Exploring Japan with Tobu Railway
Expect a journey of perpetual wonderment when you explore Japan through Tobu Railway, the country’s second longest railway which stretches across 463 kilometres of track. A journey of epic sights, historical landmarks and mouth-watering cuisine
Tobu Railway’s network extends through Tokyo as well as four surrounding prefectures: Chiba, Saitama, Tochigi, and Gunma. Currently with 463.3 kilometres of operating track, Tobu is Kanto’s largest private railway and is used by commuters, students and tourists. Tobu Railways is one of many companies that is part of Tobu Group, which also operates health clubs, golf courses, theme parks, and hotels. These include Tobu World Square, where the world’s most famous structures are recreated at 1:25 scale; the Courtyard Marriott Ginza Tobu Hotel and the Tobu Hotel Levant Tokyo. The Tobu Group also develops and manages condominiums, housing developments, department stores, and various other properties along its railways and in Tokyo.
In the bustling city of Tokyo lies a famous Buddhist temple dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon called the Senso-ji, in the district of Tait. The journey begins from Narita Airport, where travelers can board the Keisei Line to Asakusa station, which takes roughly an hour followed by a five minutes’ walk. After walking through the Kaminari Gate, you will be greeted by many shops selling Japanese snacks and gifts called the Nakamise-dori shopping street.
This happens to be one of the oldest shopping streets where there are more than 80 shops in that area. Shoppers can find Japanese-styled goods that are popular among tourists such as Japanese clogs, hair accessories, wooden dolls, folk art products, postcards, classic Japanese food and confectionaries. For Muslim visitors, there are also halal snacks available!
After walking through the rows of shops, visitors will be able to see the Senso-ji, also known as the Asakusa Kannon Temple.
The temple was founded in 645 AD, which makes it the oldest temple in Tokyo. During World War II, the temple was destroyed but was rebuilt later as a symbol of rebirth and peace to the Japanese people.
Visitors will be able to see many locals as well as tourists alike, making wishes and prayers for good luck and prosperity. Entrance to this temple is free.
THE TOKYO SKYTREE In Oshiage, there is a famous observation tower called the Tokyo Skytree, which is owned by Tobu Group. Located in Sumida City, it is three minutes away and accessible by train from Senso-ji Temple using the Tobu Skytree Line.
The Tokyo Skytree was opened to public on May 2012. It is a restaurant, broadcasting and observation tower which is 634m high, making it the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa. The tower not only illuminates at night but is also resistant to earthquakes. Its two lighting styles – “Iki” and “Miyabi” operate alternately. The tower contains a retail mall called Tokyo Solamachi which houses more than 300 retail and dining shops alongside gourmet restaurants on floor 345 and a Skytree cafe on floor 350.
The highest accessible point on the tower is 450m above ground where visitors will be greeted with a 360 degree view of Tokyo. During days when the skies are clear, mountains and valleys can be seen from the tower. Stop by floor 340 for a glass floor view of the city that is certainly not for the faint hearted.
Nikko has been the center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for many centuries before Toshogu was built in the 1600s, and its national park continues to offer scenic, mountainous landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, hot springs and hiking trails in additional to wild monkeys.
Nikko is most famous for Toshogu, Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate.
The trip to Nikko begins from Asakusa Station whereby visitors can take the Tobu Limited Express Spacia Train to Kinugawa. This direct service train takes roughly 120 minutes to arrive at either destination.
The Limited Express Spacia train has two different class of seats, one being a two by two seating arrangement in a car that has a total of about 60 seats. The other class, called the Spacia Compartment, is a train car that
contains six private rooms, each being able to fit a maximum of four people with luggage storage space above.
Most of the trains have a kiosk located in the centre where passengers can purchase drinks and snacks. Toilets and vending machines are also available in the train. Prices for tickets start at ¥1440 during the weekends.
In Nikko, the Tobu World Square is an architectural museum with reproductions of 102 world-famous buildings on a 1/25 scale, including 46 World Heritage Sites and is a popular destination for many tourists. The sculptures are very skillfully detailed to look similar to the original ones. Entrance to the park starts at ¥2800 for adults and ¥1400 for children. If tickets are purchased in advance, prices will be ¥2500 and ¥1200 for adults and children respectively.
Kegon Falls is located at Lake Chūzenji in Nikko National Park. The falls were formed when the Daiya River was redirected by lava flows. The main falls have a height of approximately 97 metres with twelve smaller waterfalls situated behind and to the sides of Kegon Falls. Water leaks through the many cracks between the mountain and the lava flows with the highest point of the waterfall being 1200 metres.
Visitors can explore the base of the waterfall by using an elevator which costs ¥530.
Toshogu Shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868. Ieyasu is enshrined at Toshogu as the deity Tosho Daigongen, “Great Deity of the East Shining Light”. The highest point here is 640m above ground level, the same height as the Tokyo Skytree.
The shrine complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set within a beautiful forest. Intricate wood carvings and large amount of gold leaves were used to design the architecture of the shrine which cannot be found anywhere else in Japan. Visitors may note that Toshogu also contains both Shinto and Buddhist elements.
A Torii, a form of Japanese gate can commonly be found outside shrines. This distinguishes them from temples where such gates are not built. It is common for places of worship to contain elements of both religions until the Meiji Period when Shinto was deliberately separated from Buddhism. Across the country, Buddhist elements were removed from shrines and vice versa, but at Toshogu the two religions were so intermingled that the separation was not carried out completely.
Visitors are allowed to roam around the shrine by themselves or with English guides. Do note that normal guides are not allowed as all Nikko guides are certified. Due to the increasing popularity of this area, the management is preparing multilingual guides which will soon be available. Entrance to Toshogu Shrine will cost ¥1300.
Right beside Toshogu Shrine is the Futarasan Shrine which is popular among couples. Lovebirds come here to wish for good luck and prosperity in their relationships.
Futarasan Shrine was founded in 782 by Shodo Shonin, the Buddhist monk who introduced Buddism to Nikko. This place is dedicated to the deities of Nikko’s three most sacred mountains: Mount Nantai, Mount Nyoho and Mount Taro. Futarasan is an alternate name of Mount Nantai, the most prominent of the three mountains.
Entrance to Futarasan Shrine is free except for a small area on the left of the offering hall called Haiden. The paid area features a small forested garden with a couple more halls, a spring, old sacred trees and closer views onto the main hall (Honden) that stands behind the offering hall.
TOP The Senso-ji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo founded in 645 AD RIGHT The Nakamise-dori shopping street, one of the oldest shopping streets in Japan
BELOW LEFT Tobu Railway’s network extends through Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Tochigi and Gunma
ABOVE FROM TOP A stunning 360 degree view of Tokyo city from Tokyo Skytree
The view of Tokyo Skytree from Tobu Hotel Levant Tokyo
ABOVE FROM TOP A private room seating with scenic view in The Limited Express Spacia train
Some world-famous buildings on a 1/25 scale in Tobu World Square
BOTTOM One of the shrine’s buildings is decorated with countless wood-carving and gold leaves
LEFT A Torii is commonly used to differentiate between a temple and a shrine