Enjoy Views of Mt. Fuji and Local Cuisine on an Easy Half-Day Bike Ride Through Odawara in Kanagawa Prefecture
Odawara City, famous for Odawara Castle, is a city that was already flourishing during the Sengoku Period (approx. 1467 - 1568) and was a key point on the Tokaido (the eastern sea route of the Edo Period). The editing team from tsunagu Japan recently had the opportunity to participate in a bicycle tour of Odawara. In addition to getting a deep understanding of Odawara’s history and culture with the local guide, we went to some little-known spots, enjoyed fantastic views of Mt. Fuji, and even had super fresh local seafood for lunch! Read on to see what this wonderful tour was like!
Feb 08 2021
*This article was written in collaboration with the Kanto District Transport Bureau, local governments, and local railway companies.
Odawara: A City by the Sea
The historic city of Odawara in southwestern Kanagawa Prefecture is just 35 minutes from Tokyo Station on a bullet train and about 60 minutes from Shinjuku Station by the Shonan-Shinjuku Line or Odakyu Romancecar. It has great transport links and is not far from the famous onsen (hot spring) district of Hakone. Long a popular tourist destination in the Kanto area, it is particularly famous for Odawara Castle. Sashimi and kaisen-don (rice bowl dish with seafood) are popular dishes in Odawara, thanks to its close proximity to the ocean. The city has a retro atmosphere and is perfect for both walking and cycling.
Meeting Point: In Front of the Police Box at the East Exit of JR Odawara Station
After exiting through the ticket gate at JR Odawara Station, turn right and proceed to the East Exit, which is the meeting point. If arriving via the Odakyu Line, take a left after exiting the ticket gate and proceed to the East Exit.
Exit from the East Exit of Odawara Station and take the escalator to the first floor. The meeting point is in front of the police box at the East Exit of Odawara Station, which is approximately a 3-minute walk from the station.
When we arrived, we could see the tour guide waiting for us with a sign.
When we all had convened, the guide first took each of our temperatures and had everyone sanitize their hands with the alcohol sanitizer that was provided.
After a quick rundown of the schedule, we walked about two minutes to the Odawara UMECO Civic Center to rent the bicycles that would be the key mode of transportation on this trip.
Basic information such as name, address, and age are required to rent the bicycles. Once the information was filled in, a staff person reconfirmed each participant’s temperature and we sanitized our hands with alcohol once more.
Both regular and electric bicycles are available to rent. For our tour, the bicycle rental fees were included in the tour fee, and the tour guide made all of the arrangements so that we could just enjoy ourselves. This time, we all chose electric bicycles. There are some hills on the tour, so electric bicycles may be easier.
Participants must be at least 150cm tall to rent a bicycle. Also, remember to dress suitably, and avoid skirts and high heels.
The bicycles are sanitized using wipes before riding.
The guide gives an explanation of road rules for bicyclists, so there is no need to worry about which side of the road to ride on, or whether to ride on the road or sidewalk. Just ride single file behind the guide.
All ready? Time to head out!
With Luck, Take in the Beauty of Mt. Fuji From the Banks of the Sakawa River!
After riding about 15 minutes from the center of Odawara, we reached our first scenic spot of the day, the Sakawa River. The river starts at Mt. Fuji and runs for a length of 46 kilometers, through Odawara City and all the way to Sagami Bay. The beauty of the river was even captured by a famous ukiyo-e painter named Hiroshige Utagawa during the Edo Period (1608-1868) in a painting that depicts people strolling along and crossing over the river.
If you’re lucky, you can enjoy beautiful views of Mt. Fuji while cycling along the river. What a wonderful spot to take pictures!
According to the guide, there were no bridges across the Sakawa River during the Edo Period, so people had to cross on their own two legs, and there were even professionals that specialized in helping people cross the river.
Cycling in Odawara was far less stressful than in North American cities: the tour stuck to streets with wide enough sidewalks or side streets that were empty enough that we had little risk of running into cars. This took away the risk normally associated with riding in the street and made it fun even for beginners who aren’t used to cycling. Along the way we got a glimpse into everyday Japanese life as we passed locals taking their dogs for walks and going about their daily business. What a nice way it was to spend the morning, as the clear sky, fresh air, and sunshine filled us with energy.
A Hidden Gem - Odawara Beach (Miyukinohama Beach)
The guide has brought us to a quiet, little-known beach. There are no parking lots in the area, so hardly any tourists come, but this is a great place to see the shimmering Sagami Bay and enjoy the sound of the waves and the quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The Impenetrable Castle - Odawara Castle
Next, we came to the most iconic sightseeing spot in Odawara—Odawara Castle. It is not only one of Japan's designated Historic Sites but is also the closest castle to Tokyo that features a full castle tower (and the 7th-highest one in Japan, at that). It was also one of the largest castles in all of Kanto during the Sengoku Period.
Any building with a half-millennium of history is a novel experience for a North American, but this castle's appearance is particularly majestic and undeniably Japanese. You should definitely swing by and take in the sight, even if you're not a history buff!
Odawara Castle was originally the residence of the powerful Hojo clan during the Sengoku Period. It was built to defend against attacks by warlords and shogun such as Uesugi Kenshin, Takeda Shingen, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and became Japan’s largest castle during the Middle Ages. The Hojo clan was ruined when it lost to Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the Battle of Odawara in 1590, a battle that marked the beginning of the unification of the country. Since then, Odawara Castle passed through many hands and underwent reconstruction several times until it was finally abandoned in 1870. Even the stone walls were destroyed during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
When you learn about the history and stories behind ancient buildings like this, it really changes the way you view them. Since we were together with a tour guide who explained all of this to us in English, we were really able to ask questions about the info given to us instead of just reading or listening to it, so all the info was easy to absorb and we were really able to take it in and see just what made Odawara Castle such an amazing place.
