Destination of the Week: Enoshima

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The entrance to Enoshima island is prefaced with this stone marker. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

One of the more pleasurable trips on my journeys to Japan has been the one to Enoshima. An easy day trip from Tokyo, Enoshima is a mountainous island that is connected to the mainland by a beach-lined causeway. It can get busy during summer months… but whatever time you decide to go, a trip to Enoshima is rewarded with seaside charm and beautiful views of the surrounding area… even of Mount Fuji on a clear day.

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Looking from the end of the causeway towards the main pedestrian path. ©Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

About Enoshima: Technically a part of the city of Fujisawa, I passed through Enoshima on my first trip to Japan in 2004. Having spent most of my day in and around Kamakura (more on that in a bit), I was unable to visit Kamakura due to prior commitments. I made it a point on my second trip in 2008 to devote some time to this charming place.

Enoshima is best discovered on foot. Once you get close enough to the island, just take the walkway along the road. It’s a few minutes walk, but it’s better than taking a cab or vehicle… especially when the weather is nice and you can smell the salt breeze that brings memories of the South Shore of Long Island (well, that’s what it did for me at least), and especially during summer months when there can be traffic. Besides, there are not too many roads on Enoshima, and most of the island’s attractions and gems require that you go on your own feet.

As you ascend the island, you will encounter several Shinto shrines, all part of the same shrine complex. Enoshima Shrine is dedicated to the kami Benten, which is derived from a Buddhist goddess.

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This photo from the Samuel Cocking Garden shows the portions of the original garden’s foundation that were discovered during construction. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Also of note is the Samuel Cocking Garden, home to a lovely botanical garden. It is named after the Englishman Samuel Cocking, who grew up in Australia and arrived in Japan soon after the country ended its over two-century long period of isolationism in the mid 1800’s. He created a botanical garden with a greenhouse, which was destroyed in the big Kanto earthquake of 1923. Parts of the original garden’s foundation were discovered in 2002. Today you can see a wide mix of plants and flora.

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Enoshima Sea Candle seen from the Samuel Cocking Garden. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Also part of the complex is the relatively modern observation tower, known as Enoshima Sea Candle, with commanding views of the Pacific Ocean and Fujisawa City. As mentioned, you may be able to see Mount Fuji on a good day.

Finally, there are a couple of caves called the Iwaya Caves on the southern end of the island. Update: blog follower Okkie has provided some tips regarding the caves, saying that there are a lot of up and down steps to navigate, but you are given a candle to help light the way. You can see photos of the caves and of more destinations on Enoshima by visiting Okkie’s tumblr.

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Primary Entrance to Enoshima Escar. © Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Did You Know: There are paid escalators on Enoshima Island? While you could spend some time and effort climbing steps to ascend the island, there are three sets of escalators that will make it extremely easy for you. Dubbed Enoshima Escar, this will shave some time from your trip and save 46 meters of climbing. The escalators only go UP, but I’m sure it’ll be a more pleasant journey walking DOWN at the end of your visit. It costs 360 yen for a ticket to cover all three sections; the Escar is also included in various combination tickets for visits to Enoshima Island.

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View of the walkway and road leading from Enoshima to Fujisawa City on the mainland, taken from Enoshima Sea Candle. ©Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

Costs: At Enoshima Shrine there is a small charge to view the shrine’s large Benten statue, but otherwise the shrine grounds are free. At the Samuel Cocking Garden the admission charge is 200 yen for the garden and 300 yen for the observation tower. The Iwaya Caves cost 500 yen to enter.

There is also a 1,000 yen Enoshima One-Day Passport that includes the Escar, the garden, the observation tower and the caves.

How To Get There: There are several options available to visit Enoshima. By train, it’s possible to get close to Enoshima to then complete your journey to the island on foot.

The closest train station to Enoshima is Katase-Enoshima Station on the private Odakyu Railway. A few minutes walk inland is Enoshima Station on the charming Enoshima Electric Railway, or Enoden, which connects to Fujisawa and Kamakura. Near the Enoden stop is the Shonan Monorail, an elevated transit line that runs to Ofuna station on the Japan Railway (JR).

