If exploring nature, culture, history and cuisine sounds like your perfect kind of getaway, then spending a couple of days in the picturesque port city of Odawara should make it to the top of your must-do-in-Japan list. Located in the Ashigara Plains of Kanagawa Prefecture, the city is surrounded by breathtaking scenery, including the Hakone Mountains to the north and west, Sagami Bay to the south, and the Sakawa River to the east.
With a population of just under 200,000, Odawara offers a bit of breathing space, especially for those visiting from packed Tokyo. It only takes 35 minutes on the shinkansen and just over one hour on a local train to get there from Tokyo Station, and it makes a great stopover for those traveling on to Hakone and beyond.
Arrive in the morning and rent a bicycle at the station before heading to Odawara Castle. History buffs will enjoy a quick stop at the Ninja Museum and test their skills as a member of the secret service. Once you’ve ticked off all there is to see there, be sure to stop by the nearby Hotoku Ninomiya Shrine. This Shinto shrine was built more than 123 years ago and is hidden away just behind the castle. Shrine tours are available via the Local Japan Desk (¥5,900 for two hours, 11:00-15:30). If you need a tea break, look out for Kinjiro Café and maybe pick up local Odawara honey to bring back home.
Next, cycle just a few minutes to the beautiful Japanese villa Seikantei. Built in the Sukiya style, which conveys the influence of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, the two-story building is registered as national cultural property. It’s free to enter and offers lovely views of the bay. Take a sip of the shop’s specialty matcha along with some red bean paste treats.
Next, take a leisurely five-minute bike ride through the town towards Kamaboko Street. Kamaboko is a steamed fish cake that’s a well-known specialty of Odawara, and there are plenty of different types to taste in the old and new Kamaboko Street. You can learn how to make these fish cakes at the famed Suzuhiro Kamaboko Museum. If you have a bit of extra time, browse some of the shops in town to find souvenirs such as Odawara-chochin (lantern), yosegi zaiku (wood mosaic) and Odawara-shikki (laquerware).
To bed down for the night and enjoy the best view Odawara has to offer, opt for a luxurious night at the Hilton Odawara Resort & Spa. With an onsen only a few floors down, a buffet an indoor pool, there a plenty of activities to help you relax at the end of a long day. With every room offering a breathtaking view of the sea, the best place to watch the sunrise is from the comfort of your bed.
If you’ve made a reservation to visit Enoura Observatory, plan to flesh out your day’s itinerary with some time at the harbor before or after. Whether you’re an early riser who wants to arrive from the open time of 5:30am or you’re more interested in a lunchtime wander, you’ll find an assortment of fresh seafood waiting for you. Locals recommend Hayakawa Gyoson. Customers can pick and choose from a variety of fish and seafood caught that morning right outside the front door. The restaurant’s classic dish is a rice bowl with a seafood topping of your choice.
Once you reach the Observatory, you’ll be greeted by a traditional gate with a view on the ocean. The museum itself boasts a modern architecture meant to blur the lines between the indoors and the outdoors, from the use of various stones in the infrastructure to the outdoor installations all meant to promote and preserve Odawara’s lush environment.
Download Odawara Sampo, the free official travel app for Odawara, and get a virtual history tour, more than 20 sample itineraries, and recommended spots.
Suzuhiro Kamaboko Museum