As a Sailor, it is in my blood to want to get out and explore. When it comes to finding weekend getaways from Yokosuka, I am eager to know about them!
Because being at sea is tough, the joys of time ashore is especially sweet. A weekend off is nothing short of SUBLIME.
Yes, there is beauty to resting on a couch and binge watching a show with some comfort food. But if you’re looking for something to test your mind and body, here are some thoughts for a fun weekend getaway.
Here are some ideas for 2, 3, and 4 day adventures.
“Weekend” Defined – 48, 72, 96
There is the standard 48 hour weekend you generally get to enjoy if you are on land. And then there is the exquisite, pristine beauty of a weekend PLUS. Active duty military know the joys that come with 72- and 96- hour special liberty. (A 96-hour special liberty is the maximum amount of liberty a commander can grant; anything more and a Sailor has to burn leave.)
Fortunately, there are many places a Yokosuka-based Sailor can travel in a limited time. Tokyo’s Haneda airport is only an hour away by local train. For those who prefer to land-based travel, the Shinkansen (bullet train) is easily accessible from the stations at Shin-Yokohama or Shin-Tokyo.
Pack your toiletries and pick a place!
Standard Weekend Liberty (48 hours)
There are so many lovely places to visit during the weekend. Enoshima, Kamakura, Jogashima, and Yokohama are a few of my favorite “go-to” destinations. However, they are places that are less than an hour away by train or car. As such, I think they fall under the category of “day trips”.
For a nearby destination worth an overnight stay, consider Hakone, the Mt. Fuji area, Kusatsu Onsen, or Takasaki.
Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture
Hakone is a classic destination and less than two hours from Yokosuka by public transportation. Although it is entirely possible to make it a day trip, I highly recommend you savor your time. If you are going to make the effort to get to Hakone, treat yourself and make it an overnight stay.
What makes this place special? On a clear day, it has spectacular views of Mt. Fuji. In addition to the famous Torii Gate by the lake, the area is rich in geo-thermal activity and has fantastic hiking. It is also home to the Owakudani “hells”, which are comprised of hot springs and active sulfur vents.
According to legend, eating one of the famous Owakudani black eggs steamed in sulfur will add seven years to your life. Therefore, if you go to Hakone or Owakudani, you simply MUST try a famous Black Egg. They aren’t just good for you, they are sooooooo oishiii (delicious).
Where to stay? Since Hakone is a huge draw with urban city dwellers looking to enjoy nature, it is priced accordingly. I stayed at Yumoto Station Hotel, which was located directly by the Haya River and made for wonderful morning walks.
Mount Fuji, Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefecture
Mt. Fuji is one of the few world-famous mountains that you can climb in one weekend…starting from sea level. Those who start from elevation zero and register their Fujinomiya hike with the city can earn a coveted certificate and badge.
Of course, the vast majority begin their climbs from a Station 5 starting point. There are four distinct paths to climb Mount Fuji: Gotemba, Fujinomiya, Yoshida, and Subashiri. Each trail has its own distinctive character. The big question is: do you prefer a night climb to see the sun rise? Or do you prefer not to shiver while waiting for the sun, and to climb without the assistance of a head lamp?
Regardless of your choice, make certain you give yourself ample time to recover from the physicality of your climb. Even if you are a seasoned Sailor who expertly navigates up and down pitching ladderwells multiple times a day, Mt. Fuji will tax leg muscles you never knew you had.
Where to stay? If you choose to spend the night at a Mount Fujii hut, expect spartan accommodations and to share a space filled with dozens of other hikers. Relax. No one cares what you smell like. The night before beginning the climb, we stayed at Toyoko Inn Shin-Fuji, which was clean, low-cost, and provided a generous breakfast. Post-climb, I recommend treating yourself to a ryokan. Ryokans are famous for their traditional Japanese hospitality, and you are fabulously cared for.
Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture
Takasaki is in a mountainous region and is the birthplace of the famous Daruma Doll. Any Sailor who visits Japan’s shrines and temples will know about the significance of a Daruma Doll. The Daruma Doll was modeled after a monk whose focus and self-discipline were legendary.
They come with a fascinating history: the dolls are sold with no eyes because the monk allegedly cut off his own eyelids to allow him uninterrupted contemplation of his goal. After buying a doll, the purchaser sets a goal and paints one eye in. Once their goal is realized, they paint in the other eye.
