Tokyo 2020 Prep: Touring Outside Tokyo

The Olympics are the main goal of my trip to Tokyo in less than six months. (!!!!) Last weekend, I spent some time filling my calendar with all the stuff I've already accomplished for the trip, including airline reservations, hotel reservations, and sporting events.

After I filled it out, I realized I have a few holes! I have two nights near the beginning of my trip that I still need to find a place to the entire third week. (Surprisingly, I don't have holes in my Olympic events. Tell my 2018 self that fact and she'd be shocked!)

When I booked my airline reservations, I spent a lot of time trying out a bunch of combinations of times to travel as well as places from which to commute. In the end, I went with a three week itinerary because it was the cheapest way to maximize my time but still be in Japan for the entire two weeks of the Olympics.

That means that after my final event (which is on Day 16), I need to find something to do!

I'm guessing that most people will book out of Japan after the Olympics are done - actually, I'm betting on it! I am going to use this time to get out of Tokyo but still be in Japan. I will have had my fill of the big city; I'll want to check out the quieter areas!

So now the big question:

Where do I go?

And NO, TOKYO DISNEYLAND IS NOT AN OPTION. I'm just going to guess that those parks are going to be insanely crowded and am going to dedicate a different Disney-themed Tokyo trip in the future.

With that in mind, here are some general guidelines I'd like to follow:

1. Bullet Train!

I want to take a nice, long shinkansen ride. I've known about the speed and efficiency of Japanese bullet trains since I was a kid reading Weekly Reader for Current Events class. Then I actually used the trains in Europe to get to different countries and absolutely fell in love with train travel. And people say that Japanese trains are the best? Sign me up!

2. Make the Bullet Train Worth It

I don't want a 60-minute bullet train ride. If I'm going to enjoy the train experience, get an ekiben (train station bento box), and revel in the luxury of mass transit, I want some time!

3. Not Crowded

This guideline might be impossible to achieve, but I am going to keep up my optimism that everyone will flee once August 10 arrives. There are some cities that I've already heard have grown in popularity even without the Olympic crowds!

4. Historical

Whether this means that I'm visiting a temple that's five hundred years old, viewing monuments to tragedies of the past century, or simply looking at buildings with that gorgeous architecture, there are a lot of things that would fit the bill!

5. Unique

In looking at these cities, there is a lot of repetition from someone who has never been to Japan. Here's a shrine! Here's temple! Look at these pretty flowers! Check out this classic Japanese street! So it would be great to go to an area where it has something which makes it stick out from the rest.

So what are some of my options? In my two years of planning and watching videos, there have been well over a dozen cities that I frequently heard outside of Tokyo. Here are some of the ones that have stuck out:


Before Tokyo, the capital city of Japan lay in Kyoto. The city probably is the largest in Japan that still feels like a quaint historical city. I'm pretty sure it has a giant, gorgeous temple on every corner. However, in the past five years the tourists have been flocking to Kyoto. While it might be worthwhile in the future, I think I'd rather visit a smaller city.


This city is a port, so bridges are part of the skyline. It is kind of the opposite of Kyoto - this is the most modern looking of the big cities in Japan, and known for nightlife. It doesn't mean that it doesn't have its fair share of shrines or temples, though! It is the home to one of the foods that I would love to eat: okonomiyaki, which is a pancake made up primarily of shredded cabbage. (There are two different ways to prepare okonomiyaki, and "Osaka" is one of the styles!)


Nara isn't very far from Osaka, and is known for deer, actually! You can go in the deer park and feed them while they come right up to you. That garden isn't the only one in Nara, which seems to have the most gorgeous parks and lakes in the area! Traditional neighborhoods are widespread in the city.


If I wanted to keep my Olympic streak going, I could go over to Nagano and visit the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics - one of the first ones I remember! It's also home to one of the top art museums in the area and is known for snow monkeys!


Speaking of Olympic heritage, this was the site of the 1972 Winter Olympics, is the new site of the 2020 Olympic Marathon, and is planning a bid for the 2032 Winter Olympics! It is in the northern part of the country, so it would be quite cooler. Some other unique traits of the city is its beer and chocolate! (And for the record, no, I would not be able to get to Sapporo in time for the marathon after my last event in Tokyo.)


Currently this is at the top of my list. It seems like I try to visit as many World War II sites as possible when I go overseas, and this would mean I'd visit one of the sites that was leveled by the atomic bomb. While I was in Berlin I viewed the atrocities brought upon by the Germans; in Hiroshima I'd be viewing an atrocity brought on by Americans. It would be hard to handle, but also incredibly important. (And remember the Osaka okonomiyaki? The other version is Hiroshima okonomiyaki!)


Another city devastated by the atomic bomb in 1945, it would be fascinating to see how the city has revitalized itself while also creating monuments to those that perished. There is a former Dutch presence and a current Chinese presence, so it would be fascinating to see those two cultures in Japan.


This is a northern Japanese city on the coast that is also high on my list of choices. Food and drink is the thing the city is known for including sake, rice, and fish. There is also a ropeway that takes people up the nearby mountains and provides gorgeous views of the city.


Ever heard of kobe beef? Well, this is where it comes from! Plus it is known for the longest suspension bridge in the world - the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge - and gorgeous waterfalls that aren't terribly far away from the city.

There are many other cities I could highlight here, but these are the ones that come across my radar quite a bit. They all have shrines, temples, parks, museums, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, so the guidelines above need to apply. I am going to be in Tokyo for the better part of two weeks, and need to find an area that feels like a different part of Japan! I really don't want to say, "Oh, I could have done this in Tokyo!" Then what is the point?

So do you have any recommendations? Have you been to any of these cities? Which one do you think I should go to? Comment below or tag me on social media!

Weekly Cauldron Check

Is the cauldron lit????

...No. But it will be in less than SIX months!

I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! Look back on previous posts to hear about my trips to the US Curling National Championships, the US Figure Skating Championships, and my very successful quest to acquire tickets for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics!


  1. On one of the podcasts I listen to, the hosts recommended the Hakone Open Air Museum as one of the best places they went on their honeymoon. I'm a big fan of Terrace House, a Japanese reality show, and one of their seasons took place in Karuizawa, which is near Nagano. I've also heard the Toei Animation Museum as a recommended place, but that's near Tokyo. Good luck figuring out your itinerary!


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