Odakyu trains leave from Shinjuku on the western end of the Tokyo metropolis. It takes 70-90 minutes to reach Katase-Enoshima, with one or two train transfers required, at a cost of 630 yen each way.

Odakyu offers two excursion tickets for Enoshima: The Enoshima 1-Day Freepass covers a round-trip to Enoshima, the Escar, the garden, the observation tower and the caves for 1,970 yen. This represents a savings of 650 yen compared to purchasing individual tickets. They also offer a cheaper Freepass that combines the Odakyu train with a pass that allows use of the Enoden to visit nearby Kamakura. However, the latter Freepass does NOT include admission to the attractions on Enoshima.

For an additional charge, you can ride in a comfortable limited express train called the Romancecar, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned often on this blog. With comfortable reserved seats, you can reach the end of the line at Katase-Enoshima without switching, and not have to worry about crowded commuter trains. These services cost an extra 620 yen each way. On weekdays there are four return trips to/from Shinjuku, and on weekends and holidays there are trains every 1-2 hours. Be sure to check the timetables carefully to examine your options before using the Romancecar.

Japan Railways (JR) run a little further away from the access point to Enoshima, but can be considered because you can more easily access JR trains from around Tokyo, and because your trip costs nothing if you already have some sort of JR Rail Pass.

You can take a JR train to a few stations. Here are the recommendations along with fares:
* Fujisawa station allows you to connect with the Odakyu Railway to Katase-Enoshima Station, or with the private Enoden railway to Enoshima station. Katase-Enoshima is closer to Enoshima Island than the Enoden station.
Tokyo area to Fujisawa by JR: 970 yen (no charge with Rail Pass); Fujisawa to Katase-Enoshima by Odakyu: 160 yen. Approximate travel time from Tokyo Station 60-70 minutes.
* Ofuna station allows a connection to the Shonan Monorail. From the terminal of the monorail it’s a longer walk to Enoshima.
Tokyo area to Ofuna by JR: 800 yen (no charge with Rail Pass); Ofuna to Shonan-Enoshima by Monorail: 310 yen. Approximate travel time from Tokyo Station 60-70 minutes.
* Kamakura station allows a connection to the Enoden railway. From Enoshima Station it’s a longer walk to Enoshima island.
Tokyo area to Kamakura by JR: 920 yen (no charge with Rail Pass); Kamakura to Enoshima by Enoden: 260 yen. Approximate travel time from Tokyo Station 90 minutes.

JR also sells a one-day Kamakura-Enoshima Pass for 700 yen which includes unlimited trips on the Shonan Monorail and Enoden, and unlimited trips on the JR between Ofuna and Fujisawa.

Also, on weekends and holidays, there is a ferry that runs from the causeway to the Iwaya Caves. The ferry takes 10 minutes and costs 400 yen. It is another good way to save considerable travel time if you plan on spending a lot of time on the island.

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A small photo of some guy who runs this blog, from Enoshima Sea Candle. ©Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

What’s Nearby: I would highly recommend a trip on the Enoden to experience a leisurely trip through beautiful residential areas combined with a lovely stretch between stations that runs along the beach, which I experienced first hand. You can easily see surfers riding the waves along the line if it’s a good day!

If you have time, Kamakura is home to some important historical landmarks such as the large bronze statue of Buddha (daibutsu), Hasedera Temple and Hachiman-gu Shrine.

I highly recommend the Odakyu website to research some of the other wonderful destinations in the area, such as the Enoshima Aquarium, and to plan your trip to the area.

Odakyu’s new English travel website highly recommended

If you are interested in making a day trip out of Tokyo to some great destinations, a great method of doing so is by the private Odakyu railway. With trains mostly running out of Shinjuku station, Odakyu trains serve the hot springs of Hakone and the seaside of Enoshima. Some trains also connect to the city of Gotemba, which is home to a large outlet shopping mall, and trains also go out to  a residential and retailing district called “Tama New Town”.

One of the keys to inviting foreigners to utilize the services of Japanese companies – whether it be a hotel, a restaurant, or travel – is to have a good foreign language website. I believe that the Odakyu Railway has done just that with the upgrade of their new multi-language Odakyu web site, which occurred this month. The website for the English version is at www.odakyu.jp/english ; they also have the new website in Korean and two Chinese languages.

