Tateyama & Minami-Boso Cities, Chiba Prefecture

The southernmost tip of the Boso peninsula can be explored as an overnight trip from Tokyo. It’s completely off the tourist trail, even for domestic travelers, and thus ideal for some laid-back sightseeing, except in the summer, when the beaches are in business. It can be reached by train from Shinjuku using the JR Sazanami limited express to Tateyama (about 2 hours and 15 minutes), or the highway bus from Tokyo station (around 2 hours, via the Aqua line, but beware of traffic jams on weekends).

Pagoda at Nago Temple

Oshima island as seen from Sunosaki cape

The largest city by far is Tateyama, located on a wide bay on the western side. From there, the JR Uchibo line curves eastwards and cuts across the peninsula, merging with the JR Sotobo line in Awa-Kamogawa on the eastern side. Minamiboso completely encircles Tateyama and has no major population centers, although inns and hotels can be found along the coastline. Since most sights are spread over a wide area, a rental car is needed when venturing south of the railway line, as bus service is infrequent.

View towards Nokogiriyama from Taibusa cape

Sunosaki cape from hotel Nankaiso

Fortunately, two of the most interesting sights can be reached on foot from Nakofunakata Station, one stop before Tateyama. Gake-Kannon (literally, “Cliff Kannon), also known as Daifuku-ji, is a temple, built under a red hued cliff, especially striking around sunset. It’s worth climbing one of the several staircases up to the small temple building perched directly under the cliff to see the view of the bay from the front viewing platform.

View of Tateyama from the balcony of Daifuku temple

Reaching Daifuki-ji (left) / Sunet at Nago-ji (right)

In the opposite direction is Nago-ji, a temple built on a hillside, and featuring a charming pagoda and another view of Tateyama bay; cherry blossom trees can be seen in spring. The trail to the observation deck higher up was damaged by the 2019 typhoons and is currently closed.

Daifuku temple at Gake-Kannon

Watch a video of Kannon-Gake and Nago-ji

Following the coastline west from Tateyama is Sunosaki lighthouse, about 20 minutes away by car. Over a hundred years old, its main purpose is to indicate the entrance to Tokyo bay. From the viewing area at its base, one can observe Tateyama bay, Mt Fuji, the Izu peninsula and Oshima island; the best views can be had around sunset.

Sunset from Sunosaki lighthouse

Watch a video of Sunosaki lighthouse

The Taibusa Cape Nature Park in Minamiboso is a great place for a short stroll with oceanic views, less than an hour walk from Tomiura station, two stops north of Tateyama. Starting from the information center next to the parking lot, it takes about an hour to make a loop of the park. On the way, one can check out an observation tower, an observation deck and the ruins of an old fort. From Iwai station, one stop away, is the start of the Kinone Pass hike.

View of Minamiboso from Taibusa Cape

Watch a video of Taibusa cape

Nojima Cape Lighthouse is situated at the southern tip of the Boso peninsula, a thirty-minute drive from Tateyama, and within the confines of the Minamiboso Quasi-National Park. The main thing to do is to see the view from the top of the lighthouse (a small fee is required); make sure to check out the interesting museum next to the entrance (Japanese only).

View of the coastline from the Nojima lighthouse

View of the Pacific from the Minamiboso quasi national park

The marker for the southernmost point of the Boso peninsula can be reached via a circular path around the cape: nearby is a white, solitary bench on top of a rock, the perfect place to gaze at the Pacific ocean stretching away into the distance. Following the “Boso flowerline” road for about ten minutes east leads to the start of the hike for Mt Takatsuka.

Bench at the end of Boso

Watch a video of Nojima cape

Shimoda City, Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka Prefecture

Shimoda is a coastal city in southern Izu that can be visited as an overnight trip from Tokyo. It’s off the beaten track, even for domestic travelers, except in the summer when the beaches are open. It can be reached by train from Tokyo station using the Odoriko limited express (about two and a half hours).

