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Hidden charms of neglected prefecture on Tokyo's doorstep

Much-maligned Chiba has more to offer than first meets the eye

Stand-up paddleboarding is a popular pastime along the Chiba coast. (All photos by Stephen Mansfield)

TOKYO -- Japan's Chiba Prefecture has a relationship with Tokyo not unlike that between London and the English county of Essex, where I once lived. Adjacent to the two capitals, and seen as repositories for demographic overspill for the cities, both districts are often the butt of gently pejorative jibes.

If Essex is viewed as uncool, culturally peripheral and introspective -- a monotonous landscape of electric pylons and faceless new towns -- Chiba, where I now live, is seen by many Japanese as an anonymous industrial-agricultural hybrid whose only claim to fame is as the country's largest producer of peanuts.

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