Exploring the Kanto Region of Japan, Home to the Capital of Tokyo
The Kanto region, home to more than a third of Japan's population, is the driving force behind the Japanese economy and many of its core institutions. There is much to see in this region, including the world-famous mega-city of Tokyo, the leading international port city of Yokohama, and the World Heritage Site of Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine. In this article, we’ll cover all the basic information you’ll need to start planning the perfect Kanto trip!
Sep 21 2021 (Oct 11 2021)
Where Is Kanto?
The Kanto region is located roughly in the center of the main Japanese island of Honshu and consists of seven prefectures: Tokyo, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa. It is surrounded by mountains to the north and west and the Pacific Ocean to the east and south. The Kanto Plain, the largest plain in Japan, crosses over all seven prefectures.
Kanto consists of a metropolitan area around the capital of Tokyo acting as Japan's political, cultural, and economic heart, while the surrounding areas boast flourishing agricultural, manufacturing, and fishing industries. The region covers an area of 32,430 km², which is only about 8.6% of the total landmass of Japan. However, there are a whopping 43.3 million residents living here - around 34% of Japan’s total population.
Kanto has a climate characterized by great temperature differences between summer and winter and little rainfall. It is hot and humid in the summer, with inland areas experiencing especially high temperatures and being prone to thunderstorms. The urban areas of Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kawasaki tend to be hotter than neighboring rural regions due to the “urban heat island” effect. However, there are seasonal northwesterly winds referred to as "karakkaze" (lit. empty wind) in the winter resulting in many cold, dry days.
What Prefectures Are in Kanto?
Ibaraki Prefecture is located in the northeast of the Kanto region. With an area of approximately 6,097 km², about 1.6% of the total area of Japan, it is the 24th largest Japanese prefecture. It faces the Pacific Ocean to the east, Fukushima to the north, Tochigi and Saitama to the west, and Chiba to the south. Its capital is Mito, about 99 km from Tokyo.
Ibaraki is a nature-rich prefecture with famous sites such as Mt. Tsukuba, sometimes considered on par with Mt. Fuji; Japan's second-largest lake, Kasumigaura; and Fukuroda Falls, which sometimes freezes in the winter in a phenomenon called "hyobaku." Tsukuba Science City, in the city of Tsukuba, is Japan's foremost center for research and development and is home to numerous national educational and research institutions, such as the University of Tsukuba and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, as well as approximately 150 private research institutes and corporations and more than 20,000 researchers.
Tochigi Prefecture is in the center of northern Kanto. With an area of roughly 6,408 km², it is the 20th largest prefecture in Japan, accounting for 1.7% of the total landmass. It is an inland prefecture with no borders on the sea, and faces Fukushima to the north, Ibaraki to the east, Saitama to the south, and Gunma to the west.
The prefecture has three major mountainous areas, with the mountains from Mt. Nasu in the north and Mt. Takahara and Mt. Nantai in the west creating a volcanic front. As such, the area boasts ample onsen (hot springs), including Nasu Onsen and Kinugawa Onsen. The prefectural capital city of Utsunomiya, known as "gyoza city," is located in the middle of the prefecture and is about 99 km from Tokyo. The most famous icons of Tochigi include the World Heritage Site of Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine, the Edo period (1603-1867) streets of Nikko Edomura, and the multitude of spots to enjoy nature, such as Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls in the foothills of the 2000-meter-plus Mt. Nantai along with the Nasu Kogen Highlands.
Gunma Prefecture is located in the northwest of the Kanto region. With an area of approximately 6,362 km², it is the 21st largest prefecture in Japan, accounting for 1.68% of the total landmass. It is a landlocked prefecture surrounded by five others: Tochigi to the east, Nagano to the west, Saitama to the south, and Niigata and Fukushima to the north. There are mountain ranges in the west and north, while the southeast forms a part of the Kanto Plain. Approximately 80% of Gunma is mountainous or hilly and much of it is packed with magnificent nature, including highlands, valleys, and lakes.
Gunma is also dotted by volcanic mountains and is known as one of Japan's foremost hot spring regions. Kusatsu Onsen, Ikaho Onsen, Minakami Onsen, and Shima Onsen are famous as the four great onsen areas of Gunma. The prefectural capital city of Maebashi is approximately 96 km northwest of Tokyo.
