Guide First-timers must-see guide to Japan: The Golden Route Side Trips
How do you know what to see in Japan the first time you visit - easy, follow the Golden Route!
What's the Golden Route? Well it's essentially the most common itinerary for visitors to Japan who have limited time and just want to see the highlights. And what amazing highlights they are - starting in mega metropolis Tokyo, most people continue down towards Hakone for some ‘Fuji spotting’ and on to Nara, Osaka and end up in ancient Kyoto.
It’s a route that loosely follows the Old Tokaido Road and a pretty great way to see the best of what this fascinating country has to offer. But along the route there are also some fantastic side trips worth considering as you progress south west. In particular, Yokohama and Nagoya - not large diversions – and lots of fun.
Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city, has something for everyone, no matter what taste. And if there’s time, it's also worth the 25 minute train ride to Kamakura to see the towering 11.31m bronze Buddha statue known as Kamakura Daibutsu - he’s a pretty impressive sight. After being in the vibrant madness of Tokyo, Sankeien Garden with its streams, bridges, mini waterfalls, bamboo groves and sprawling green space is a calm oasis of serenity and a great insight into times gone by, as culturally significant historical buildings from all over Japan have been transported there.
If you’re a food lover head directly to Yokohama’s famous Chinatown for endless bustling traditional shop fronts serving xiao long bao (soup dumplings), handmade noodles, juicy dumplings, huge fluffy steamed buns and other equally delicious things to eat. And if you love Ramen, there’s even a Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama, a truly unique and magical only-in-Japan experience. Yokohama has a great bright fun energy that’s worth checking out.
As Japan’s fourth largest city, Nagoya is definitely worth a look too - it’s much more than an industrial hub, despite being best known for its nearby Toyota car production. The birthplace of Japan's greatest samurai warriors, it's the perfect place to shop, eat and enjoy fascinating cultural and historical experiences. The castle is stunning and Nagoya is also home to the biggest planetarium in the world, as well as other interesting museums.
You can shop till you drop with all the big international brands as well as more quirky fun items in Osu Shopping district. And the food! There are so many local specialities that you have to try while there - eel, chicken wings and pork katsu with miso sauce are just some of the fabulous dishes this area does best. Nagoya is also the gateway to the Chubu region’s mountainous areas, such as Takayama and Shirakawago, making it a great city base for outdoor adventures.
So if you have time for a little more than just the absolute Golden Route essentials, definitely consider disembarking that bullet train at either of these great cities. You won’t regret it.