In addition to visiting Shorinzan Daruma-ji Temple, where the Daruma Doll originateed, Takasaki is known for its statue of the Bodhisattva Kannon (Goddess of Mercy). With a height of 41.8 meters, it is taller than Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. Visitors who climb inside the Bodhisattva Kannon are rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
It takes effort and planning to get to Takasaki, and because the city is fairly remote there are far fewer signs in English. Fortunately, Japanese warmth, friendliness are such that it is well worth the effort.
The best time to go is at the start of the new year.
Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma Prefecture
Kusatsu Onsen, also in Gunma Prefecture, is home to Japan’s most famous onsen waters. The water is so renowned for its healing properties that during the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate the high-alkaline water transported to Edo (Tokyo) by the barrels.
The undisputed star attraction is the man-made thermal spring called Yubatake (“hot water field”), where water gushes up at 95 degrees Celsius. In order to cool the water without diluting its composition, the people devised a special approach: yomomi.
For ¥700. ($5.20), visitors can observe local women demonstrate the traditional technique as they sing in unison and use long wooden planks to stir the water.
Although there are many public and private bath houses, why not try bathing outdoors at Sainokawara Park? The experience is especially delightful in the winter. While snow flakes drift atop your head and shoulders, the rest of you is kept blissfully warm in crystal-clear jade-colored water that relaxes your muscles and leaves your skin super soft.
Hands down, this is my favorite onsen experience in Japan. I stayed at Kusatsu Onsen Hotel Futabaya, which was less than a five minute walk to both Yubatake and the train station.
72 Hour Special Liberty
72s: A 72-hour special liberty includes either the Friday before a weekend, or the Monday after. Fortunately for U.S. Sailors, American holidays often fall on Japanese work days. What better way to get a discount on lodging, and what better way to avoid heavy crowds, than to sight-see on a Monday or Friday?
There is an excellent reason why Kyoto is ranked as one of the most popular cities in Japan to visit. This former capital of Japan is dense with gorgeous cultural treasures. The only downside to Kyoto is that it is easy to get a temple/shrine/palace overload. For this reason, I strongly recommend limiting yourself to no more than three temples or palaces per day.
Aside from being a must-see in its own right, Kyoto is also a fantastic base from which to explore OTHER nearby cities, such as Hiroshima, Kobe, and Nara.
In Kobe, foodies will love the chance to experience authentic Kobe beef as prepared directly before their eyes by a master. Because the experience is so special and demand is high, it is best to make a reservation at least a week in advance.
Nearby Nara is an easy 40 minutes by local train. Also a former ancient capital of Japan, Nara is a lot like Kyoto in terms of gorgeous historic temples and shrines…but with the charm of bowing deer. 🙂
Where to stay? Prices tend to be slightly more expensive in Kyoto than in nearby Osaka. Special pro tip: you can find great deals by going through the Kyoto Tourism office at the train station the day of.
Mie, Mie Prefecture
A strand of Mikimoto pearls can fetch a few thousand to several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It was Kokichi Mikimoto who created the first method for pearl cultivation. In addition to being the birthplace of Mikimoto pearls, Mie is a great place to see the Ama.
Traditionally, the Ama dove up to 50 feet for abalone and clams. Later, their skills were used to harvest pearl-bearing clams. If you are unable to book a meeting with the Ama in their huts – they are very popular! – the best way to see them in action is to head to Mikimoto Pearl Island. It is a short walk from the train station and across a bridge to the island. There, stoic Ama conduct diving demonstrations multiple times each day.
Those on the viewing platform can watch as they neatly dive, and are close enough to hear the unique whistling breathing technique as they rest in between dives. If you love the luster of Japanese pearls, but do not have a Mikimoto-sized budget, many shops off the island sell pearls at different price points.
If you are traveling to Mie, nearby Ise Grand Shrine is a must-see. With a history that dates back over two thousand years, it is considered one of the most revered shrines in all Japan.
Mie is best accessed via train from Nagoya or Osaka. Although I visited Mie as a day trip from an apartment in Osaka, the next time I visit I plan on staying in Mie.
96 Hour Special Liberty
A ’96’ is the Mother of all special liberty! It represents the maximum amount of liberty a Sailor can get from their command before being charged leave. A ’96’ is most likely to happen during Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.
With the gift of time, you have the luxury of expanding your reach with a flight, and explore more remote areas of Japan.
