It’s time for ‘Japan by Prefecture‘ again! This is the series that aims to provide the highlights of each prefecture of Japan, along with my personal favourites and suggestions from readers. This week, we’re looking at Kanagawa (神奈川県).
Kanagawa Prefecture is part of the southern Kanto region (関東地方), and part of the Greater Tokyo Area. One of the most famous things about Kanagawa is the ukiyo-e (浮世絵) woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) known as ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa‘ (神奈川沖浪裏). Indeed, if you search on Google Images for ‘Kanagawa’, you get more images of ‘The Wave’ than you do of actual places in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Many tourists visit places in Kanagawa Prefecture, as it is so easily accessible from Tokyo. Today I will share some brief information about what I consider to be the top spots in Kanagawa Prefecture. Some of these places also came recommended by Japan Australia, Zooming Japan and Paul, who commented on last week’s post.
I first visited Yokohama in 2009, and absolutely fell in love with it. I adore port cities, and Yokohama is one of the best. Yokohama is actually the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture, and it is the second largest city in Japan by population (and the population is a whopping 3.7 million). Only half an hour away from Tokyo by train, Yokohama is a great day trip from the capital. I also think it’s a place worth visiting at night, especially if you enjoy a night view.
My favourite part of Yokohama is the port area, or Minato Mirai 21 (みなとみらい21). Meaning ‘harbour of the future’, this area is full of high-rise buildings such as the Landmark Tower, and lots of shops and restaurants. There is even an amusement park featuring a large Ferris wheel (pictured above).
One of Yokohama’s main attractions is its Chinatown (Yokohama Chukagai / 横浜中華街). This is a great place to try Chinese street food and soak up a very different atmosphere. Yokohama Chinatown is the largest in Japan.
Hakone is somewhere which is very popular with tourists, and yet I didn’t visit there myself until last year. The main reasons people visit Hakone are for the natural hot springs, and for the elusive chance of seeing Mount Fuji (the notoriously shy mountain). I actually didn’t experience either whilst I was there, as the weather was bad and I didn’t have time for a soak, but perhaps next time!
Most people visiting Hakone will follow the standard tourist loop, which takes you up the mountain on a cablecar from Gora to Sounzan, then by ropeway further up to Owakudani (大涌谷). Owakudani (or, ‘Great Boiling Valley’) is where you’re supposed to stop and sniff the sulphur for a while, and try some life-enhancing black eggs. Then you continue on the ropeway down to Togendai-ko, where you can take a ‘pirate ship’ cruise across Lake Ashi (芦ノ湖). After disembarking you can visit the old Hakone Checkpoint (箱根関所) on the old Tokaido (東海道) (the highway which once linked Tokyo with Kyoto), and if you’re inclined the outdoor sculpture park. There is plenty more besides, and I think (if the weather is nice) Hakone is certainly worthy of a two night stay so you can have a full day sightseeing.
Kamakura (鎌倉) & Enoshima (江の島)
I loved Kamakura when I visited in 2011, and I loved its neighbour Enoshima even more. In fact, Enoshima is one of my favourite places in Japan! The most famous spot in Kamakura is of course the Great Buddha (Daibutsu / 大仏) at Kotoku-in (高徳院). It’s one of the most famous icons of Japan, and it is pretty impressive. It’s also incredibly popular, so if you have the chance to visit try to go early morning to avoid the crowds.
Another attraction of Kamakura is Hase-dera (海光山慈照院長谷寺), which is probably one of my favourite temple complexes in Japan. It’s massive, and full of gorgeous gardens and even more gorgeous statues. Little statues like the ones pictured below are absolutely everywhere around the temple grounds.
For me, the real highlight of my visit to Kamakura was my side trip to Enoshima. I don’t think Enoshima is high on most people’s lists, but I thought it was a wonderful little place. It’s only a short ride on the Enoden trainline from Kamakura to Enoshima, and then a walk across a long bridge which connects the island to the mainland. I didn’t have much time to explore when I was there as everything was closing, but I had time to visit the lighthouse and take in the spectacular views.
The Omiyage Section
Below are just a few of the souvenirs (or ‘omiyage’ / おみやげ) I’ve picked up whilst travelling in Kanagawa Prefecture. Starting in the top left, there’s a Great Buddha of Kamakura red bean filled cake, and in the top centre and bottom right there are lots of Buddha-themed snacks. Mount Fuji features as soft toys and even as a Kit Kat box design. In Yokohama’s Chinatown you have to try ‘goma dango’ (sesame dumplings), bottom left, and I also found some red shoe chocolates in Yokohama (which relate to the story of the ‘Girl with the Red Shoes’). In Hakone there are lots of wooden mosaic souvenirs such as the one pictured below, and if you visit Owakudani in Hakone you’re supposed to try the black eggs (although you have to buy five at a time, so I didn’t!).
Next week I will be writing about Niigata (新潟県). Have you been there? What’s good to eat there and what omiyage should I buy? What are the best sightseeing spots or hidden gems? Please do share your thoughts below, and join me next week for Japan by Prefecture!