Tourist attractions in Gunma include priceless cultural properties such as Haruna Shrine, which has a history of approximately 1,400 years, and the World Heritage Site of the Tomioka Silk Mill. There is also plenty of natural scenery to enjoy, such as Oze, a treasure trove of high-altitude marsh plants that's designated as a Special Natural Monument of Japan.
Saitama Prefecture is located in the middle of the Kanto region. With an area of approximately 3,797 km², it is the 39th largest prefecture in Japan accounting for 1.0% of the total land mass. It is a landlocked prefecture bordering Gunma, Tochigi, and Ibaraki to the north, Chiba to the east, Tokyo to the south, Yamanashi to the southwest, and Nagano to the west. It is hot and humid in the summer, with temperatures sometimes rising above 40°C. Every summer, the media reports on Kumagaya City, which recorded a maximum temperature of 41.4°C in 2018 and is nicknamed "the hot city." There are many days with dry, northwesterly winds in the winter. The prefectural capital is Saitama City, which is about 19 km from Tokyo.
Because of its proximity to Tokyo, Saitama is often dismissed as plain and suburban. However, there are actually dozens of deeply historical and nature-rich spots to visit, including Hodosan Shrine, believed to be 1,900 years old; the retro townscape of Kawagoe; and Nagatoro Gorge, recognized as a Place of Scenic Beauty and a Natural Monument by the Japanese government.
Chiba Prefecture is located in southeast Kanto. With an area of approximately 5,157 km², it is the 28th largest prefecture in Japan, accounting for 1.36% of its landmass. It borders Ibaraki to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the east and south. The northwest corner touches Tokyo and Saitama, but with Tokyo Bay, the Uraga Channel, and Sagami Bay below to the south, it is surrounded by the sea on three sides. It is the only prefecture with no mountain taller than 500 m, making the entire prefecture relatively flat.
The prefectural government seat is Chiba City, which is about 40 km from Tokyo. Chiba is also home to Narita International Airport - the gateway to Japan - and has several major facilities, such as Makuhari Messe, Japan's leading convention site, as well as amusement parks like Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, attracting visitors from around the world.
Sitting in the south of Kanto, Tokyo Prefecture is approximately 2,190 km² and the 45th largest prefecture in Japan. Accounting for just 0.58% of Japan, it sits on Tokyo Bay and borders Saitama to the north, Kanagawa to the south, Yamanashi to the west, and Chiba to the east. Tokyo has flourished as the capital of Japan since Ieyasu Tokugawa first established the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo (former name of Tokyo) in 1603. With approximately 13 million people calling Tokyo home, it is the most populous prefecture in Japan and one of the largest metropolises in the world. It is Japan's political, economic, and cultural heartland and the base of most national government agencies and many large corporations, financial institutions, and media companies.
Tokyo Prefecture consists of 23 special wards, 26 cities, 5 towns, and 8 villages, with most tourist destinations, cultural facilities, and commercial areas concentrated in the special wards. It is filled with places to visit, including classic tourist destinations such as Senso-ji Temple, Tsukiji Market, the Imperial Palace, and the youth-orientated food and fashion hubs of Shibuya and Shinjuku.
Kanagawa Prefecture is located in the southwest of the Kanto region. It has an area of approximately 2,415 km², making it the 43rd largest prefecture in Japan accounting for 0.64% of the total land mass. It borders Tokyo to the north, Yamanashi and Shizuoka to the west, and faces Tokyo Bay to the east and Sagami Bay to the south. The northeast area, which is close to Tokyo, is highly urbanized and has a thriving manufacturing industry. The central areas are primarily flatland while the west has a mixture of flatlands, basins, and mountains. The prefectural government seat is Yokohama City, which is about 27 km from Tokyo.
Kanagawa Prefecture is filled with attractions, including nature-rich mountain and seaside areas, charming towns fostering a rich cultural history, and industrial heritage sites allowing visitors to connect with the development of Japan's modern industry. The leading tourist area, Kamakura, is where Minamoto no Yoritomo established the Kamakura shogunate in 1185. Today, it brims with historic buildings such as Tsuruoka Hachimangu and Kenchoji Temple.
Yokohama Port, which opened in 1859 as Japan's first international port, remains as a prominent economic hub and popular tourist destination surrounded by attractions, such as Yokohama Bay Bridge, Minato Mirai 21, and Yokohama Chinatown.