Traditional buildings and weeping willows along the Perry Road

An old store house (“Kura”)

Commodore Perry and his black ships (“Kurofune”) landed there on his second trip to Japan in 1854, and signed a treaty opening the port to American ships. The “Black Ship” has become the main theme for the city. A great place to find out more is the small but interesting MoBS (The Museum of Black Ship) Kurofune museum, where various historical artifacts are on display.

View from the observation deck of Mt Nesugata

View of Shimoda city and Shimoda-Fuji

The road leading to the Museum, called “Perry Road”, follows a narrow canal through a historical neighbourhood that feels quite different from the rest of the city; the weeping willows bring to mind the Gion district in Kyoto. Walking down this street is like traveling back in time and is one of the best-kept secrets of the Tokyo area.

Walking on Irozaki Cape

View of the southern Izu shoreline

The highlight of a visit to Shimoda is the ropeway to the top of Mt Nesugata (199 meters, meaning “sleeping figure”). From the observation platform, one can get a view of the bay, Oshima island and the Pacific ocean; this is supposedly where the Black Ships were first spotted. On the other side is a view of Shimoda city and Shimoda-Fuji; through the trees, the white tip of the real Mt Fuji can be seen on a clear day.

The southernmost tip of the Izu peninsula

View from Cape Aiai

An interesting side trip is to take a bus to Irozaki Cape. One can walk past the lighthouse and the small shrine nestled under the cliffs, to the southernmost point of the Izu peninsula. The sight and sound of the waves crashing on the shoreline is impressive but care must be taken on windy days. A cruise can be done in good weather and it’s possible to explore the coastline further towards western Izu.

See the views of Shimoda City

Small Worlds Tokyo, Koto City, Odaiba

Small Worlds is a theme park dedicated to miniatures. It opened in spring 2020, just as Japan shut its borders due to the pandemic, so few tourists have had a chance to visit up to now. It’s located in a nondescript building, 5 minutes on foot from Ariake Tennis-no-mori station on the Yurikamome monorail, so it can be combined with other attractions in Odaiba; since it’s completely inside, it’s perfect for a rainy day in Tokyo.

Model train running through the Global Village area

Model map of Small Worlds, to the left of the elevator

I love models and miniatures, and despite the high entrance price (2700 yen), I’ve been there twice, once in December 2022 and again in March 2023, and highly enjoyed both visits. There is so much detail to spot and observe, that one can easily spend two hours there, even though all the displays are just on one floor. Make sure to press the various buttons and then try and see which miniatures suddenly spring into action.

Alpine landscape with a (moving) ropeway and a ski slope

Mediterrean sea fort

The theme park is divided into 6 areas. The most interesting one is the “Global Village area” featuring towns built in various architectural styles, with model trains running through most of the exhibit. I’d recommending seeing it early in the visit: go left when getting off the escalator on the 3rd floor. It’s just past the “Space Center area”, the 2nd most interesting area: there are several rocket blastoffs throughout the day so make sure to check the schedule.

A fictional city modeled on real-life Hong-Kong

The Sailor Moon city at night

Following the route, the next area is the “Sailor Moon Area”, recreating the Tokyo neighbourhood where the characters of the Sailor Moon animation live. Make sure to hang around for the night performance of Debussy’s ” Clair de Lune” (see videos). The 3rd most interesting area is up next: the “Kansai International Airport Area”. It seems to take up a lot of unnecessary space but the sight of the planes taking off and landing is worth it.

Kansai international airport at dawn

The airport at night

Down a tunnel leading away from the airport is the “Evangelion Cage area”, the least interesting area, where one can see the 3 EVAs from the animation. Hardcore fans of the show might enjoy it but I found it less impressive than the rockets and planes in the other areas. The Small Worlds theme park has several corporate partners which is why there are so many JAL planes at the airport; and also why there are so many hotdog vending cars (another partner is a sausage factory).

At night, Tokyo-III re-emerges from the underground

Various rockets are on display

Further on, one arrives at the “Evangelion Tokyo III area”, a reproduction of the city inhabited by the characters of the animation. The highlight is the city that disappears underground and then re-emerges every day. A key feature of the entire park is that day and night alternate, so one gets to see each display in the daytime and lit up at night; it’s worthwhile circling around twice to get both views of each area.

