This week in Exploring Japan, we go back to the Kanto region with my home, Kanagawa prefecture.
Kanagawa is the southernmost prefecture in the Kanto region, just south of Tokyo. It faces the Pacific Ocean and it’s quite easy to have an incredible view of Mt. Fuji from almost anywhere in the prefecture. It has a population of 9,029,996, the second highest in the country. The capital is Yokohama. The 5 biggest cities are:
- Yokohama (3,697,894)
- Kawasaki (1,437,266)
- Sagamihara (719,677)
- Fujisawa (416,418)
- Yokosuka (414,960)
The population of Kanagawa is growing fairly rapidly, including the biggest cities (other than Yokosuka). As the prefecture is quite small, it is densely populated and is mostly urbanized. The only rural areas are the mountains of western Kanagawa and some of the Miura Peninsula.
Odawara Castle in Odawara is the only castle in Kanagawa, as all others were destroyed and never rebuilt. Odawara Castle is a reproduction with extensive grounds. A tour of the museum on the grounds will tell you that the moat and wall system inspired Edo Castle’s design.
In baseball, Yokohama hosts the Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars. In J-League soccer, there are several teams: Yokohama F. Marinos of Yokohama, Kawasaki Frontale of Kawasaki, Yokohama F.C. of Yokohama, and Shonan Bellmare of Hiratsuka.
Things to see and do
I’ve lived in Kanagawa since 2005, so I know quite a bit about the prefecture. I’m highlighting the best here, though. Kanagawa is probably best-known for the city of Yokohama and its Chinatown, as well as the old capital Kamakura and its ancient temples and shrines. But there is so much to see.
Yokohama is the largest incorporated city in Japan (Tokyo is technically not a city), so has a lot to see. Chinatown is the largest Chinatown in Japan and one of the largest in the world. The Minato Mirai district has the tall Landmark Tower with an observatory on the 69th floor, providing an amazing view of the city, Tokyo Bay, Mt. Fuji, and even Tokyo. At the base are the Landmark Plaza and Queen’s Square shopping centres. Nipponmaru is an old military ship with sails that was often used for training. It’s now open for tours. Pacifico Yokohama is a convention centre that hosts many events. The Yokohama Museum of Art is nearby, and is quite extensive. Rounding out Minato Mirai is the Anpanman Museum. Going south, you can find the Cosmo World amusement park with the Cosmo Clock ferris wheel. You can go shopping at World Porters. There’s more shopping at Aka Renga, Red Brick Warehouse, which is now a shopping mall, but are historic buildings. Further south, you can find Osanbashi Pier, where cruise ships dock, but is also a park. Yamashita Park is to the south of that, and you can also visit Marine Tower, a lighthouse that provides great views. The Hikawa Maru was a passenger ship that traveled to Seattle and Vancouver and is open for tours. Next is Motomachi, a high class shopping district, which is next to the old foreign residential area, Yamate, which includes many old western houses. Sankeien Garden is Yokohama’s best Japanese garden and hosts many old historic buildings. Back around Yokohama Station, you can go shopping in many places, including Sogo and Yokohama Bay Quarter. Yokohama has three zoos, the biggest being Zoorasia. Nogeyama Zoo is free, and there’s also the Kanazawa Zoo. Hakkeijima Sea Paradise is both an amusement park and an aquarium, which includes an area where you can touch dolphins. Kamoike Park is a good place to see ducks and fireflies. Moroka Kumano Shrine is a famous shrine in Yokohama. Shomyoji is a beautiful temple with a garden. The Yokohama History Museum is built next to an archaeological site that dates back to the Yayoi Era. There are some quirky museums to see, including the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum, the Cup Noodles Museum, and the Doll Museum.
Kawasaki is Kanagawa’s industrial city and second largest. Probably the most famous site is Kawasaki Daishi, or Heikenji. It’s one of the busiest temples in the Tokyo area and has plenty to see. Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine is a famous fertility shrine, with a large phallus. It also has a sex museum. The Kanamara Festival is also known as the Iron Penis Festival, and features many floats with penises. Nihon Minkaen is the Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum, which displays many traditional Japanese houses and even Nagoya Castle’s gate. At night, the Kawasaki industrial zone has tours to see the factories lit up.
Kamakura is one of the most famous cities in Japan and a huge draw for tourists and locals. It has a large number of famous temples and shrines, and it was the capital of Japan 800 years ago. There are too many temples and shrines to list, but I’ll highlight the best. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is the biggest and most famous shrine in the city. The grounds are huge and always busy. Myohonji is near the station and is the temple dedicated to childbirth. Kotokuin is the home of the Great Buddha, or Daibutsu, the 2nd largest in Japan. Hasedera has a great view of the city and has the largest wooden statue in Japan. It also has a cave filled with Benzaiten statues. Zeniarai Benten is a great shrine surrounded by cliffs where you can wash your money. Nearby is Sasuke Inari Shrine, which is near the home of the precursors of the ninja. Kita-Kamakura has a collection of very famous temples. Engakuji is quite beautiful and has many national treasures, including one of Buddha’s teeth. Kenchoji is Kamakura’s most important temple, and it has the largest wooden structure in eastern Japan. You can access the Ten’en hiking trail from here. Tokeiji is a nunnery that was dedicated to protecting abused women. It has a great atmosphere. Meigetsuin is the hydrangea temple, filled with many hydrangea blooming in June. In Ofuna, you can find the Ofuna Kannon, a giant concrete statue of Kannon’s bust. It’s easily visible from the main street. Going east, Jomyoji is a pretty attractive temple. Nearby is Hokokuji with its bamboo forest. Sugimotodera is the oldest temple in Kamakura, nearly 1300 years old, and it has many steep stairs to the top. I can keep going, but these are the highlights. Also, it’s nice to visit Minamoto no Yoritomo’s grave. Kamakura has some great beaches that are very popular in the summer. There’s plenty of surfing, too, giving Kamakura a bit of a Hawaiian flavour. Hiking is also popular, as there are several hiking trails through the city. Some good museums are Kamakura Museum of National Treasures and Kamakura Museum of Literature. Also, the Kanagawa Prefectural Ofuna Botanical Garden is supposed to be great. Having lived in Kamakura for 4 years, I got to know it pretty well.
