This is a great guest post from Henry of Voyagin. Voyagin specializes in unique local experiences, and Japan is their specialty. They help you book attraction tickets, find the best things to do, and even help you reserve a spot at popular Michelin restaurants in Japan. Their hero customer service support is what sets them apart from other booking websites.
There’s a lot more to Tokyo than the concrete jungle.
As anyone who’s headed out west to the Ghibli Museum, the Showa Memorial Park, or the Sanrio Puroland will know, the Tama region out west of the city is rich in natural beauty and makes a great place to escape the hustle and bustle.
But have you ever been out past Tachikawa to the real wilderness, in the depths of west Tama?
Read on for my top picks, nine great tours and experiences that you can book online and enjoy with no Japanese necessary, to discover the mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes that make west Tama such a great retreat from the city — adventure and culture experiences perfect for a day trip, or as part of a weekend getaway.
Reader Discount Tip: If you book any of these activities on Voyagin, you can get US$50 off any booking worth US$120 or more, with the coupon code “TAMATOKYO50”
Reachable in 90 minutes from Shinjuku Station, it’s no surprise the Tama area is a popular weekend getaway. First, head out from Shinjuku Station on the JR Chuo Line to Tachikawa where you can change to the local line that serves your destination.
Take care to check which local line you need to transfer to: the Tama River Valley and the sake breweries of Fussa are along the Ome and Okutama lines, while the Akigawa River Valley is reached by the Itsukaichi line, after transferring at Haijima Station.
On weekends and at certain times of the day, you can take one direct train from Shinjuku without changing trains along the way. A few of these experiences need a bus transfer from the train station — I told you we’re going deep!
Lake Shiromaru is a tranquil man-made lake off the Tama River, an ideal place for learning to paddle, steer, and Eskimo-roll in a beginners’ kayak lesson while enjoying the natural tranquility of the surrounding forest.
For high-octane thrills, hydrospeed (also known as riverboarding) is a more challenging way to get your kicks on the river. You’ll wrap up in a wetsuit, and steer your riverboard down the rapids with the guidance of an experienced instructor.
Probably the most popular outdoor activity on the Tama River, white water rafting is great for groups, and you can combine it with shower climbing or ‘ducky’ (inflatable kayak) if you so choose.
Did you know you can go canyoning just outside the metropolis? If you head out to the mountains of Okutama you can enjoy a great day of sliding down waterfalls, diving into mountain pools, and generally clambering up and down the upper reaches of the Tama River.
Of course, there are countless places around Tokyo you can enjoy a bike ride, but the Akigawa Valley is one of the better destinations if you want to really get out into nature. There are quiet country roads and secluded forest trails, waterfalls and temples to discover, and a river to jump in if you get too hot! This cycling tour is a top pick thanks to the English-speaking staff and great selection of bicycles — mountain bike, hybrid, or electrically assisted bicycles are offered depending on the course and your needs.
Not all the highlights of west Tama are above ground! Nippara Limestone Cave is one of the biggest caves in Eastern Japan and has a fascinating history of hundreds of years of Buddhist visits and occupation. For the most complete experience, you will want a local guide to explain the history and meaning behind the caverns and carvings in the depths beneath Okutama. The cave also boasts some beautiful illuminations, and since it maintains a steady 11 degrees Celcius year-round, it’s a welcome respite from the heat if you’re exploring Okutama on a summer day!
Now a sadly declining art, wasabi farming is still dear to the heart of Okutama locals, but these days many ‘wasabi-da’ terraces are abandoned and overgrown. This visit to a newly restored wasabi patch with a native-English speaking guide and farmer, is a rare opportunity to delve into rural Tokyo life. The tour is rounded off by a taste of real, freshly-ground wasabi (at it’s most pungent within 5 minutes of grinding) like you’ve never had before.
Dying fabric by hand with natural indigo is a fun, hands-on experience that lets you try a local traditional craft in the hundred-year-old house of a master dyer. Visit in the summer and you can even make your own dye with the indigo leaves! The atelier offers t-shirts, hand towels, and silk scarves to dye, so at the end of the day, you will have a very special souvenir to take home too.
Ninja lessons in Tokyo can be a somewhat cheesy affair, but if you make your way out to Akiruno you will find the authentic Yanin Ninja Clan, who teach basic classes to introduce the modern-day benefits of ninjutsu practice, in the beautiful setting of west Tama.
… And these are just the tip of the iceberg (or volcano!), so get out to west Tama!