Although beautiful year-round, I am partial to visiting Nagano during the winter months. Fortunately for Sailors, there are TWO “96” hour specials that neatly line up with seeing Nagano: Christmas and New Year’s.
During the winter months, Nagano is an ideal place to head to see the world-famous Snow monkeys of Jigokudani. Nagano also offers easy access by bus and train to Hakuba, where you can snow board and ski to your heart’s content. It is also an easy train ride to Matsumoto Castle, which has the distinction of being one of only five castles to be named a ‘National Treasures of Japan’.
For a unique winter experience, consider trying a 5-shrine pilgrimage up Mount Togakushi. The 5.5 kilometer route that links the shrines together goes through a primeval forest with 400+ year old giant cedar trees. After reaching the uppermost shrine, celebrate your achievement by stopping in a restaurant for special soba noodles.
While in Nagano, I stayed at the Hotel Metropolitan Nagano, which was located close to restaurants and convenience stores, a five minute walk from the train and bus stations, and an easy walk to the superb Zenkoji Temple.
Given how special a ’96’ is, the best way to maximize your time in Tottori is to fly there from Haneda. Tottori is the most remote prefecture in all of Japan, which makes arguably makes it the most extreme adventure destination. It is for the person looking to truly get away and have their mind rocked by the diversity of Japan’s landscape.
Who would have ever thought that Japan would have a desert? In addition to a 9 mile by 1 mile stretch of desert with the ocean as a backdrop, Tottori is famous for growing delicious nashi (Japanese pears). The prefecture also has a permanent sand art museum featuring stunning creations from the world’s most gifted sand sculpture artists.
Last but not least, Tottori’s ‘Tourist Taxi’ has one of my favorite tourism initiatives. For a mere ¥3000 ($20.72) per car – cheaper than bus fare – foreign visitors are afforded a professional taxi driver to safely transport them to a range of pre-selected destinations. You will feel like a VIP rock star during the three hours.
Looking for a place to stay in Tottori?
Takayama, Gifu Prefecture
Looking to breathe some pure mountain air and perhaps stretch the legs, as well as the lungs? Consider a trip to the heart of Japan’s Alps.
Yes! In addition to a desert, Japan has a glorious set of Alps.
If you are going to Takayama, a must-see destination is Shirakawago. The town is a UNESCO-designated World Cultural Heritage Site, and every single view is postcard worthy. What makes the village so special are its gassho-style houses. The unique architecture of the straw thatched roofs is said to resemble hands clasped together in prayer.
Takayama is a lovely town to simply stroll around, with plenty of shrines and Japan’s oldest morning market. Although every meal I had here was delicious, a walk down main street will leave no doubt as to what delicacy the region is most famous for: HIDA BEEF. The beef is amazingly delicate and flavorful. Try it with a tiny pinch of salt and some wasabi – the taste will leave you smiling from ear to ear.
Looking for a place to stay in Takayama?
The only efficient way to get to Japan’s largest prefecture is to fly from Haneda to New Chitose Airport.
If you talk to any Japanese about Hokkaido, and its only minutes before food comes up. Hokkaido produces over 50% of Japan’s milk, and is celebrated for the caliber of its cream, butter, and cheese. If you have long dreamed of milking a cow and making your own butter, Hokkaido is a great place to go!
If you travel to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital city, you will see poster after poster advertising Sapporo beer and a lamb delicacy known as Ghengis Khan.
In the winter, Sapporo is famous throughout Japan for its Snow Festival. During this time, millions of Japanese stroll the city in single digit temperatures to admire the enormous yet intricate snow creations.
Near Sapporo lies Otaru, a picturesque city known for its many canals and European-like vibe.
For a more rural experience and chance to study the Ainu culture, head southeast to Noboribetsu. The area is well known for its “hell valley”, and Sengen Park offers hikers the chance to explore miles of well-marked trails that traverse the thermal springs. You can even (safely) soak your tired feet in one of the streams!
Where to stay? In Sapporo, I thought it best to base myself near a train station. Once I got to Noboribetsu, I was happy I splurged on Takinoya Bekkan Tamanoyu, a traditional ryokan. The staff was so kind and welcoming, and afteer several happy hours of hiking the evening meal they brought out was truly unforgettable.
Enjoy Your Liberty
Here’s wishing you a safe, healthy, and very happy adventure ahead!