Chiba Prefecture may not immediately come to mind as a worthy or exciting getaway destination from Tokyo but this could well be construed as a serious error of judgment. In reality, the prefecture offers some of the richest opportunities for freewheeling excursions that you’ll find anywhere in the Kanto region: think of palm-fringed coastlines along the prefecture’s Boso Peninsula, as well as a thriving surf culture. And while bus access from Tokyo’s major terminals is convenient even for many of Chiba’s more far-flung corners, taking a road trip by car allows for easier access to many of the area’s enchanting lesser-explored regions, and is a fantastic way to spend a weekend or short holiday.
The Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line: Your Gateway to the Peninsula
While the excursion into southern Chiba was once a challenging affair that involved fighting traffic around Tokyo Bay, the trip was made immeasurably more convenient with the opening of the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line in 1997. Linking Kawasaki on the Tokyo side with Kisarazu in Chiba, which is located around halfway down the peninsula, it has shaved hours off the trip.
Commune With the Sacred at a Mountain Temple
Start your exploration deep in the forests at Kasamori Temple, which is so lovely that it inspired an 1859 image by iconic ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige Utagawa. Built atop high stilts, the temple’s main hall is the sole structure in Japan featuring the shiho-kakezukuri architectural style — earning it a designation as a national important cultural property.
Here, a full sensorial experience awaits: wafting incense, panoramic vistas from the 360° wooden deck and wind rushing through the surrounding trees. The grounds of the temple complex below are plush with raw, wild nature, featuring several walking trails, three 800-to-900-year-old cedar trees fused together as one and several inscribed stones, with one etched with the words of famed poet Matsuo Basho.
Slow Down to the Ocean Rhythms
Make your way toward the coastal city of Isumi, where laid-back eatery Isabaya run by the local Tobu Fisheries Cooperative offers lunch set options including lobster tail, gleaming sashimi or even the unique combination of both: lobster-sashimi. The arty photography on the wall features the fishing boat out front.
Continue down the coast toward Kamogawa. This is an excellent spot to experience the best hot springs and ryokan (traditional inn), which are combined and crafted to perfection at Houraiya. Arrive early to soak in the inn’s outdoor bath, which has incredibly atmospheric oceanfront views that are equally healing for mind and soul. The meals here are also sumptuous and include select seasonal catches like Japanese amberjack.
Fields, Flowers and Feasts Galore
After you’ve enjoyed breakfast and one more soak in the bath, aim for the Oyama Senmaida Rice Terrace for spectacular panoramas of its layered fields. Concerned about preserving this resource for posterity, local residents began working with a nonprofit organization to create an ownership system, where city dwellers can purchase a plot within the fields to cultivate as their own. Numerous hands-on experiences are also on offer here, including rice planting and harvesting, sushi and tofu-making, indigo dyeing and a children’s workshop to make rice in a traditional kamado (furnace) using rice husks as a fuel source. Mitsuji Ishida, president of the nonprofit preservation association, explained that this type of sustainable practice presents a fantastic opportunity to re-introduce young people to practices of the sustainable, circular economy that have been lost over the past century.
A master craftsperson who studied with local community elders, Ishida enjoys making local onigiri from the hot, fresh rice, and topped with shiitake mushroom and yuzu-infused miso; and then serves it together with dandelion-infused coffee and a dessert of honeyed sesame squares. Those visiting Oyama Senmaida in winter months can also enjoy a special event where the paddies are illuminated by LED lanterns and between January and March don’t miss the acres of fields in Kamogawa irradiated with stunning yellow nanohana blossoms.
The Need for Speed
The last stop on the journey will delight luxury car lovers. The Porsche Experience Center Tokyo is situated near the entrance to the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line in Kisarazu and offers car enthusiasts the time of their lives. The experience will set you back a few coins, but the thrill of driving the latest-model Porsche alongside an instructor for 90 minutes inside the world’s first-ever 3D structured track, with modules such as the “carousel” and the “corkscrew,” is unmatched.
You can also opt to ride alongside a professional driver who will handle the wheel for you; or enjoy a virtual driving experience inside one of the onsite simulators. There is also a shop with Porsche merchandise and accessories, and a sunlight-flooded café — the perfect spot to contemplate your full Chiba weekend, and to start planning your next trip which might well be in November when the popular Chiba Aqualine Marathon is scheduled to be held.
Access visitchiba.jp to learn more about the unique charms and travel ideas Chiba has to offer. The application period for the Chiba Aqualine Marathon 2022 begins March 25. https://chiba-aqualine-marathon.com/
Photos by Ben Beech