Yokosuka is home to an American Naval base and a Japanese Self-Defense Force naval base. Therefore, it has a lot of Americans and a strong Navy presence. One major site is the battleship Mikasa, which you can take a tour of. Perry Landing Park is around the spot where Commodore Perry opened up Japan to the rest of the world. Verny Park is a nice park dedicated to a French engineer who helped Japan build its navy. Kurihama Hana-no-Kuni is a great place to see flower, and there are a million poppies. Sarushima is an island accessible from Kurihama. It’s a private island and nature preserve, but it’s a good place for a picnic during the day. Anjinzuka Park is the city’s best place to view cherry blossoms. Chouganji is a historic temple with plenty of events.
Fujisawa is a coastal city known for its very popular beach, surfing, and its biggest attraction, Enoshima. Enoshima is an island that has many attractions. Along with the shrines and temples on the island, there’s a very busy main town area with plenty of shops and resorts. It also has a large marina. On the south side of the island are the Iwaya Caves, which are interesting to explore, but not extremely large. Probably the biggest features are Samuel Cocking Garden and the Enoshima Lighthouse. Nearby, you can see the New Enoshima Aquarium, which includes dolphins, a false killer whale, a huge main tank, and a pool where you can touch sharks. Enoshima and Kugenuma beaches are both popular, and include surfing and beach volleyball. Shirahata Shrine is a nice small shrine to visit. Shojokoji (Yugyoji) is an important temple in Buddhism. Also, you can find Oba Joshi Park, which is the ruins of Oba Castle. No ruins actually exist, but there is a beautiful park there now.
Odawara is mainly famous for its castle, but there are several shrines and temples to see as well. But in 1590, there was another castle called Ishigakiyama Ichiya Castle, which seemed to appear overnight. It was constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi behind the cover of trees during the siege of Odawara Castle, then the trees were cut down. Stone walls remain. Also, you can visit the Kanagawa Prefecture Museum of Natural History, which is quite informative.
Sagamihara may be the third largest city in Kanagawa, but it is mainly a bedroom community, though half of the city is mountainous. The biggest attraction is Sagami Lake, which is wonderful for flowers, fireworks, and in winter, Illumillion light display. Tsukui Lake is another popular lake with fishing, flowers, market, and a small mountain you can climb, Shiroyama. Myougenji temple seems like it might be nice to see. The Tanamukaihara ruins are 20,000 year old paleolithic ruins that can be visited, and are the oldest ruins in Japan.
Zushi is a small seaside city that is popular for its beach. There’s plenty of hiking to do in Zushi, too. Hiroyama Park has a great view of the mountains and Mt. Fuji, and has a small zoo. Gandenji temple is a very old temple and worth visiting. Jinmuji temple is also very old, and has some nice hills and hiking trails nearby. Hosshoji temple is another temple that’s good to see. You can watch the Zushi Yabusame, which is horseback archery. Osaki Park is famous for its cherry blossoms. Nearby, Kotsubo is a small fishing village that’s great for fresh fish and the Ayu Festival.
Hakone is Kanagawa’s premier hot spring resort area. The town is situated in the caldera of Mt. Hakone, and it’s a UNESCO Geopark. This is the place you go to for hot springs, but there are many other attractions. Lake Ashi (Ashinoko) is the central feature of the area. Hakone Shrine is situated on the lake with a torii gate in the water. Owakudani is a hot spring area that can be accessed via cable car, though you don’t want to get in the water. Hakone Open Air Museum is an outdoor art museum situated in a park. For some sightseeing, take the Hakone-Tozan Cable Car, the Hakone Ropeway or the cartoonish Hakone Sightseeing Ships on Ashinoko. There’s also the Hakone Komagatake Ropeway to Mt. Komagatake. Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands is good to see. And finally, you can see the Pola Museum of Art.
Isehara is a small city that is known for Mt. Oyama. Oyama is a mountain that is easily climbed in a day, and it has a cable car that takes you halfway up. The view from the top is beautiful. At the base of the mountain is a long shopping area that’s famous for tofu.
Miura is a small city on the southern tip of the Miura Peninsula. Along with the rugged coast and beaches, it also features Jogashima, an island that’s known for its tuna fishery. Go there for some fresh sushi and sashimi.
Hiratsuka is situated on the Shonan coastal area, and is famous for one thing, the Tanabata Festival. This festival is the largest Tanabata festival in the Kanto region and the second largest in the country.
Apart from Chinese food (especially shumai and nikuman/pork buns), Kanagawa has a couple of local foods that are popular. One is shirasu, which is baby sardines. Also, in Kamakura, pigeon sable cookies are very popular.
Have I missed something that you think was notable? Please leave a comment!