I learnt that when you are tired of the Tokyo busy city life, here in Japan you absolutely need no car and can just hop on the first train that you see and get off at the stop that attracted your attention the most ahah I was, indeed, a bit tired of always going to Tokyo and changing three times every time so I decided to visit a nearby city called Odawara. I researched a bit online what to visit near Tokyo and this name popped up, so excited to explore new places, I decided to go and I got to know a very beautiful natural area just 2 hours away from one of the biggest and densely populated cities in the world.
Odawara – 小田原
Surprisingly Odawara is a very cute city located near the sea and has a quite important and long history behind. Many tourists tend to skip Odawara and move on to Hakone, famous for its beautiful Onsen, but I would recommend you to stop here for a short visit and enjoy its small but beautiful castle.
Odawara, just like Kamakura since they are located very near each other, was – and still is nowadays as we can see from the Tokaido Shinkansen passing through here – in a very strategic position: sandwiched between the mountainous area of Hakone and the Sagami Bay.
Odawara was always used as a base by many important Japanese warrior clans for being a passageway between Tokyo and Kyoto thus they have built here a castle that assured its feudal lords complete control over the Tokaido road.
It was also loved by the wealthy people and literate for its unique beauty. It is, after all, surrounded by a lush nature and a clean sea, which did not change nowadays. People still come here and dive to come into contact with the marine flora.
Odawara Castle – 小田原城
Odawara is rather a small city and the most important landmarks are all gathered in a specific part of the city, which is to say near the sea. Obviously, the most important and known city’s landmark is the castle, which unfortunately was destroyed during the Meiji restoration (this time not by bombs) and rebuilt atop of a hill last century.
The castle is located in a big park whose entrance is pretty scenic: a long and red bridge across a large pond leading to the castle’s ground. It is a very Japanese experience ahah Among the castles I have seen in Japan, this one is the smallest but yet, it is very beautiful and extremely photogenic.
The entrance is very cheap and it is very interesting to see the castle from inside and getting to know better its history, always if you can understand Japanese. I learn Japanese but hell no, this was too much for me. Too many kanji – Chinese characters – were in my way of understanding so the only thing I could figure out was that throughout the time the castle was owned by different clans. There are also some Katana – Japanese swords – and Samurai armor showcased there.
Make sure to climb until the top because up there the view is really breathtaking. It is a complete different image of Japan: no a concrete jungle and crowded places but just much nature, sinuous cliffs falling into the water and the shining blue of the sea under the warm sun. After visiting the castle, do not miss the nice shrine complex and have a stroll in the park.
Odawara Beach – 小田原御幸の浜
Yesh, Japan also has beaches and clean sea, it is not that Fukushima polluted everywhere. After all Japan is an island country, sea has always played an important role in their economy and history. I do not actually know if sea is as popular in Japan as it is in western world, though.
When I went to Odawara, it was already middle September so I guess the bathing season had already ended and Japanese would not go to the beach and bathe. I just saw some people strolling on the beach and one old very tanned man that had just bathed, the only one that had the courage ahah
My Japanese friend told me that the water here is not that good but to me it did not look extremely dirty or polluted, it is just that the beach was located next to the highway so it was not the best place to lie down and sunbathe, right? A funny fact is that it is known that Japan, besides being the land of the rising sun, is also the land of disasters ahah they have so many natural disasters, among them eruptions, earthquakes and the notorious tsunami. The word itself comes from the Japanese language meaning “harbour wave”. If you happen to go to a beach in Japan, you will always find a warning sign saying: “beware of Tsunami”!
In proximity of the beach there are also a lot of minor Buddhist temples. As temple/shrine-addicted, I had to stop and take some photos. Also, as I said, Odawara was quite important in the past so throughout the city you will come across some old Japanese mansions used by rich people. I guess they are mere reproduction but they still hold a certain ancient aura.
So please do not just stop in Tokyo but also try to explore some other places, very near and easy to access thanks to the efficient japanese train system. You will also experience the real Japanese life and culture.