More Than Just Disneyland! Exploring Hidden Gems in Every Corner of Chiba

More Than Just Disneyland! Exploring Hidden Gems in Every Corner of Chiba

Looking for a short getaway from the bustling crowds of Tokyo? Look no further than the prefecture of Chiba (千葉県). Contrary to the popular belief that “There is nothing much to see or do other than Tokyo Disneyland”, we'd like to disagree! Chiba Prefecture, just lying to the east of Tokyo, offers not only an abundance of spectacular nature, but also a glimpse of Japanese traditional life as you step foot into its well-preserved traditional towns and temples.

Rediscover the charms of Chiba with these six unique locations showcasing the best of Chiba’s hidden gems.

 

1. Funabashi: Funabashi H.C. Andersen Park

The iconic windmill at the HC Andersen Funabashi Park
©︎Adobe Stock

Ranked as the third most popular theme park in Japan, Funabashi Andersen Park (ふなばしアンデルセン公園) was launched in commemoration of Funabashi City being a sister city of Hans Christian Andersen’s hometown in Odense, Denmark. True to this, the overall layout and structures in the park draw inspiration from the author’s artworks and are reminiscent of Danish architecture.

Enjoy a delightful day in this unique theme park as you venture into the five different areas offered and engage in a wide variety of family-friendly attractions such as pony riding and mini golf! Combining both nature and art, the Fairy Tale Hill Zone recreates a picturesque rural scenery straight out of 1800s Denmark, while the Nature Experience Zone provides a pleasant walk through the woodlands and wetlands of the region, and for an even more immersive experience, consider taking a boat ride on the Pond of the Sun, and surround yourself with the breathtaking scenery.

Together with the changing seasons, you can also enjoy seasonal events such as the cherry blossom festival in spring and the sunflower festival in summer. For fans of the Danish poet, this is definitely a must-visit while you’re in Chiba.

 

2. Narita: Naritasan Shinsoji

Naritasan Shinshoji
©︎ Adobe Stock

Located not far away from Narita Airport in the city of Narita, Naritasan Shinsoji Temple (成田山新勝寺) is an excellent spot to visit for a glimpse of traditional Japanese infrastructure.

This temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Narita City and one of Japan’s oldest temples, built in the year 940 by Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Sect. As the area is rather vast, you can expect to spend around 3-4 hours just wandering around the grounds of Naritasan. Keep a lookout for the Great Pagoda of Peace, a three-storied pagoda built in Tahoto style, featuring architecture that is culturally important to Japanese history.

Leading to the temple is a lively shopping street, Omotesando (成田山表参道), where you can check out goods such as traditional crafts and souvenirs that have been sold to pilgrims and tourists alike since centuries ago. With many restaurants lined up along the shopping street, you can also have a taste of fresh barbecued eel, one of the delicacies offered around the area, before making your way into the sacred temple grounds. 

 

3. Sawara: Little Edo

Little Edo in Sawara
©︎ Adobe Stock

A former merchant town that thrived during the Edo Period, the historical canal city of Sawara along Ono River (小野川) boasts its status as "Little Edo" through its beautifully preserved traditional houses reminiscent of the 1600s. Offering a completely different landscape from modern Tokyo, you can return in time to the Edo Period by taking the sightseeing boat which brings you through the waterways that made the city a bustling transport hub in the past.

Lined along the river are rows of shophouses selling traditional souvenirs including snacks such as senbei, and crafts such as braided baskets and gorgeous paper umbrellas.

During the months of July and October, the town is also known for hosting the Sawara Grand Festival (佐原の大祭), one of the largest float festivals in the Kanto Region, with a history dating back 300 years ago. The floats are decorated with figurines, made by traditionally famous Edo and Meiji craftsmen, and are as huge as four meters in height. Together with the festive music in the background, these floats are then hoisted through the streets, bringing to life the practices of a flourishing past.

 

4. Katsuura: Katsuura Morning Market and Hina Matsuri

Dolls decorated as part of the Hina Matsuri Festival in early March in Katsuura City
©︎ Adobe Stock

For four centuries, the Katsuura Morning Market (勝浦朝市) of Katsuura City has remained as one of the biggest morning markets in Japan, boasting an exceptional range of freshly caught seafood from Katsuura Harbor (勝浦漁港). Although it opens daily with the exception of Wednesdays, the morning market becomes exceptionally lively during weekends, as the main street is filled with vendors selling all sorts of produce and customers looking for the best and freshest catch of the day.