Screenshot of the new Odakyu English web site.
Screenshot of the new Odakyu English web site.

The new slogan for the Odakyu Railway is “Odakyu Has A Japan”, and the new website shows this perfectly. Here are some of the great features of the website:

HOW TO PURCHASE A TICKET: The website shows how you can purchase any Odakyu ticket from one of their vending machines. Most Odakyu ticket vending machines have an English option. You can purchase a standard ticket, a ticket for their premium “Romancecar” trains, and even purchase an Odakyu Free Pass for unlimited travel in whatever region you are visiting. My favorite part is the one that shows you how to snare the lucrative window seats – either seats facing towards the front or towards the rear – on the trains where the driver sits in the high cab. These are great seats for a panoramic view of all of the action – and it’s available at no extra charge.

HOW TO NAVIGATE SHINJUKU STATION: Shinjuku Station is recognized by Guinness as the busiest train station in the world, with over 3 million people using it every day. It is also a place where one can easily get lost if not paying attention. Odakyu’s website shows you how to get around Shinjuku Station and how to access the Odakyu Railway from other train lines serving the station.

HOW TO TAKE TRAINS: The new Odakyu website gives a detailed description of each of its train services, from Romance Car to regular commuter trains, Express to Local and everything in between. It also shows you how to travel on these trains and the manners you should follow as well.

ODAKYU RAIL PASSES: This gives you a breakdown of all of the Odakyu Rail Passes that can be purchased, and the areas covered.

SIGHTSEEING GUIDE AND ITINERARIES: A comprehensive review of the major destinations served by the Odakyu Trains, and suggested day trip courses are provided. Interestingly enough, one of the reviews provided is of Shinjuku. A hint: Each of the major destinations served by Odakyu is accompanied by a brief video presentation (linked to YouTube). Maximize your screen and get ready to enjoy sneak peeks at what is in store for you.

With all of the positive enthusiasm of my post, you might think that Odakyu was behind this posting. Trust me, Odakyu has nothing to do with it. I am just amazed at how much information is available on the new website in a way that is very easy to understand. I highly recommend using the website if you are considering future trips to Tokyo, especially since using Odakyu trains tend to be on the cheap side, compared to the Japan Railways which will be more expensive.

One more note on this subject: Once you are in Japan, feel free to visit the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Centers located at the major stations, including Shinjuku. They have staff in English that can answer your questions about travel on Odakyu, sell you rail passes and sell you tickets on the Romancecar trains.

Now that I have sung the praises of Odakyu, here is a breakdown of some of their most popular rail passes.

HAKONE FREE PASS: Most tourists to Japan will probably take advantage of this pass. The Hakone Free Pass is a benefit when visiting the Hakone region, famous for its hot springs and history, not to mention its close proximity to Mount Fuji. The pass is available in 2-day consecutive and 3-day consecutive versions and includes unlimited transportation of Odakyu trains between Odawara and Hakone-Yumoto, most trains, trams, cable cars and buses that serve the area,  and the primary sightseeing ship that crosses Lake Ashi. I might have already written more about the Hakone Round Trip Course somewhere in my blog… AHA! Here it is. If you’d like more information about Hakone, please read that post. The pass also includes discounts at many shops located in the Hakone region – whichever shows the Hakone Free Pass logo on the store front will offer some sort of discount to you.

Jose stands next to the Hakone Tozan train in Gora. Photo by Jose Ramos, June 2004
Jose stands next to the Hakone Tozan train in Gora. Photo by Jose Ramos, June 2004

The Hakone Free Pass for adults starting from Odawara costs 3,900 yen for 2 consecutive days, and 4,400 yen for 3 consecutive days. The pass from Shinjuku station costs 5,000 yen for 2 days and 5,500 yen for 3 days. The difference is that the pass that starts from Shinjuku includes ONE round-trip on the Odakyu Railway’s standard commuter services between Shinjuku and Odawara.

