Japan is having a journey heyday proper now – and rightfully so – it’s an unimaginable nation. In truth, it’s certainly one of my favourite international locations to journey to. Nevertheless, in my quest to search out the lesser-traveled locations wherever I am going, I spent a number of time in Japan off the crushed path on a number of journeys to Japan!
I’ll offer you concepts on going past the normal Tokyo to Kyoto route and getting away from the crowds. I’ll introduce you to some favourite hidden gems from my travels in Japan, from the gorgeous Iya Valley in Shikoku to the horse tradition of Tokachi to the snow-capped Japanese Alps and the wild shoreline of Tohoku. These locations reside within the shadows of Japan, which few worldwide guests find out about.
Overtourism in Japan
In accordance with the Japan Tourism Company, the variety of guests to Japan has returned to pre-pandemic ranges, with over 17 million folks visiting between January and September 2023. The draw back to those guests is that they have an inclination to flock to all the identical cities; Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. These cities are phenomenal; nonetheless, they’re crowded. The inflow of vacationers additionally brings elevated petty crime, waste administration points, noise air pollution, and overcrowding, which may negatively have an effect on the atmosphere and disrupt the lives of locals.
Vacationers in Japan additionally are likely to flock to Mt. Fuji. Nevertheless, so many individuals climbed the enduring Mt. Fuji, queues had been on the prime, and the atmosphere was broken.
This has led the Japanese Tourism Company to create measures to ease this overtourism. They not too long ago designated 11 places throughout the nation as “mannequin tourism locations“, hoping to encourage abroad guests to discover past metropolitan areas whereas within the nation.
In that vein, I too have recognized just a few of my favourite Japan off-the-beaten-path locations! Discovering distinctive journey experiences and lesser-traveled areas on the planet is my specialty. After in depth journeys to Japan, I’ve at all times loved these smaller villages, and lesser-known prefectures to the extra well-liked ones.
I hope you may expertise a extra tranquil, much less populated facet of Japan that immerses you additional into its distinctive Japanese tradition.
Add These Hidden Gems to Your Japan Itinerary
I haven’t been in every single place in Japan, however I’ve been to every of the locations listed beneath. Some are extra hidden than others, however all of them are nice choices so as to add to any Japan itinerary with the intention to make sure to expertise the slower, lesser-known facet of Japan along with locations like Tokyo and Kyoto. Really – I additionally offered an off-the-beaten-path Tokyo neighborhood on this record!
A few of these locations are very particular areas inside a prefecture, and a few are bigger areas you may journey via which are much less traveled as a complete. Due to Japan’s unimaginable transit choices – all of those lesser-known locations are accessible by public transit. Isn’t that unimaginable?!
Map of Japan Off the Crushed Path Suggestions
Tokachi – Hokkaido Prefecture
We’ll begin on the northernmost a part of Japan – Hokkaido. Most individuals persist with Sapporo, the capital metropolis of Hokkaido prefecture. Tokachi is an space of southeastern Hokkaido surrounded by nationwide parks. It felt just like the Midwest of Japan with its landscapes dotted with small farms. The biggest metropolis in Tokachi is Obihiro, the place I used to be based mostly throughout my go to.
Issues to do in Tokachi off the Crushed Path
Let’s be actual – just by going to Tokachi, you’re far off the crushed path. Only a few worldwide guests ever go to right here, which implies it feels untouched in a manner.
It’s price spending a day or so simply trying out Obihiro with its pretty parks and the Obihiro Metropolis Museum. Plus, since Obihiro is legendary for its meals, make sure to attempt “buta-don” (pork rice bowl), a neighborhood specialty. Additionally, attempt “katsu-don” (breaded pork cutlet over rice) at one of many metropolis’s many eating places.
Should you like mixology or Japanese Whiskey, then be sure to cease at A Glass Shot Bar. You’ll meet the proprietor and award-winning bartender there, who mesmerized me together with his mixology abilities and methods. We may solely talk via Google Translate and some props.
In case you are on the lookout for one thing distinctive, Banei Horse Racing is the one race of its sort on the planet and takes place in Obihiro. Massive draft horses race on a particular course in a 200 m straight line whereas pulling an iron sled that weighs as much as 1 ton. And to make it much more particular, spectators can run and cheer on the facet of the course with the horse.
That is additionally an excellent likelihood to expertise extra of the Ainu indigenous tradition that exists in Hokkaido. The native Obihiro Ainu tradition preservation society is beginning to supply vacationers cultural experiences to raised perceive the unique Japanese historical past.
