along the banks. Keep going until you reach the Sawanoi sake brewery and the suspension bridge right by it.

Sawanoi is the oldest brewery in the Tokyo area, dating back to 1702. They offer four daily brewery tours that end with free tastings and, while the tours are held in Japanese, they do offer English brochures. Book in advance via their website.

If you don’t have time for a tour, the brewery’s garden and covered terraces overlooking the river are open to the public, along with a counter where you can try their clean, smooth brews for around ¥200–¥500. Get a few varieties, then order a few dishes from the stall next door. Their fresh homemade tofu and fluffy manju dumplings go especially well with the sake and the views. They also have an equally idyllic coffee shop called Shizuku. The restaurants and brewery are closed on Mondays, so plan accordingly.

There are several spots nearby where, with a little scrambling, you can get down to the river. During summer, you’ll see people swimming in the cool, clean water, and I recommend taking a dip. There is a public bathroom on the Sawanoi grounds where you can change. Alternatively, take a stroll over the suspension bridge and stop by the nearby Kanzanji Temple.

Back to Tokyo

Japanese Shinkansen high speed train. Hidden Japan
Japanese Shinkansen high-speed train.

To make your way back to Tokyo, climb up the hill away from the river and follow the signs for Sawai Station, which usually has a train service every hour. You can either switch directly to the Chuo Line at Ome Station or take a look around this former weaving and indigo-dyeing town.

The main highlight is a handful of period buildings and museums near the station, instantly recognizable by the large, hand-painted movie billboards. The Showa Retro Good Museum and Showa Gento-kan Museum are both worth a visit for a bit of vintage goodness, particularly the latter, which features dioramas populated with cat people!

Craft beer fans should stop at nearby Ome Bakushu. This woodsy, vinyl-spinning joint offers an ever-changing array of Japanese craft brews, including varieties from the Vertere brewery in nearby  Okutama and Bright Blue Brewing at the foot of Mount Fuji. They have a beer-friendly menu of burgers and pizza too.

Buy Hidden Japan on Amazon now

Chiara Terzuolo’s connection with Japan began around 2007, and she has been a Tokyo resident since 2011. A creative jack-of-all-trades, she is a writer/editor, tourism consultant, opera singer, narrator, and anchor for a Japanese language program on NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster. Previously, she has published The Vegan Guide to Tokyo with Smith Street Books. 

Justine Wong is a food, book, and lifestyle illustrator based in Toronto. She is the creator behind the project ‘21 Days in Japan: An Illustrative Study on Japanese Cuisine,’ consisting of paintings of 100 meals discovered while she traveled around Japan. Justine has lived in Tokyo for a year and enjoys illustrating for editorial publications, storybooks, and advertising campaigns.

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