A seasonal display only for the Christmas season

The dazzling “White Art” restaurant on the 2nd floor

After the Evangelion area, it’s possible to loop back to the previous exhibits by going through the workshop area. Both my visits were on weekdays so no workshop activities were being held but there were still many interesting things to see; I could also observe the artists at work. Before leaving, it’s worthwhile checking out the dazzling restaurant on the 2nd floor with its impressive Small Worlds ad playing on loop on a big screen.

See a video of Small Worlds (part I)

See a video of Small Worlds (part I)

See a slideshow of some close-up pictures of Small Worlds

Showa Retro-Kan Exhibition, Tokiwa-So Street, Toshima City

Welcome to Jinsei-Yokocho

I recently had the opportunity to visit a free temporary exhibition called “Showa Retro Kan” (昭和レトロ館) on the 2nd floor of the Toshima Municipal Showa History Cultural Museum (豊島区立昭和歴史文化記念館) on Tokiwa-So-Doori (トキワ壮通り), about two kilometers west of Mejiro station. I walked there since Mejiro-doori is an interesting street to explore, but took one of the frequent buses back.

A Showa-era drinking spot near Ikebukuro station

A peek inside a Showa-era room

Tokiwa-so or Tokiwa house (トキワ壮) used to be an apartment building where many famous Japanese manga artists used to live in the 1950s and 1960: Osamu Tezuka stayed there at the beginning of his career, as well as Fujiko Fujio, the team behind Doraemon. Although the original building no longer exists, there are a number of related interesting sights in the area.

Oden food cart on a bridge over the Kanda river

A public bathhouse in the Waseda neighbourhood

The exhibition is divided into five rooms. The first three have some Showa era photos and room replicas – I had seen similar displays in other museums. However, the fourth room had a toy replica of Ikebukuro station and it was interesting to spot all the different lines that run through one of the busiest stations in the world; also in the same room is a small diorama of what the station looked liked about 100 years ago, when Ikebukuro was mostly fields.

A toy replica of Ikebukuro station

One of the busiest stations in the world

The largest and most interesting room was the last one. It had two larger dioramas: one of “Jinsei-Yokocho” (人生横丁), now renamed to “Mikuni-koji” (美久仁小路), a drinking spot a stones-throw from Sunshine-doori; the other near a sento or public bathhouse in Waseda. I really love miniature models and took my time checking out all the details. The room walls had then and now pictures of various places in Toshima.

Is this one of the residents of Tokiwa House?

Peeping toms…

There are some interesting things to see on the 1st floor as well. A selection of manga that can teach you something; I was familiar with a few of them like Natsuko no Sake and Space Brothers, but I was able to find some new titles to check out. A small shop has some of the manga on sale, although not the ones I wanted. Opposite the shop is probably the cheapest manga cafe in Tokyo: for 500 yen you can spend all day there reading manga (Japanese only).

The exhibition runs till March 31st 2023

Hotel Chinzansou “Sea of Clouds”, Bunkyo City Part 2 [New Video & Photos]

I made another stay at the Chinzanso hotel and was able to enjoy their sea of clouds for a second time. They still do the big sea of clouds at the start and end of the day, but not the blue lights from last year. Hopefully, they will keep on doing this for a while, although it does mean that the garden remains closed to non-guests.

Watch the sea of clouds at Chinzanso Hotel in Tokyo

A slideshow of some pictures of the “Sea of Clouds”

Hotel Chinzansou “Sea of Clouds”, Bunkyo City

Last month I spent one night at Hotel Chinzansou in the heart of Tokyo. In normal times, its beautiful Japanese-style garden is open to day-time visitors. However, because of the pandemic, it’s now restricted to hotel guests only. So I wasn’t aware that they had been spraying water mist several times an hour to create a sea of clouds.

The blue “sea of clouds” is only once a day

Morning mist at the edge of Yusui-chi pond

The mist dissipates in a matter of minutes, but during that time the lower section on the garden is enveloped in a mysterious atmosphère. It’s even more impressive at night, when the lanterns are turned on. Since there are few guests, it is fun to wander around and get lost in the mist. The path leading to the entrance on the Kanda river is probably the best section.

