Nature or City? How to Enjoy Your Nights and Mornings in Kanagawa
Kanagawa is a 24/7 prefecture with fun things to do both in the early morning and late at night. To show some of the great things it has to offer travelers, one of our American writers took a long weekend to travel around his home prefecture of Kanagawa, spending a night in Hakone near Mt. Fuji to soak in the beautiful natural surroundings, as well as a night in the glamorous Yokohama to enjoy the bustle and fun of the big city. Read this article to see a comparison of the morning and nighttime activities you can do in both places if you stay overnight, and let us know which sounds more fun to you - staying in Kanagawa's nature or city?
Feb 22 2023
*This article was written in collaboration with Kanagawa Prefecture.
Where Is Kanagawa?
Kanagawa is the prefecture that sits to the south of Tokyo, stretching from Tokyo Bay all the way nearly to Mt. Fuji. It is a prefecture that truly has it all: mountains, beaches, hot springs, important ancient cities, easy access to Haneda International Airport, and Japan's second largest city Yokohama. It's no wonder that Kanagawa consistently ranks as one of the most popular prefectures to live in all of Japan.
I highly recommend Kanagawa as a place that travelers to Japan should spend a few nights in during their trip! I love my prefecture and enjoy introducing people to great places in it, which is why I was excited to get the chance to write this article. You definitely won't regret spending a few days in a place like Kanagawa, especially because it is so easy to access from the airport!
Comparing Kanagawa's Nature vs. City: Recommended Things to Do in Hakone, Kanagawa's Famous Onsen Retreat Surrounded By Nature
Located not far from Mt. Fuji, Hakone is one of Japan's famous onsen retreats that is also one of the easiest to access from Tokyo. The area is home to the "17 Hot Springs of Hakone," each surrounded with ryokan inns and hotels offering visitors a peaceful place to retreat and soak in the beautiful natural scenery.
How to Spend Your Evenings in Hakone
Most people come to Hakone to relax and do some leisurely sightseeing, which is exactly what I did during my evening here. Although it gets dark very early in the autumn (around 4:30 pm), I was able to visit a couple of spots offering seasonal illuminations that allowed me to enjoy being outdoors just as long as if it were summer or spring.
See the Twinkling Lights of the Hakone no Mori Venetian Glass Museum at Dusk
The Hakone Glass no Mori Venetian Glass Museum is a unique museum that was the first in Japan to specialize in Venetian glass. More than just a museum, the large facility also features a sprawling garden with large glass artwork displays, a sweets shop replete with a picturesque water mill, a studio where guests can etch designs into glassware to take home as souvenirs, a gift shop selling a dizzying amount of glass objects, and a restaurant with sweeping views of the picturesque grounds.
The museum is normally open until 5:30 pm, but during the holiday season (November and December), it's open an extra hour so that visitors can enjoy the special seasonal decorations that light up the garden. I arrived just before sunset, so I got to enjoy the growing beauty of the scenery as the dusk turned to darkness.
The impressive exhibits of glass art inside the museum also can't be missed. The curated collection includes both antique Venetian glass pieces brought over from Venice, as well as modern works of glass art by Japanese and international artists alike.
Take a Nighttime Stroll Through a Japanese Garden
Another place that offers evening illuminations during autumn is Sangetsuen Garden, a sprawling Japanese garden located within the grounds of Yoshiike Ryokan. It is open to the public, and is a popular place where people can enjoy strolling around a large pond with classic Japanese garden features such as miniature islands and hills, foot bridges, and a traditional tea house.
The garden usually closes at sunset but is open until 10:00 pm (last entry at 9:30 pm) during the autumn foliage illumination event held from mid-November to mid-December each year. The light-up was beautiful and offered a rare chance to soak in the surreal beauty of the garden in the dark.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel de Yama
As it is one of the most popular sightseeing spots for people in the Kanto area, Hakone is filled with outstanding hotels and ryokan. There are many factors you'll want to consider when choosing a place to stay, be it the ease of access, proximity to attractions, availability of private onsen baths, price, or food service. For me, I knew I wanted:
1. To visit the popular "power spot" Hakone-jinja Shrine early in the morning (I'll explain why going early is important below!)