One of the most famous delicacies in Katsuura includes the skipjack tuna, usually eaten raw and accompanied by a bowl of steaming white rice. Another local favorite would be the kinmedai red snapper (金目鯛), which can be enjoyed raw or over a sweet and savoury sauce.

Besides the morning market, you can also visit Tomisaki Shrine (遠見岬神社), which overlooks the town and is the location for the well-known Hina Matsuri (ひな祭り). The festival is held during March, where a staggering 1,800 dolls are made to adorn the 60 stone steps leading to Tomisaki Shrine, in hope of the healthy and peaceful growth of young girls–definitely a sight not to be missed.

 

5. Kamogawa: Kamogawa Sea World

Visitors in front of an aquarium tank at the Kamogawa Sea World
©︎ Adobe Stock

An aquarium located on the Boso Peninsula, Kamogawa Seaworld (鴨川シーワールド) is one of the most popular attractions in Chiba Prefecture. The outdoor marine park features over 10,000 marine creatures including orcas and beluga whales and presents three distinct zones modeled after their natural habitats.

The highlight of the live performances includes the popular orca shows, where audiences can expect to see the intelligent marine mammal perform tricks and jump elegantly in the air.

During these performances, audiences are also allowed to get up close and personal with the sea creatures. Besides being a family-friendly attraction, the aquarium is also an organization that is involved in marine research and preservation, where one can learn about the conservation of Japan’s aquatic bio environment.

After a day of meeting the sea creatures unique to the Boso Peninsula, you can also drop by the gift shop to pick up your very own orca stuffed toy or beluga whale keychain to gift your loved ones or simply as a memory of the fun-filled day.

 

6. Boso Peninsula: Mt. Nokogiri, Beaches and B.B.BASE

Boso Peninsula
©︎ Adobe Stock

Lying southeast of Tokyo, the Boso Peninsula (房総半島) provides many sightseeing spots with its vast expanse of nature and numerous beaches along its extensive shorelines. 

Explore its mountainous interior by heading to Mount Nokogiri (鋸山), where you might be able to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji on a clear day. It was not only depicted as one of the “One Hundred Famous Views in the Various Provinces” by artist Utagawa Hiroshige II, but also home to one of largest Buddha statues in Japan. Here, you can visit Nihonji Temple (日本寺大仏), a Zen temple with a history of 1300 years, as well as the humongous daibutsu (大仏 Buddha statue) dating back to the 1700s. In the temple complex, there used to be 1500 smaller statues, but most had been lost over time and now, only approximately 500 of these smaller statues still remain. From the top of the mountain, you can also enjoy a panoramic view of Tokyo Bay which overlooks the boundless Pacific Ocean.

The beaches of Boso Peninsula, with the calmer waters and spectacular views, are also famous as surfing destinations all-year round, but especially during summer. Katakai Beach is one of the more popular surfing spots where you can have a taste of the local specialty, hamaguri clam, after a long day of surfing.

Besides surfing, you can also explore the peninsula with the B.B.BASE, a Joyful Train by JR East, which provides cyclists with the ease of travelling by train from Tokyo with the provision of specially-fitted bicycle racks, offering a more intimate and personalized experience on the peninsula. 

 

Experience the Charms of Chiba with JAPAN RAIL CLUB! 

Although often overshadowed by the popularity of its largest amusement park, the prefecture of Chiba is more than just a destination for thrilling rides and magical attractions. With not just picturesque sightseeing locations but also culturally significant traditional sites, this prefecture is unquestionably a must-visit for those seeking a day trip out of Tokyo.

As a way to introduce Japan's various regions via its wonderful array of snacks, you can have a taste of Chiba with JAPAN RAIL CLUB's Omiyage Snack Box! This January, we are featuring four well-loved snacks from Chiba, including the cute mascot-packaging Chiiba-kun Sweet Peanut Rice Crackers and Peanut Prince Original. These snacks will be shipped to you directly to your doorstep when you subscribe to the Snack Subscription Plan this month! Use this exclusive discount code "ICHIGO10" to unlock a special price for your subscription this 2024. Discover Chiba's gems with JAPAN RAIL CLUB today!

Meet the author

Dawn Sim

An avid lover of nature, photography, and Japanese literature, you will find Dawn (@oyakodawn) either lost in the midst of a historical pilgrimage route or in any local book cafes from the north all the way to the south of Japan. Dawn has lived in Kyoto for a year and still can’t get enough of its cultural and historical richness - not to mention the hipster cafes that serve to satisfy their coffee addiction!

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