Located immediately north of Tokyo, the three prefectures of Saitama, Gunma and Niigata are quite possibly one of the most overlooked areas of Japan. Well-connected from Tokyo via the shinkansen and local trains, this region is brimming with atmospheric medieval towns, whimsical theme parks as well as venues for thrilling outdoor activities.
Through the JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata area), it is very much possible to get here in just an hour as with the case for Saitama, or around two hours for Niigata. Within that short span of time, the landscape outside shifts from concrete buildings to alpine villages, sulfuric hot springs and deep gorges. This region is known as one of Japan’s agricultural baskets and the local produce is prized all over the country. Recently, I managed to visit the three prefectures of Niigata, Saitama and Gunma thanks to an invitation from the tourism boards of these prefectures. It was an eye-opening experience as I did not know much about this region until this particular visit.
If you are looking for some fresh ideas on places to visit from Tokyo that’s away from the maddening crowd but not too far from Tokyo itself, this region is a compelling choice. This travel guide and suggested itinerary for Saitama, Gunma and Niigata shows you how to do the trip with the JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata area) in as short as 5 days and runs through a variety of activities including historic towns, adventure sports, temples as well as compelling food to try.