2. An excellent "kaiseki" full-course Japanese dinner
3. A hotel with extensive grounds where I could enjoy walking around to soak in the natural scenery
The place that ticked all these boxes was Hotel de Yama, a historic hotel located just a few minutes' walk away from Hakone Shrine. What makes the historic hotel so wonderful is its outstanding location overlooking the tranquil Lake Ashi from atop a hill. The expansive grounds feature several winding paths that take you past ever-changing views of the lake, hotel, manicured gardens, and lush mountainside wilderness. The grounds are particularly beautiful in May, when the rhododendrons are in full bloom, but in autumn, too, the Japanese maples on the grounds come alive with bright fall colors.
The food at the hotel's Japanese restaurant Tsutsuji no Chaya is outstanding, and definitely shouldn't be missed. "Kaiseki" cuisine is Japanese fine dining that people look forward to when staying at a ryokan or resort hotel like Hotel de Yama. Tsutsuji no Chaya serves a delicious and beautifully-presented Japanese-style meal that can be enjoyed while looking out at the serene Lake Ashi and the mountains of Hakone.
From among the courses served, I was particularly impressed with the appetizer plate that featured 8 different bite-sized morsels of deliciousness, as well as the broiled course, which featured teriyaki yellowtail with a crispy mesh of enoki mushrooms adding crunch on the top. The menu changes each month based on what's in season, but you can be sure that you will get something delicious each time you go.
How to Spend Your Mornings in Hakone
Bask in the Spiritual Energy of Hakone-jinja Shrine in the Morning
Hakone-jinja Shrine is one of the most iconic places in Hakone and a must-visit for anyone staying in the area. Its large torii gate standing in the lake also happens to be one of the most famous Instagram spots in all of Japan. You can expect to wait more than an hour in line just to snap a photo if you visit during midday, which is why I recommend staying overnight nearby (hence choosing Hotel de Yama). Afterwards, be sure to climb up the ancient stone steps to visit the main shrine itself.
Hakone-jinja Shrine was founded more than 1,200 years ago in the year 757 and has been worshiped as the main guardian shrine of the entire Kanto region. Thanks to its location along the Tokaido - the ancient road that connected Kyoto to Edo (former name for Tokyo) - the shrine was visited by countless travelers through the years and gained many devotees, including many of Japan's most famous figures from the samurai class. The grounds are filled with giant trees that are as old as the shrine itself, and the entire area has a palpably spiritual atmosphere.
Also right next to Hakone-jinja Shrine is Kuzuryu Shrine, a shrine devoted to a nine-headed dragon god that protects Lake Ashi. Be sure to write a wish on one of the special papers available and place it into the designated fountain where it will wash down into the lake to deliver your message directly to the dragon god who lives there!
2 Recommended Breakfast Spots to Feel Hakone's Nature
1. Eat Scrumptious Pastries While Soaking in a Foot Bath at Bakery&Table Hakone
Just a short walk down the path from Hakone-jinja Shrine near the pier where the pirate ships depart (there really are pirate ships sailing across the lake!) is a delicious bakery with a cafe and restaurant called Bakery&Table. Behind the counter, you'll find rows and rows of scrumptious breads, pastries, and donuts.
There are indoor seats in the cafe on the second floor and restaurant on the third floor with large windows looking out onto the lake. While you munch on a pastry, enjoy watching the coming and going of the ships as they sail across the lake. There's also an outdoor seating area with a foot bath that is perfect for enjoying the scenery while you eat.
Sip on a matcha latte and indulge in a variety of pastries while enjoying the contrast of the hot water on your feet and crisp air on your face. Everything there is delicious, but I have to recommend that anyone who comes try the savory curry pan (fried bread filled with curry). I've had my fair share of curry pan at various bakeries across Japan, but this one was particularly outstanding as it was filled with a whole hard-boiled egg in the middle and crispy toasted rice on the outside for textural contrast!