Be sure to get out into the agricultural areas that Tokachi is legendary for through a cycle tour via the agricultural countryside. You possibly can expertise Tokachi’s uniqueness with all 5 senses as you meet farmers, stroll via the fields, and style the native produce, all whereas touring by bike.
Don’t miss your alternative to soak in a uncommon moor sizzling spring in Tokachi. Tokachigawa Onsen is a “moor sizzling springs” with a excessive content material of natural substances, together with vegetation. Its excessive ranges of natural plant matter give the water a brown and pink coloration, and it’s recognized to go away the pores and skin feeling gentle and easy.
The best way to Get to Tokachi
The Tokachi space may be accessed from Tokyo or by public transport from Sapporo.
Fly from Tokyo to Tokachi-Obihiro Airport. It takes half-hour by automobile or 40 minutes by bus to Obihiro Station from the airport. It takes round three hours from Chitose Airport or Sapporo Station to succeed in Obihiro Station by practice.
The Tohoku area includes the six northernmost prefectures on Japan’s important island: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Sendai, Yamagata, and Fukushima. Only a few international guests get lost the crushed path to Tohoku, so that you’ll get pleasure from being an anomaly.
The realm boasts nice pure magnificence and an abundance of pure sources, equivalent to scrumptious contemporary seafood. There are lots of sights to see, like probably the most stunning cliffs in Japan, the marvelous surroundings of the Ria shoreline, the sheer abundance of the world’s third-largest fishing grounds, and extra.
I visited Tohoku to take a look at Japan’s latest long-distance mountaineering route, the Michinoku Coastal Path, a 1000+ km path. The paved roads and forest trails tie collectively a area that joined in concord to rebuild after the 2011 East Japan earthquake and tsunami. It’s an excellent addition to Japan’s different historic pilgrimage routes. For sure – there’s loads of journey in Tohoku alongside the coastal path!
Issues to do in Tohoku off the Crushed Path
Top-of-the-line hikes from the long-distance Michinoku Coastal Path is the Urato Islands of Matsushima Bay. The islands haven’t been developed as a vacationer vacation spot, and guests can benefit from the conventional tranquil Sanriku island surroundings. As well as, the bay gives gorgeous surroundings consisting of oddly formed rocks eroded by the waves of the Pacific Ocean. Take a ship to see them up shut!
For an actual problem, hike the Kitayamazaki Cliffs. The 200-meter-tall sheer cliffs boast probably the most highly effective coastal great thing about any coastal panorama in Japan. This was my favourite hike as a part of the Michinoku Coastal Path!
Along with mountaineering sections of the coastal path, you may as well bike it in lots of areas, equivalent to the realm round Rikuzentakata Metropolis. You possibly can pedal via rice fields and untouched coastlines – an actual hidden gem in Tohoku.
You possibly can’t spend time in Tohoku with out paying homage to the 2011 tsunami that devastated the area. To study extra concerning the catastrophe and, most significantly, the resiliency of the folks within the area – cease on the Iwate Tsunami Memorial in Rikuzentakata Metropolis.
L’OreoleTanohata restaurant is actually hidden, tucked in between the bushes and cliffs of the Rias Coast. At lunchtime, L’OreoleTanohata is a well-liked restaurant opened by a Japanese chef (French-trained) who’s keen about native sources and goals to develop the native meals tradition. Dishes that deliver out the goodness of the components themselves with out pointless seasoning convey the richness of the land.
Take a look at Soma Metropolis the place the path begins. You possibly can discover the Nakamura Shrine and take a look at some scrumptious Soma beef Menchikatsu right here. It’s beef that’s deep-fried on the spot when ordered! The new and juicy menchikatsu is wealthy and filled with taste!
Take pleasure in getting within the water at Jodogahama Seaside and Sanriku Fukko (reconstruction) Nationwide Park. Cease in on the customer middle and stroll alongside the boardwalk to view the gorgeous white rocks within the sea. The water is a gorgeous turquoise and ideal for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, or swimming! I took a kayak tour, permitting us to rise up near the bizarre rock formations.
In case you are on the lookout for a shocking place off the crushed path to expertise cherry blossom season, plan to go to Hitome Senbonzakura alongside the Shiroishi River within the southern a part of Miyagi Prefecture. Right here you’ll discover 8 kilometers of cherry blossom bushes alongside the river embankment, creating a shocking panorama with an impressive snow-capped Zao Mountains backdrop.