Statues, mist and a pagoda

The mist only spreads through the lower section of the garden

At certain times, they do scented mists, and once in the evening, they do a blue mist. The very last mist of the day is a big “sea of clouds”, when they release mist for a longer time. This isn’t mentioned on the pamphlet; it was one of the staff who whispered it to me. Another secret is the small shrine behind the pagoda at the top of the garden; it has its own separate mist system.

Path leading to the gate on the Kanda river

The main garden pond turns blue once a day

In Japanese, a sea of clouds is called “unkai” and is something that is typically observed in the mountains in the mornings. Perhaps it’s because people were asked not to travel to other prefectures during the state of emergency, that someone decided to create this special mountain phenomenon inside Tokyo. Whatever the reason, it’s a brilliant idea, since it’s simple to execute and visually spectacular.

Path leading up to the pagoda

“Sea of mists” in the daytime

From November 11th, they are starting “Aurora“, a variant of the “sea of clouds”. From the photos it looks the same, except there is also some mist in the sky. By the way, the sea of clouds started about a year ago, in October 2020. I wonder if they will continue it once the garden is open to day-time visitors again as it might become crowded. In any case, it’s probably best to try and see it before then by staying one night at the hotel if possible.

See the spooky atmosphere of the sea of clouds at Hotel Chinzansou

The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, Chiyoda City

The first place I tried to visit on my initial trip to Tokyo was the East Garden of the Imperial Palace in the geographical center of Tokyo. It was a Friday morning in September, and after a long hot slog, we found out that it was closed on Fridays (this was before the smartphone). I eventually managed to go inside after moving to Japan a couple of years later. At the time I thought it was quite nice. I paid another visit a few years after that to see the plum blossoms in February, but I didn’t visit the other areas.

The Ote-Mon gate leading to Otemachi

The Doshin Bansho Guard House with Marunouchi in the background

I never dropped by again although I work nearby, simply because there are so many other things to see in Tokyo. Recently, I was walking by in the late afternoon and noticed that the park was still open. Since the entrance was free, I decided to continue my stroll inside. I was glad I did, because I had totally forgotten how beautiful it was. I thought I would be in and out in half an hour, but I ended up being “gently” pushed out before closing time by the many police officers patrolling the gardens. The highlight for me was the Ninomaru garden with its central pond. When standing next to the small waterfall, I couldn’t see any buildings above the trees, and I could forget for a moment I was in Tokyo. A little further, I arrived at an interesting botanical sight: symbolic trees form each prefecture in Japan, including a palm tree from Miyagi. Each tree had a small sign with its name, and I wished I had more time to examine them in detail.

From one side of the pond, a high-rise building visible above the trees

Standing on the other side, just nature and the blue sky

At the top of a slope, I arrived at Tenshu-dai, described in the pamphlet I received from the kind lady at the entrance, as the base of the main tower. The original tower was lost in a fire but according to the signpost it had been the tallest ever built in Japan. I climbed the short but steep slope to the top to check out the view. I couldn’t see much because of the trees, but I was able to get a good look at the beautiful Concert Hall; it looked like it belonged to the Meiji era. One of the police officers on duty there, kindly offered to take my photo.

What is that old-fashioned structure among the high-rise buildings?

The “Tokagakudo” Concert Hall

Next, I walked the entire length of the surprisingly wide lawn to Fujimi-Yagura, meaning “Mt Fuji view turret”. I was hoping to get a glimpse of Japan’s most famous mountain, but I hadn’t realised that the the tower was closed to the public. Also, according to the signboard, it was no longer possible to see Mt Fuji because of all the high-rise buildings. Here, a police man caught up with me, and asked me to make my way to the entrance since the park was closing soon. A black car arrived a few minutes later and followed me till I was nearly out.