2. Eat a Proper Breakfast Featuring a Famous Local Ingredient
I love to eat local specialties wherever I travel, and in Hakone, one of the local specialties is "jinenjo," a wild yam that is harvested in the area. From early in the morning, jinenjo can be enjoyed in a variety of foods, several of which can be enjoyed at a restaurant called Yamagusuri.
Jinenjo is the only variety of yam native to Japan and has been loved by Japanese people as a nourishing food with high nutritional value since ancient times. Yamagusuri's jinenjo is known for its rich and sticky texture and can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes. The jinenjo "tororo" (yam paste) is umami-filled, thick, and nourishing, and makes for a very satisfying breakfast served over rice. It's definitely something I recommend trying.
Great Things to Do Any Time of the Day in Hakone
Experience Japanese Culture and Art at Gora Park
Located on a steep hillside, Gora Park is not only a beautiful place to stroll around while taking in the seasonal plants and flowers set against the mountainous backdrop, but it is also a place where guests can enjoy hands-on activities and traditional Japanese culture such as pottery-making and tea ceremonies.
Inside the park is a fantastic Japanese tea garden called Hakuun-do where you can experience a Japanese tea ceremony. Enjoy a bowl of matcha and a confectionary while enjoying the tranquil ambiance of a tea garden with more than 100 years of history.
I also recommend the handicraft workshop called CRAFTHOUSE. Here you can try your hand at glass blowing, craft an original piece on the pottery wheel, or cut designs into a colored glass to make your own original "kiriko". It's a great way to make memories while crafting a totally unique souvenir to bring home.
Ride Up to Owakudani to See the Surreal Volcanic Scenery at the Source of Hakone's Hot Spring Water
When in Hakone you'll most definitely not want to miss seeing the popular sightseeing spot called Owakudani, which is at the source of Hakone's hot spring water. You can get there by riding the cable car and ropeway that runs up and down Mt. Hakone.
The cable car and ropeway meet at Sounzan, a station partway up the mountain with a cafe and shop inside called Cu-mo which serves cloud-inspired treats and drinks. After enjoying some refreshments while soaking in the foot bath where you can take in the view "in the clouds," continue on to the ropeway to ascend to the top of the mountain.
As you climb up to Owakudani Station, the air becomes filled with the sulfurous smell of Hakone's famous onsen water. Actually, hot spring water is made here by pumping spring water out of the ground and infusing it with the minerals found in the volcanic gasses. Several of the onsen resorts in town actually get their onsen water sent directly from Owakudani down the mountainside through large pipes, and if you look down from the cable car, you can see workers below busy maintaining the infrastructure.
The surreal landscape is definitely cool to see, but Owakudani's true claim to fame are the pitch black hard-boiled eggs that are made there by cooking the eggs directly in the scalding onsen water. Local legend has it that eating one of the black eggs will add 7 years to your life, so they make for very popular souvenirs, as well as the countless other black egg-themed sweets, snacks, and knicknacks available in the gift shop there. Be sure to give them a try.
Check Out a Stunning View of Mt. Fuji From the Narukawa Art Museum
Perched atop a hill with a panoramic view of Lake Ashi and Mt. Fuji, the Narukawa Art Museum is well worth a visit as it is also home to the largest collection of "Nihonga" Japanese-style paintings in the world, with around 4,000 pieces in its collection.
I was unfortunate enough to come on a day when the clouds completely obscured Mount Fuji, but there were several paintings on display in the museum featuring the majestic mountain, including one painted while taking in that exact view, so I could see how stunning it would normally be.
A Must-See Stop In Between Hakone and Yokohama: Odawara Castle
Getting to and from Hakone will take you through Odawara, a historic town with a beautifully-preserved castle that is definitely worth a visit. The shinkansen also stops at Odawara, so you can casually stop by on a trip between Tokyo and Osaka or Kyoto.
Odawara Castle is the symbol of Odawara and is thought to have been constructed during the "Sengoku" (Warring States) period in the mid-15th century. Today, the inside of the castle features a museum with exhibits about the castle's history and an observation deck offering sweeping views of the city and the ocean. The castle grounds are filled with beautiful seasonal flowers and blooming cherry and plum trees, and you can even rent samurai or ninja costumes, making for a great photo op!
