Second cities: Destinations to add onto a trip to Tokyo

Dec 7, 2019

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Welcome to TPG’s Second Cities series, where we help you find amazing places that are only a couple of hours away from your original destination. This way you get the most out of your itinerary and visit less-popular or less-frequented destinations that deserve more attention.

Tokyo is a destination that’s on many people’s bucket lists. Whether you’re looking to travel here to try the world-class cuisine, spend hours in the arcades of Akihabara, admire the cherry-blossoms in the spring, or grab a beer down one of the cinematic alleyways, there’s something in this megacity for everyone.

But, with popular tourist destinations like Tokyo come the less desirable parts of travel — the hordes of tourists themselves, as well as the high costs to explore one of the most expensive cities in the world. Which may motivate you to take a side-trip to other cities. Even if you love everything that Tokyo has to offer (because, what’s not to love?!) it’s not every day you’re on this side of the planet. If you’re making the trip here anyway, you may as well make some time to visit other nearby cities, too.

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Osaka/Kyoto

Osaka and Kyoto are important cities in Japanese culture and history. There’s so much to experience in both cities and the best part is their proximity to one another.

Getting there: There are several ways to get to Osaka/Kyoto from Tokyo. You can get the JR Pass and take the train, which is about a two-and-a-half hour journey to Kyoto and a three hour journey to Osaka. Otherwise, a flight is probably the best choice to save time and money. Usually costing less than $100 round-trip, Jetstar, Peach and several other carriers can fly you from Tokyo to Osaka in an hour.

Where to stay: Kyoto is a popular place to try a temple stay, at a place like Shunkoin Temple. Otherwise, opt for the InterContinental Osaka, where you can earn 1,000 bonus IHG Rewards Club points for each night.

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What to see and do: The beautiful thing about traveling to either Osaka or Kyoto is that the cities are an hour apart by the metro, so you can easily do both in one visit. Though, if you had to pick, Kyoto is probably your best bet — especially if you’re a history buff.

Kyoto is the old capital of Japan, and the downtown district of Gion looks as if it’s been frozen in time. Rent a kimono and walk around the area, posing for pictures in front of the canals, traditional homes, and the various temples and shrines, like Kinkaku-ji and Higashiyama Jisho-ji. Make sure to stop for some green tea ice cream, too!

Osaka is a popular choice for night life and shopping, specifically in the Dōtonbori District with its giant neon store fronts and signs, similar to Shinjuku in Tokyo. You can also check out Osaka Castle.

Nearby both cities is the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest as well as the orange Fushimi Inari gates, which were featured in Memoirs of a Geisha.

Seoul

Though similar to Tokyo in many ways, Seoul is quite an interesting contrast once you see both cities. The capital of South Korea has seen an influx of international visitors in recent years due to the export of Korean culture globally.

Getting there: The flight from Tokyo to Seoul is slightly over two hours (though, we promise it will feel a lot shorter after taking the long flight to Tokyo!). Dozens of flights run daily from Narita International Airport (NRT) or Haneda Airport (HND) in Tokyo to Incheon International Airport (ICN) or Gimpo International Airport (GMP) in Seoul. Carriers include Eastar Jet, Peach, T’Way, Korean Air, and Asiana, just to name a few. You can book with one of the budget airlines, or use points to book on one of the major airlines.

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Where to stay: There are so many hotels to choose from in Seoul. If you’re looking for a bit of luxury, check out the Four Seasons Seoul, or one of the Shilla Stays would be a great alternative. Otherwise, you can do an authentic temple stay, a jimjilbang (Korean bathhouse), or a guesthouse.

What to see and do: It’s hard to say which city is more overwhelming when it comes to activities. Similar to Tokyo, Seoul is a bustling city that truly never sleeps. If you want to learn about Korean culture, there are opportunities to do so at every corner of the city.

Start your day at Insadong, the handicraft shopping street where you can rent Hanbok (Korean traditional dress). They’ll dress you up, and you can then get into all the temples for free. Head over to Gwanghwamun Square, where Gyeongbukgong Palace is, and admire the architecture and history. Nearby, is the King Sejong Story Museum, where you can learn about his founding of Hangul, the Korean language.

If night life is what you’re about — and eating, because that’s just a part of night life in Seoul — then head to one of the main districts at Gangnam, Hongdae or Itaewon. Here, you’ll see bars serving up Soju, nightclubs blasting K-pop music, and a wide range of restaurants with menu options ranging from Korean BBQ, to dakgalbi, fried chicken, and even live octopus.

Aside from eating and sightseeing, Seoul is all about shopping. You can’t visit Seoul without checking out Myeongdong, Namdaemun, and Dongdaemun, the main shopping headquarters. You can find everything from cute souvenirs, to Korean beauty products, stationary, clothing, and handicrafts.

Sapporo

Sapporo is the capital of Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture. This island is the second biggest after Honshu, the main island where Tokyo sits. Yet, due to being up north and experiencing very cold winters, Sapporo — and Hokkaido as a whole — often gets overlooked, when it shouldn’t.

Getting there: There are several methods of transportation you can take to get to Sapporo from Tokyo, but, by far the easiest and most affordable is by air. Tickets can range between $100 and $200 on average, and routes are generally flown by Jetstar, Peach, Skymark, and Spring Airlines Japan. The trip takes about one hour and forty minutes. 

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Where to stay: For amazing views, check out the JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo. Hilton members, keep an eye out for the Hilton Sapporo Park, which plans on opening in 2023.

What to see and do: Sapporo is most well-known for its beer, which is the oldest in Japan and can be found all over the world. The city is home to the Sapporo Beer Museum, where you can learn about the history of Japanese beer.

In addition to beer, food is a big reason to come to Sapporo. The seafood is legendary in this city, even though many places in Japan claim to be the best. Try the conveyor belt sushi at restaurants like Nemuro Hanamaru or Nagoyaka-tei. You should also try the famous soup curry, which is one of the most popular dishes to taste in this city.

Finally, even though tourists may want to avoid coming to Sapporo in the winter time, it’s actually an incredible place to see this time of the year. There are tons of ski resorts surrounding the city, which was home to the Winter Olympics in 1972. You can also come for the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, unlike any other festival of its kind in the country.

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