The best way to Get to Tohoku:
Tohoku Shinkansen is a bullet practice that connects Tokyo with Aomori on the northern tip of Honshu. The Tohoku Shinkansen is operated by JR East. You possibly can make the most of the JR Go for this practice.
Yanaka Neighborhood Tokyo
Contemplating Tokyo is the preferred place for vacationers, it’s exhausting to search out hidden locations in Tokyo – however it’s attainable! Welcome to the Yanaka neighborhood.
This historic neighborhood positioned within the Taito ward of Tokyo, Japan is understood for its conventional, old-world environment. It’s well-liked to go to if you wish to expertise the ‘outdated Tokyo’. Fortunately, not many vacationers wish to see Outdated Tokyo – they’d moderately persist with the glitzy areas.
Yanaka can also be recognized for its giant inhabitants of stray cats. Some locals and organizations have taken steps to take care of these cats, making it a preferred vacation spot for cat lovers like me!
Issues to do in Yanaka off the Crushed Path
Take a meals tour in Yanaka from Arigato Meals Excursions and hit most of the areas listed beneath. I did this final time in Tokyo and fell in love with the neighborhood. Plus – I discovered a lot about Japanese meals and eating places that I may make the most of as I traveled all through Japan!
Wander the Yanaka Ginza Procuring Road. The pedestrian-friendly buying road is lined with small outlets, cafes, and eating places. It’s an excellent place to discover and take a look at conventional Japanese snacks and souvenirs.
The Yanaka cemetery is a resting place for a lot of historic figures and a peaceable space with cherry blossoms in spring and colourful foliage in autumn. Take a stroll via this stunning house filled with 7000 gravesites, and stone paths, and soak within the peaceable environment.
Nezu Shrine: A Shinto shrine with stunning vermilion gates, a pond, and a well-manicured backyard. It’s a serene spot for guests to discover.
Take part in a tea ceremony. The primary ground of Gallery Okubo is stuffed with vintage tea utensils and pottery. Nevertheless, wander upstairs and also you’ll discover a distinctive little tea room. Right here you may expertise an genuine Japanese tea ceremony. The very best half is that they make the most of vintage teapots and cups, they usually change in every season.
Scai the Bathhouse: This up to date artwork gallery is housed in a renovated public bathhouse and options varied up to date artwork exhibitions. Should you like up to date artwork – you’ll undoubtedly wish to cease right here.
Study my different Tokyo off the Crushed Path suggestions
The best way to Get to Yanaka
You possibly can attain Yanaka simply utilizing public transportation. The closest practice station to Yanaka is Nippori Station, which is well-connected to the remainder of Tokyo through the JR Strains.
Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture
Matsumoto isn’t essentially a small city however extra of a lesser-visited city. The peaks of the Japanese Alps may be seen within the distance. Though the middle of city is fairly trendy, town retains a lot of its heritage from olden occasions, and most of the vestiges are nonetheless seen within the again alleys and outlying areas.
It’s most likely finest recognized for its fort, inbuilt 1504. The unique moats and stone partitions nonetheless stay intact. The fort was certainly one of my favourite issues to go to on this space so don’t miss it!
Issues to do in Matsumoto off the Crushed Path
Tour the Matsumoto Fortress: Matsumoto Fortress is certainly one of 5 castles designated as ‘Nationwide Treasures of Japan’ and the oldest five-tiered, six-story fort tower remaining in Japan. You’ll discover a small stand close to the fort entrance that homes English-speaking tour guides. They’re volunteers and their providers are free (no suggestions allowed). I cherished our information and discovered a lot. It’s an effective way to see the fort and study concerning the historical past of the samuari there. They function year-round from 10:00 to fifteen:00 every day.
Matsumoto Metropolis Museum of Artwork: Take pleasure in conventional Japanese calligraphy and trendy artwork. The museum actually focuses on native expertise together with Yayoi Kusama and her well-known works.
Go to Daio Wasabi Farm – A brief practice trip from Matsumoto, this farm is a delight to stroll round and find out about how wasabi is farmed and utilized in Japan. Be sure to plan your go to round lunch with the intention to attempt the various totally different dishes that embrace wasabi…even ice cream! Plus you may add a enjoyable bike trip to this outing from the practice station to the farm and again. It’s actually scenic and wonderful to do on a pleasant day.