Comparing Kanagawa's Nature vs. City: Recommended Things to Do in Yokohama, Japan's Classiest Major City
Yokohama is one of Japan's largest cities and is filled with fun places to visit. Among Japanese people, Yokohama is consistently ranked as one of the most desirable places to live, and it's easy to see why. Getting around is a breeze, and there are so many unique parks, attractions, and delicious food to eat.
How to Spend Your Evenings in Yokohama
2 Recommended Places to Enjoy a Delicious Dinner
1. Bar Hop Like a Local in the Noge Area
Located in the central part of the city, Noge is Yokohama's most famous drinking area, filled with several hundred Japanese-style drinking establishments. It is a popular place with a retro atmosphere where Yokohama locals come to enjoy a night of bar-hopping.
There are so many bars and restaurants to choose from that it can be overwhelming at first, but I recommend wandering around and casually walking into a place that looks good or has a delicious smell wafting out into the street. There is a lot of food to try, but be sure to find a place serving "yakitori" (grilled chicken skewers) and one serving sashimi. Yokohama has a great seafood market, so it's possible to get some really fresh sashimi at the restaurants here.
When I was there, I started by enjoying some great yakitori and delicious shochu at a yakitori restaurant. Next, I headed to an izakaya where I indulged in some outstanding sashimi and sake. Bar hopping like this is called "hashigozake" in Japanese, and Noge is truly the perfect place to enjoy this Japanese drinking culture. Each establishment in Noge has a different specialty for both food and alcohol, so be sure to stop in at many different spots to experience a range of delicious delicacies and drinks!
2. Indulge in Sustainable Japanese Cuisine at Kijima
One of the places I recommend dining at while in Yokohama is a restaurant called Kijima that offers amazing seafood cuisine and has a philosophy of incorporating sustainable principles into the world of Japanese food.
Kijima uses seafood produced by sustainable fishing methods and meat from animals raised with animal welfare in mind. They also use seasonings that are safe, sustainable, and free from additives and colorings, placing an emphasis on the deliciousness and freshness of the ingredients themselves.
See squid sashimi that is so fresh, its skin is still changing color!
Be sure to try the restaurant's specialty "Umisachi Mori," which features a platter of sashimi of fish that are kept in a live tank until the moment the order is placed. I guarantee you've never had so much sashimi this fresh before!
The interior of the restaurant is styled after a traditional Japanese "kura" storehouse and is another aspect that makes Kijima special. The warmth of the Japanese atmosphere is extremely comfortable and perfect for a memorable meal during your trip.
Enjoy Yokohama's Varied Night Scenery
1. See the City Lights from Above at the Yokohama Marine Tower
One of Yokohama's landmarks, the Marine Tower lights up the sky near Osanbashi Terminal and Yokohama Chinatown. The 106-meter tower was originally built in 1961 to commemorate the port's 100th anniversary and was fitted as a lighthouse. It was recently renovated from head to foot and reopened in 2022 with new restaurants and cafes, a stylish bar, gift shop selling local Yokohama souvenirs, and a reimagined observation deck.
The observation deck offers fabulous views of the port and the famous Yokohama nighttime skyline, which is complemented by a modern media art installation that adds a surreal atmosphere to the room as you gaze out to the vast city below.
2. Get Immersed in a Seasonal Light Display
Japan loves its so-called "illuminations," or seasonal light-up displays, of which Yokohama has its fair share. One of the cool ones I visited on this trip was a seasonal light and sound art display called yorunoyo, which is a seasonal winter art illumination event located in a part of the bay area where historical buildings such as the Red Brick Warehouse are located.
The main part of the display is located in the Shinko Chuo Square, with a giant dome of lights called the "CROSS DOME" as the centerpiece. The illumination has a very futuristic vibe, with synth music reminiscent of outer space softly playing and geometric objects and "portals" made from color-changing light.
The exciting part comes every 30 minutes, however, when many of the surrounding skyscrapers and other buildings light up for a special moving display in sync with the lights of yorunoyo! If you can, walk over to the Osanbashi Terminal (introduced later), which is the prime viewing spot where you can take in the whole scene.