Today, the site of the castle has been made into a park with the castle tower, Tokiwa Kimon Gate, and Copper Gate having been rebuilt and renovated. The park is now a famous tourist destination with a history museum, mini amusement park, and a zoo. There are also ninja shows that are held during the weekend. Odawara Castle has been chosen as one of the top 100 spots for cherry blossoms and is a place not to be missed during the spring cherry blossom season.
There are adorable domesticated Japanese macaques in the plaza!
Temperatures are taken and hands are sanitized before entering the castle tower.
There are many signs promoting social distancing.
Armor, swords, historic documents, and a variety of other material related to the history of samurai warriors and of Odawara Castle are on display in the castle tower. English-language panels are also available, so it’s possible to learn as much about the history as you would like!
There are strict height restrictions for buildings in Odawara City, so there is an unobstructed view of the city from the top of the castle tower.
Below the far-away clouds lies the Izu Peninsula. There are views as far as the Chiba Boso Peninsula on a clear day.
Daruma Restaurant - A Tangible Cultural Property
Everyone was famished after cycling all morning! Lunch was at Daruma Restaurant (Daruma Shokudo), a restaurant full of historical charm that is popular among the locals. Daruma Restaurant was opened in 1893 and is famous for its tasty seafood dishes, such as tempura and sushi, made with fresh seafood from Sagami Bay. The building has a gabled roof with bow-shaped eaves, reminiscent of a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple, and is made with domestic, high-grade wood such as Hinoki cypress, pine, and Japanese zelkova. It is designated as a Tangible Cultural Property of Japan and is one of Odawara City’s most famous restaurants.
On this special day, everyone enjoyed the lovely Maguro Zanmai-don (three-tuna rice bowl). The rice was covered with small pieces of nori seaweed and topped with generous servings of three different cuts of tuna sashimi and salted salmon roe. The ingredients were super fresh and cut thickly so that the delicate fat melted in the mouth, giving off a rich, sweet flavor. The high-quality sashimi and refreshing vinegared rice made for an exciting seafood bowl that whetted the appetite.
Perhaps one of your aims when visiting Japan is to try authentic Japanese food such as sushi, ramen, and tempura. If that’s the case, then there's no better place to enjoy fresh, high-quality Japanese fish at reasonable prices!
Other than fresh fish, the “tendon” (rice bowl topped with pieces of tempura dipped in a sweet and salty sauce) is also outstanding, so we recommend that those taking the tour with family or friends order a variety of dishes to be able to sample each one!
Matsubara Jinja - A Shrine That Watches Over the City of Odawara
The last stop was Matsubara Jinja, a Shinto shrine where local fishermen pray for good hauls and safety for the boats. It is unclear when it was established, and it was once called "Tsuruno Mori Myojin," and even later "Matsubara Dai Myojin," but was renamed "Matsubara Jinja" in 1869 (the second year of the Meiji period). It enshrines the legendary prince of the Yamato dynasty, Yamato Takeru. The grand festival that is held at the shrine from May 3rd to 5th every year is a major event in Odawara City.
There is a large turtle called Kitcho No Ogame (great turtle of luck) that is enshrined in a part of Matsubara Jinja, and it is said that one’s life is extended by the same number of days as yen given in an offering. So if you offer 100 yen, your life is extended by 100 days. Give it a try if you are hoping for a long life!
What is the appropriate amount to put in the offering box at a shrine? The guide explained that it is standard in Japan to put a five yen coin in the offering box. Five yen in Japanese is pronounced “go-en,” which has the same pronunciation as an expression meaning a fated relationship or opportunity. You can use another coin if you don’t have a five yen coin on hand, but avoid using ten yen coins. “To-en,” which is one way of saying ten yen in Japanese, sounds like a phrase that can mean that a relationship or opportunity is far and fading. If you don’t have any coins, you can ask someone at the shrine office to break a bill.
At the End of the Tour
At the end of the tour, we returned to Odawara UMECO Civic Center, where we returned our bicycles and said goodbye to the guide with lovely memories in our hearts. Odawara was a peaceful city with lots to see. The tour felt safe thanks to the thorough measures taken to prevent coronavirus infections and because it was mainly outdoors. This is a tour we highly recommend for tourists who want to see and experience a Japanese city, as well as foreign residents in Japan.
After Enjoying the Cycling Tour
There are a number of 30 to 90-minute experiences available in the Odawara area that allow visitors to get a deeper first-hand understanding of the local traditional crafts and industry.
1）Make Odawara Paper Lanterns, a perfect souvenir from a traditional post town like Odawara.
*Currently, due to the spread of the coronavirus, this craft experience has been temporarily stopped. Please check the following link before visiting.
Odawara Tourism Information
Places to Stay in Odawara
2）We also recommend the fragrance-making activity, which lets you mix and match 6 ancient, natural perfumes to create your own original fragrance pouch or air freshener.
Sororito Odawara: https://www.sororito.com/
Explore a Bit Further From the Odawara Area
The famous onsen town of Hakone, just a 15-minute train ride from Odawara, is also recommended. How about a soak in the hot springs there to soothe your muscles after the bike ride?
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.