The Fujimi Watchtower, hidden in one corner of the gardens

The usual view from the gardens, surrounded by business districts

Walking back to the Otemon gate I admired the various grey stone walls, reminders of the old Edo castle that used to stand on these grounds. Policemen were positioned at every junction and politely showed me the way to the exit. I noticed many benches throughout the park, so I hope to return one day, perhaps in a different season, and spend more time soaking up the peaceful atmosphere of this garden in the heart of Tokyo.

Outside Ote-Mon Gate

William Adams (Miura Anjin) Memorial, Nihonbashi

I had read “Shogun” by James Clavell shortly after arriving in Japan, and had enjoyed every page of it. It recounts the story of the Englishman William Adams, Japanese name Miura Anjin, who was shipwrecked on the coast of Japan in 1600, and lived out the rest of his life here. He established a close relationship with Ieyasu Tokugawa, who unified the country around the same time.

The novel gave me a good sense of what Japan was like 400 years ago. What impressed me while reading this novel was how commoners could lose their lives over the smallest of slights. Often, close family members would be executed at the same time. I feel sometimes that the extreme politeness of the Japanese must have come from this past trauma, although James Clavell may have been exaggerating this practice.


Close up of the text of the memorial (notice the last line)

Anjin-san, as he is often called throughout the book, was a real person, and it was amazing that he was able to navigate, survive and thrive in such a harsh environment. He might have been the first true “gaijin”. His grave is located on the Miura Peninsula in Tsukayama Park, which I have also visited (but that will be for another post). His Tokyo home was much closer, since it’s located a stone’s throw from Nihonbashi Bridge, the historical center of Edo Tokyo.

The stone memorial marking the spot is squeezed between two modern buildings. There is an English description of his life, crammed into one long sentence. I had to laugh aloud when I saw the final line: “Rebuilt by some Japanese”. That’s quite a nice way of saying “by Anonymous”. It’s definitely worth a quick visit if one is familiar with the story and strolling through out the area.



Soba Restaurants 2020-2022

Here is a summary of some of the other soba places I’ve visited in the past two years, in and around Tokyo. Most of them were visited in combination with a hike and all of them are highly recommended.

Sobakiri Ichibee (そば切り一兵衛), Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture

Soba Maru (そば丸), Koshu City, Yamanashi Prefecture

Jutokuan (寿徳庵), Kanazawa Branch, Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture

Hatsu Hana (はつ花), Daiyuzan Branch, Minami-Ashigara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

Miyabi An (みやび庵), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture

Sobakiri Kuzo (そばきり空蔵), Shirosato, Ibaraki Prefecture

Kimura Soba-ya (木村そば屋), Moroyama, Saitama Prefecture

Kiryu-An (桐生庵), Akiruno City, Tokyo Prefecture

Soba Takashima (蕎麦 高しま), Bunkyo City, Tokyo Prefecture

Matsuo (松翁), Chiyoda City, Tokyo Prefecture

Sofuan, Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture

Before driving up Mt Akagi for a short hike, I decided to drop by Nakaya Sofuan Honten (なかや 桑風庵 本店) for lunch. There were many other soba restaurants along the road, but this one had by far the highest rating on Google Maps. It was also the 4th highest ranked soba restaurant in the Maebashi area, so my expectations were high.

Table with a view

I parked my car in the large parking lot, crossed the road, and followed a small path through a garden to the entrance. Even though it was a weekday, people were constantly arriving and leaving. Fortunately, the restaurant was quite spacious, and I was seated immediately at a table with a view of the garden.


Sofuan’s handmade soba

I ordered the handmade soba with tempura (天ぷら付き手打ちそば tenpura tsuki teuchi soba). I was impressed with the size of the tempura which included a couple of enormous shrimp. The soba was firm and chewy, and I enjoyed every bite; it’s not often that I eat every scrap on the strainer.


The entrance to Sofuan

It was also possible to have some chilled “amazake” (sweet sake), but I had to pass since I was driving. One interesting aspect about this place was that you could order two, three and four-person portion of soba and tempura. So instead of getting several plates of tempura, everything comes in one big plate. On the other hand, everybody gets their own plate of soba. I guess that is the one thing Japanese diners would rather not share.