3. Ride the Yokohama Air Cabin Past the Lights of Downtown
One of the newer sights in the Yokohama skyline is the Yokohama Air Cabin, Japan's first urban looping ropeway. Just like a gondola climbing up a ski lift, the 5-minute ride ferries riders between Sakuragicho Station and portside Unga Park, surrounded by many of the city's most iconic buildings at 40 meters in the air. You can, of course, ride during the day, but nighttime is particularly special, as Yokohama is known for its nighttime scenery, which can be enjoyed from a unique perspective up close from the Air Cabin cars, which also light up themselves.
4. See a Japanese Garden with Ancient Buildings from Across Japan Lit Up at Sankeien Garden
One of urban Yokokama's more unexpected spots that is definitely worth a visit is a large garden called Sankeien. One of the things that makes it so unique are the 17 traditional Japanese buildings found inside, 10 of which are nationally designated as important cultural properties, and 3 of which are designated as important cultural buildings by the city of Yokohama.
Most of these buildings were gathered by Sankei, the founder of the garden, from older places in Japan such as Kyoto and Kamakura, and carried here to Yokohama, where they were reconstructed in this garden. Most were scheduled to be demolished or in dire need of repair, so being able to see them in their full glory makes you appreciate Sankei's deep dedication to the preservation of Japanese art and culture. The garden is also filled with seasonal plants and trees such as plum trees and maples, so taking a relaxing stroll around the greenery of the garden will make you completely forget that you're in the middle of a large metropolis.
One of the best times to visit the garden is during autumn, when a special autumn foliage light-up event is held from late November to late-December. During this period, the park's opening hours are extended into the evening, and many visitors flock to the park to see the buildings and foliage lit up in a spectacular manner.
Recommended Hotel: Oakwood Suites Yokohama
If you want a hotel with an unbeatable view and convenient location for getting around to all of Yokohama's sightseeing spots, check out Oakwood Suites Yokohama. The apartment-style hotel is located on the upper floors of Yokohama's tallest residential building, making for gorgeous unobstructed views from every room in the hotel.
Each room features a kitchenette, so you can of course cook your own meals, but the restaurant Kijima introduced above also happens to be located on the second floor of the same building, making it very convenient if you plan to have dinner there, and Noge Alley is within easy walking distance, so you'll have no shortage of dining options. The Bashamichi subway station is also connected to the building, making it a breeze to get to Yokohama Station or Japan's largest Chinatown.
How to Spend Your Mornings in Yokohama
Take a Morning Stroll Through the Osanbashi Yokohama International Passenger Terminal
The best way to enjoy Yokohama in the morning is by taking a walk along the waterfront. As you walk along the port, you'll notice a peculiar pier with wooden decks that almost looks like an enormous whale.
This is actually the Osanbashi Terminal, Yokohama's international terminal for cruise ships that sail in and out from around the world. As you can enjoy 360-degree views of Yokohama's famous landmarks from above the water and even catch glimpses of Mt. Fuji on a fair weather day, it is a popular place for locals to enjoy a morning jog or walk. If you want to take in the view without crowds of people, I recommend going early in the morning, as it is a fantastic place to snap pictures of downtown Yokohama's skyline while leisurely strolling in the fresh sea breeze.
Grab a Coffee Under the Yellow Ginkgo Trees of Nihon-Odori Street
Not far from the Osanbashi Terminal is a famous boulevard lined with ginkgo trees called Nihon-Odori that turns a vibrant shade of yellow each autumn. If you're lucky enough to visit during peak foliage time (typically between late November and early December), It is a lovely place to take a morning stroll and snap a few pictures of the iconic autumn Yokohama scene.
Near one end of the boulevard are several street side cafes, including one that is open from early in the morning called gooz, which is actually more of a convenience store. gooz offers a variety of excellent grab-and-go options including bread baked in-house, hand-made onigiri and bento boxes, and freshly-brewed coffee roasted in-house.
Sitting outside in the street is a great way to start an early morning and take in the lovely autumn scenery.