The History of the Kanto Region: Rooted in a Samurai Society
In ancient times, the Kanto region lagged behind the Kinki region in the development of both agriculture and culture due to its relative distance from the former capital of Kyoto. However, power gradually shifted to the region as a samurai society formed around Kamakura and Edo starting from the 12th century. Edo grew in leaps and bounds once the Edo shogunate was established in 1602, rapidly becoming the political center of the country. Its development was spurred on by the shogunate's push to establish Edo as a castle town while organizing the waterways and building the "Five Routes" based around Edo.
In 1968, when the Edo period came to a close and the Meiji government was established, Edo was renamed Tokyo and officially became the capital of Japan. It has since evolved further and continues to flourish as the country's political, economic, and cultural center.
Kanto Region Weather: Hot in the Summer, Cold in the Winter
Spring (March - May)
Temperatures fluctuate greatly in the spring, with the weather often changing every few days. The winter cold tends to linger into March in Tokyo, with temperatures quite low in the mornings and evenings. The days become warmer in April, prompting the cherry blossoms to bloom at the beginning of the month in a typical year. There can still be considerable drops in temperature between day and night, so a jacket or shawl can come in handy. May usually means warmer, pleasant days with high temperatures reaching above 20°C.
Summer (June - August)
Summer brings a powerful rainy season lasting from early June to mid-July. After ending around late July, the temperatures rise and the days become longer. It is very humid in the summer, and temperatures reaching beyond 30°C and even 35°C are not uncommon, so stay hydrated! Sunscreen and parasols are useful against the strong rays of the sun, while a cardigan or shawl can help when the air conditioning is too strong inside.
Autumn (September - November)
During autumn, areas switch between high and low pressure, making the temperature change every few days. Autumn also has the greatest rainfall of the year, particularly from September to October, due to the autumn rain front and typhoons. The summer heat tends to linger in early September, with days reaching above 30°C still common. While temperatures start to drop in late September and signs of autumn emerge, it is usually still hot during the day. However, it can get chilly in the evenings, so be sure to carry an outer layer. Autumn weather intensifies around late October when the foliage begins to turn in Tokyo. Temperatures here are pleasant with little difference in daily highs and lows, making it perfect for sightseeing. Daytime temperatures tend to drop considerably from November, so don’t neglect to pack a sweater and coat if visiting during this time!
Winter (December - February)
Winter brings many cold, dry days. However, with a pattern of high pressure to the west and low to the east, there are also many pleasant and sunny winter days in Kanto. When winter really takes hold in December, temperatures drop dramatically and there can sometimes even be snow. January is the coldest month of the year and the days are also short. While February remains cold, temperatures start to rise at the end of the month, with the occasional warm day teasing the coming spring.
The "haru-ichiban" (lit. first of the spring; the first strong southerly winds between February 4 and March 21), which announces the arrival of spring, usually begins to blow in February. There can be strong eddies of wind around many of the high rises of Tokyo, so be sure to protect yourself with cold weather gear such as a heavy coat, scarf, and gloves. While it is cold and dry outside, it can be quite warm inside due to heating, so you may want to wear light inner clothes with a heavy coat or layers that are easy to take on and off.
The table below shows the average temperatures and rainfall in the prefectural capitals of Kanto. Use it to help make the perfect Kanto itinerary!
Access From Tokyo Station
How to Reach Major Tourist Destinations From Tokyo Station
Kanto has a highly developed transport network, making it super easy to get anywhere by train. Below is a rough guide on how to get to some major Kanto tourist destinations from Tokyo Station.
There are numerous trains travelling between JR Yokohama Station and JR Tokyo Station, including the JR Tokaido Line, JR Yokosuka Line, and JR Keihin-Tohoku Line. It takes about 25 minutes and costs 480 yen on the JR Tokaido Line.
Nikko, a popular tourist spot, can be reached using the JR Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) and the JR Nikko Line. It takes about an hour and 40 minutes and the fare will be somewhere between 3,000 yen and 5,000 yen.
Tokyo Disney Resort
JR Maihama Station, the local station for Tokyo Disney Resort, can be directly reached from Tokyo Station on the JR Keiyo Line. It takes just 15 minutes and the fare is 220 yen.
As you can see, the Kanto region has a lot to offer, including the bustling, culturally rich metropolises of Tokyo and Yokohama alongside numerous gems of gorgeous natural wonder. Use this guide as a base and start discovering the charm of this fun, diverse, and super convenient region!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.