To say that summer in Japan is hot is an understatement. Japanese summers are scorchingly hot and muggy, and this is especially difficult to escape if you’re in the big city. In Tokyo, heat is intensified even more with hot concrete and buildings that block the breeze. However, there are some places near Tokyo where you can cool off and enjoy cooler temperatures, even at the peak of summer.
Best Places Near Tokyo to Cool Off in the Summer
For many Tokyoites, the perfect summer getaway may not be to a tropical island, but instead to a comfortable destination where they can hide away from the stifling heat for a few days. If this sounds like you, plan your next summer trip to one of the top cool (pun intended) destinations in the Greater Kanto area:
The only destination on this list that is actually within Tokyo, Okutama is the perfect place for those needing a quick break from the hot concrete jungle of the city. Located about two hours away from central Tokyo, Okutama is a gem in Western Tokyo for its refreshing natural scenery
This area is full of mountains and greenery, and there are plenty of hiking trails to choose from, such as those found on Mt. Odake and Mt. Mitake. Enjoy the cooler temperatures as you climb under the mountains’ forest canopies.
For those interested in cooling off by the water, try fishing in the Kanoto International Trout Fishing Field, enjoy water sports at Grandex Okutama Base, or marvel at the serene Hossawa Falls.
Perhaps the best way to escape the heat in Okutama is by ducking into one of its famous limestone caves. The Nippara Limestone Caves are the largest cave site in the Kanto area, and it’s perfect in the summer for its consistently low temperatures (remaining at 11 degrees, no matter the season). These caves are beautifully illuminated in gemstone-colored lights, and there’s even calming music playing while you explore this natural wonder.
If you want to beat the crowds in summer, visit Myoko, Niigata, reachable from Tokyo within about 2-3 hours. This area is popular during the winter for skiing and snowboarding, but it’s also the perfect spot to cool off during the summer season.
Lake Nojiri is a must-visit, where you can go for a laidback boat ride or try adventurous water sports like wakeboarding and windsurfing. Lake Nojiri is also home to the Nojiriko Fireworks in the summer.
Myoko is full of many other natural sights and activities too, from ziplining to mountain biking and much more! Check out our top recommendations here!
Another winter favorite, Kusatsu is known for being a snowy onsen (hot springs) town, yet it shouldn’t be overlooked in the summer months. This charming and traditional-feeling town is just as beautiful in summer and less crowded than peak travel time in January. The summer months are warm, yet comfortable for walking around and taking a dip in the natural onsen found in the center of the town.
During your time in Kusatsu, take pictures in front of the natural spring Yubatake (pictured above), watch the traditional yumomi dance show (where the onsen water is cooled manually in a traditional and artistic style), and eat delicious Kusatsu food like onsen tamago (egg cooked in the hot springs) and flavorful mushroom soba.
Summer is also an ideal time to visit Mt. Shirane, an active volcano in the area. Hike to the top for spectacular views and a peek at Yugama Crater Lake. Before planning your visit, however, be sure to check for current volcanic warnings and advisories to ensure that the mountain is open to visitors during your trip.
To escape to Kusatsu, it takes about 2.5 hours by car or four hours by public transportation (combining train and bus).
2. Fuji Five Lakes
The best views of Mt. Fuji, stunning lakes, relaxing onsen, and even a major amusement park: it’s no wonder the Fuji Five Lakes region is one of the top destinations for Tokyo residents. And some spots within this region can be reached in as little as an hour from the city.
Hakone is perhaps the most well-known town in the area, hosting high-quality hot springs and Lake Ashi, among many other relaxing sights and attractions. Like much of the Fuji Five Lakes region, the variety in elevation levels, as well as the cooling effect from the lakes, means that the summer temperatures tend to be lower than Tokyo’s.
Take advantage of this relatively cool weather and spend your trip enjoying the outdoor activities.
Visit the picturesque mountainside Chureito Pagoda for some stunning traditional Japanese architecture, with Mt. Fuji standing in the background. For a bit of modern culture, visit the Hakone Open-Air Museum, an outdoor display of eye-catching sculptures in a natural setting. And for thrilling family fun, be sure to visit the area’s theme park (and one of the most popular in the country), Fuji-Q Highland.
Located only a couple of hours away from Tokyo by train or car, Karuizawa is perhaps the most popular and well-known destination for those in search of cooler, more comfortable temperatures in the summer. Karuizawa sits at the foot of Mt. Asama, and the town is loved for its cool mountain air. When exploring the area, you’ll find that there’s everything from charming cafes to lush nature views to top-notch luxury hotels.
Spend your days shopping at the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza or dining at one of the European-inspired restaurants in the city center. Be sure to also take some Instagram-worthy snaps at Shiraito Waterfall and at the Usui Toge Observation Platform. Then in the evening, relax in a cozy hotel equipped with an onsen, or spend your night in your own private log cabin.
Before heading back to the big city, be sure to pick up some Karuizawa souvenirs. There are many to choose from, including delicious tarts, fruit jams, local honey, and savory cheeses and sausages.
Refreshing Places Near Tokyo to Cool Off During the Summer
Next time you feel trapped in the heat of the city, escape to one of these cooler getaways. Enjoy invigorating mountain air, amazing natural sights, energizing water sports, and more without having to suffer through unbearable summer temperatures.
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Originally published on August 16, 2021, but has since been edited and republished.