Great Things to Do Any Time of the Day in Yokohama
Get Inspired at the CUPNOODLES MUSEUM YOKOHAMA (The Momofuku Ando Story)
If you're staying in Yokohama, you can't miss a visit to the CUPNOODLES MUSEUM YOKOHAMA. Instant ramen noodles are now ubiquitous around the world, but they were invented in Japan by Momofuku Ando, who created Nissin, the company behind Chikin Ramen, CUPNOODLES, and many other famous instant noodle brands.
The CUPNOODLES MUSEUM YOKOHAMA is an interactive museum that teaches about the importance of invention and discovery through a variety of exhibits and hands-on activities. Not only can you learn about Momofuku Ando's approach to thinking outside of the box, but you can also make your own original CUPNOODLES to take home, and buy exclusive CUPNOODLES-themed items in the gift shop.
Be sure to visit hungry so that you can enjoy the noodle dishes, which come in small portions that allow you to try several types, as well as the CUPNOODLES-flavored ice cream!
Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse - Perfect for Shopping or a Break!
Another iconic Yokohama sightseeing spot that I would be remiss to mention is the Red Brick Warehouse, which is located in a spot with a scenic ocean atmosphere. The warehouse has a long history stretching back more than 100 years and retains a wonderful retro vibe to this day. It is now a cultural and retail facility that is a great place to shop for special Yokohama souvenirs or grab a bite to eat at one of the diverse range of restaurants inside.
The warehouse also hosts various events throughout the year, including a Christmas market, which was in full swing when I visited. The space between the two brick warehouse buildings was strung with Christmas lights and lined with stalls bustling with visitors buying German-style street food and Christmas decorations.
So, Which Would You Choose?
This article contrasted the morning and evening activities available in Hakone, Kanagawa's famous onsen area surrounded by nature, with the modern metropolis of Yokohama. As a result, I hope you've felt interested in spending a few days in Kanagawa during your next trip to Japan!
Of course, I recommend that you visit both while here, but if you could only choose to visit Hakone or Yokohama, where would you rather stay during your visit? Leave a comment on our social media with your answer!
＜Bonus: Money-Saving Transportation Tickets＞
For this trip, I traveled to Hakone on the first day and then to Yokohama on the second day. If traveling to Hakone from Tokyo, taking the Odakyu Romance Car train is very convenient, and once in Hakone, traveling around the area is very easy and affordable using the Hakone Free Pass (which I'll explain below). Getting around Yokohama is equally easy using the subway and buses. You really don't need a car to get around in Kanagawa, which is incredibly convenient for travelers and locals alike.
Hakone Free Pass
As mentioned briefly above, the best and most affordable way to get around Hakone is with the Hakone Free Pass. You can choose from a 2-day or 3-day pass, which allows for unlimited rides on the trains, buses, cable car, ropeway, and pirate ship sightseeing cruise boats that sail across Lake Ashi for the duration of the ticket! Also, if traveling from Tokyo, you can buy the Hakone Free Pass at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo to get a further discount on your fare to Odawara.
If you're planning to ride the cable car, ropeway, and pirate ships anyway (which you should!), it will already be worth your money, so definitely check it out. I used the digital version and was able to order online and simply show my phone screen to ride as much as I pleased.
|2-Day (From Odawara)||2-Day (From Shinjuku)||3-Day (From Odawara)||3-Day (From Shinjuku|
|Adults||5,000 yen||6,100 yen||5,400 yen||6,500 yen|
|Children||1,000 yen||1,100 yen||1,250 yen||1,350 yen|
Value Pass for Getting Around Yokohama
The Minatomirai Line One-Day Ticket is a great way to save money in the Minatomirai area of Yokohama, where the tourist attractions introduced in the article are concentrated. The Minatomirai Line is a very convenient line that traverses the sightseeing area of Yokohama, and the One-Day Ticket allows unlimited ride. As a nice bonus, also don't miss out on the discounts at various tourist facilities. All you have to do is show your ticket at the applicable facility.
The price is 460 yen for adults and 230 yen for children. Tickets can be purchased at ticket vending machines at all stations on the Minatomirai Line.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.