A trip to Tokyo can get crazy—from the brightly lit, confusing parade of neon lights and pedestrian-heavy streets of Kabukicho to Harajuku’s wild fashion and the bustling crowds hurrying across Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing.
These attractions show up on most tourists’ bucket lists, but Japan’s capital city—home to some 14 million people—is even more extensive than you might think. Tokyo truly has it all, with landscapes that include sweeping mountains, lush forests and even subtropical islands.
A view from the top floors of the Tocho, or Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku—the tallest city hall in the world—won’t reveal it all. However, it does offer sweeping views just beyond the concrete jungle of the city below—a good starting point.
Ready to explore more?
The Tama region encompasses all areas of Tokyo west of the 23 wards. Get on a westbound JR Chuo line train at Shinjuku station. It will take you to Takao station, offering convenient access to Mount Takao, a top-rated Tokyo day trip destination. Sure, Mount Takao is already in the mountains, but you aren’t getting away from the Shinjuku crowds yet.
Change at Tachikawa for the Ome line. That leads you into a much quieter region. Ome is a quaint little town most notable for all the hand-painted classic Hollywood and Japanese movie posters located on almost every corner. These are the work of an Ome-based artist trained in the trade back in the 1960s, the era of Japanese directors like Akira Kurosawa and Seijun Suzuki.
After a short visit, you’ll undoubtedly want to get further out exploring. From Ome, take the Okutama line. Consider a stop at Mitake station to trek up Mount Mitake, home to an impressive ancient combination of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples offering plenty of shukubo, or Buddhist pilgrim guest houses, which are open to tourists. Being up on Mount Mitake, you may still spot Tokyo Skytree in the distance on a clear day, but it already feels like being lightyears away from the city.
Okutama is by far the largest but, at the same time, the least populated town belonging to the Tokyo metropolis. It’s known for its mountains, forests, tiny settlements and great hiking paths.
The most popular trail is the Old Okutama Michi, following the ancient Koshu Kaido Road, a trade route that connected Edo with the West’s rich farmlands. Today, it’s a quiet, easy nine-kilometer mountain hike from Okutama station (where you can obtain maps) to Lake Okutama, a giant reservoir surrounded by the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national forests.
West of the lake, you will hit the prefectural border to Yamanashi Prefecture. You have now reached the end of Tokyo.
Mount Kumotori, Tokyo’s tallest mountain
To get to Mount Kumotori (Tokyo’s tallest mountain at 2,017 meters), take the train to Okutama station. You can start hiking from there, taking the long route that follows Ishione Ridge and takes more than half a day to walk.
You might also take the bus to the tiny hamlet of Kamosawa. From there, the hike up is about seven hours. It’s no walk in the park. Steep in some parts, it’s a serious hike even for the experienced. Go equipped with full hiking gear and take plenty of water. Take the appropriate precautions against wild bears and boars like attaching a bell to your backpack that will alert the animals of your presence. You certainly don’t want any surprise meetings.
In case of an emergency, rescue teams will take hours to reach you. It may still be Tokyo, but you’re out there in the middle of nature, far away from the city’s comforts.
Taking a ferry, the largest and most accessible island to reach is Izu Oshima. Izu’s northernmost island is a lovely place to hike, rich with quiet nature that makes you feel far away from urban life. Make sure to take a soak at the seaside, open-air Hama-no-yu hot spring bath. The climate feels already subtropical even though Izu Oshima is still within the range of an easy weekend trip from central Tokyo.
Further down is the southernmost of the Izu Islands, Aogashima. It’s a rocky volcanic outcropping, often described as the most inaccessible island in the Izu chain.
Small ferries will take you there from neighboring Hachijojima (which can be reached by plane), but only on days when the waves aren’t too high. Thus, many visitors opt for helicopter transport from Hachijojima.
Hiking the steep crater walls of Aogashima is spectacular. At night, sit down with the locals at one of the two izakaya (pub) for a locally made shochu (Japanese spirit distilled from sweet potatoes or rice) or gaze at the incredibly star-studded sky from outside your tent at the campsite.
The Ogasawara Islands easily take the crown as the furthest destination within Tokyo accessible to visitors. Going there means a 24-hour ferry ride from Tokyo Port, covering a distance of more than 1,000 kilometers. The inhabitants of Chichijima, the main port on the main island, greet every one of Tokyo’s weekly ferries enthusiastically. It’s their connection to the world.
There are plenty of guesthouses on Chichijima, a jungle island in the southern seas with a rugged coastline and plenty of diving spots.
Chichijima translates as “Father Island,” and yes, there is also Hahajima (“Mother Island”), an even more remote spot reachable only by ferry from Chichijima.
Up to the early 19th century, the islands in the Ogasawara chain were uninhabited. The first settlers to arrive were whalers from Boston in the 1830s. They turned the islands into a whaling hub, occasionally getting attacked by pirates. Edo-era Japan tolerated the whalers, but the new Meiji government officially took possession of the territory in the 1870s.
After World War II, the Ogasawara Islands were occupied by the United States but returned to Japan in 1968—much to the dismay of the still English-speaking descendants of the old Boston whalers. Today, Japanese is the dominant language, though the past connections are still present and palpable if you speak to people with long-running roots on the island.
Iwo Jima and beyond
Iwo Jima (known in Japan as Iwo To), the famous World War II battle site known for the iconic photo of a group of Marines raising the U.S. flag, is located south of the Ogasawara Islands.
Unfortunately, tourism to the island isn’t possible. The whole island is a designated military installation, shared by Japanese and American air forces. Only during annual war remembrance ceremonies can surviving veterans and their descendants visit the island.
Further still, Okinotorishima, Japan’s southernmost island and only island situated in the tropics, and Minamitorishima (also known as Marcus Island), Japan’s easternmost island located halfway to Hawaii, also are within Tokyo’s borders. Although small and off-limits to tourists, they serve as strategic and geopolitical importance to Japan. You might be able to spot them from the air when crossing the Pacific by plane.
Is there any other city in the world ready to compete with those geographical extremes?