A trip from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto on standard Odakyu trains takes about 2 hours or so, and you will need to change trains at Odawara one way or the other. On the other hand, a trip on the premium Romancecar service is 20-30 minutes faster, not to mention it’s easier and more relaxing with reserved seating, wagon cart or vending machine service on most trains, and if you’re lucky – as I mentioned earlier – a wide view of all of the action from the front of the train.  A trip on the Romancecar is NOT INCLUDED in this pass or ANY Odakyu Rail Pass – you will need to pay the surcharge in addition to the pass. For a trip between Shinjuku and Hakone-Yumoto, the surcharge is 870 yen per person each way.

There is also an option to start your trip from Odawara. When to consider this? Simply put, if you have a Japan Rail Pass… with your Japan Rail Pass you can access Odawara – which is also a Japan Railways station – at no charge before proceeding to Hakone-Yumoto. Here’s a thought – Odawara is also a bullet train stop, so you can use a twice-hourly Kodama service from Tokyo or Shinagawa and reach Odawara in no time… only 27 minutes from Shinagawa, normally costing around 3,400 yen or so on its own, and at no charge if you use a Japan Rail Pass. What’s more, if you wanted to you could travel from Tokyo to Odawara by bullet train, do your trip in Hakone with the Free Pass, then when the day is done return to Odawara and continue right on using the bullet train… in the evenings you can leave Odawara on a Kodama, change trains along the way and be in Kyoto in just three hours!

The entrance to Enoshima island is prefaced with this stone marker. Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008
The entrance to Enoshima island is prefaced with this stone marker. Photo by Jose Ramos, October 2008

ENOSHIMA ONE-DAY PASSPORT: For those wanting to explore the island of Enoshima and the seaside, this one day pass is an option. Selling for 1,940 yen per adult from Shinjuku station, it includes ONE round-trip from Shinjuku to Fujisawa, unlimited Odakyu train travel on the short line running from Fujisawa to Katase-Enoshima (the station on Enoshima closest to the seashore), and admission to Enoshima island’s main attractions, including the Enoshima ESCAR (a series of three escalators that help you get up the island without having to tire your legs walking up regular steps), the Enoshima lighthouse and observatory, and the Samuel Cocking Garden (named for a British merchant who used the location in the late 1800’s for his tropical plant collection). It also includes discounted admission to Enoshima Aquarium.

The Romancecar charge is 600 yen per adult each way. Note that on Weekdays the Romancecar trips are very limited – for example, there is only ONE morning Romancecar trip to Enoshima, departing towards the end of rush hour. On weekends however, there’s a train every one or two hours. The Romancecar gets you from Shinjuku to Enoshima in 60-70 minutes, while commuter trains take 80-90 minutes.

A short walk inland from the shore brings you to the Enoshima Tramway, or ENODEN. This tramway connects to another important destination of religious significance, Kamakura, home to one of Japan’s largest Buddhist statues and the country’s largest Shinto shrine. The Enoshima One-Day Passport does not include any of these destinations; for this you will need:

ENOSHIMA-KAMAKURA FREE PASS: This one day pass costs 1,430 yen from Shinjuku Station and includes ONE Odakyu round-trip from Shinjuku to Fujisawa (Romancecar extra), unlimited Odakyu train travel on the short line running from Fujisawa to Katase-Enoshima, and the entirety of the ENODEN from Fujisawa to Enoshima and Kamakura. Unlike the Enoshima One Day Passport, this free pass does not include admission to the attractions on Enoshima described above, but you can get a discount on those same attractions.

Using this Free Pass you can get off from the ENODEN at Hase and visit the great Buddha of Kamakura (10 minute walk), where many Buddhist worshipers come to pray. At the end of the line in Kamakura, walk 10 minutes to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, the largest Shinto shrine in Japan.

Odakyu offers other travel passes, some exclusively to foreigners, including: the Fuji Hakone Pass which combines a trip to Hakone with a visit to Lake Kawaguchi and the foot of Mount Fuji, the Ito-Kanko pass and Minami-Izu pass for visiting the Izu peninsula, home to one of Japan’s famous hot spring areas, and a pass that includes travel and admission to some of Hakone’s favorite hot spring spas. More details about these passes can be found on the Odakyu website.