Timepiece Museum: Take pleasure in timepieces of all shapes and sizes from all around the world. You possibly can’t miss the doorway with a large pendulum clock on the skin of the constructing.
The best way to Get to Matsumoto
Matsumoto is well accessible through JR strains from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, Nagoya, and Nagano Metropolis. Or in case you are coming from Takayama, you may journey by bus.
Shirakawago in Gifu Prefecture
Shirakawago was named a UNESCO World Heritage Website in 1995. This tiny village is stuffed with conventional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, lots of that are 250 years outdated. They’re recognized for his or her thatched sloped roofs.
Take a stroll across the homes, a few of which have museums inside. Make sure to cease on the Wada home and the Shiroyama viewpoint for a shocking overview of the valley and the Japanese Alps. You possibly can go to the outdated village atmosphere for a day or keep in a single day in a thatch house Ryokan. They even have pure sizzling springs you may get pleasure from whereas staying in Shirakawago.
The best way to Get There to Shirakawago
There are a number of every day categorical bus providers to and from Shirakawa-go from Takayama or Kanazawa. Nevertheless, within the winter months, it may be exhausting to get to as generally it will get snowed in!
Takayama in Gifu Prefecture
This charming of-the-beaten-path small city is surrounded by peaks of the Japanese Alps. The outdated city has been superbly preserved and it’s what makes this city so particular. There may be additionally a lot of shrines and museums dedicated to crafts, outdated existence, and different native traditions.
Issues to do in Takayama off the Crushed Path
Stroll round San-machi Suji (Outdated City). The colourful slender streets are filled with outdated buildings, craftsman workshops, conventional shops, eating places, and sake breweries. That is the proper alternative to actually benefit from the outdated structure.
Sake Breweries: Talking of sake breweries, Takayama is a superb place to do a extra in-depth sake tasting. You’ll acknowledge the sake breweries indicated by a ball made from cedar hanging exterior the store.
Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine: At this advanced, make sure to cease on the Takayama Yatai Kaikan, a museum that homes some examples of the floats paraded twice yearly via the streets as a part of the spring and autumn festivals.
Hida Beef: Be sure to attempt the well-known Hida beef. It’s certainly one of Japan’s particular kinds of finely branded beef recognized for its distinctive aroma, texture, and style. It additionally has elaborate marbling, giving it excessive juiciness when cooked. Many native eating places serve it however attempt it at Kitchen Hida when you can.
The best way to Get to Takayama
Takayama is straightforward to entry from the primary cities of Honshu like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka or Kyoto. The practice is one of the simplest ways to get to Takayama except you’re coming from Kanazawa, during which case a bus is your finest wager.
Iya Valley – Shikoku Tokushima Prefecture
The Iya Valley is sometimes called one of the vital distant areas in Japan. It’s much less of a valley and extra of a steep and deep river gorge. A lot of the panorama is inaccessible, traditionally making it an ideal place for feuding clans to cover within the late twelfth century.
There may be not one straight street within the Iya Valley. In truth – my finest tip is to deliver Dramamine. All the roads appear to be perched on the steep hills with sharp drop-offs to the river gorge beneath. Nevertheless, with all of this ruggedness, comes an immense quantity of magnificence.
Issues to do in Iya Valley off the Crushed Path
The valley is stuffed with distinctive issues to do, however one of many prime issues to expertise is a stroll over the kagura-bash (Vine Bridge) that crosses the Iya River. This was utilized by the locals as a manner throughout the gorge, nonetheless right now it’s only for vacationers. You pay a small payment to cross the wobbly bridge, and it’s undoubtedly not for people who find themselves frightened of heights! Its vines are changed each 3 years, and metal cables are laced contained in the vines for security.
If vine bridges weren’t uncommon sufficient, take a look at Iya Valley’s Scarecrow Village. Sure – that feels like a spot present in a horror film – however it’s an actual city – Nagoro in Iya Valley. The streets, fields, and buildings are stuffed with tons of of life-size ‘dolls’ filled with paper. The scarecrows outnumber the residents, of whom there are solely 30. Wander across the village and make sure to go into the outdated major faculty for an uncommon sight.
After all, in such a lush atmosphere, there may be some nice mountaineering to be accomplished. Hike to the highest of the best mountain in Tokushima Prefecture and second highest in western Japan, Mt Tsurugi. And when you’re completed, you may get pleasure from one of many many sizzling springs across the valley.
For a extremely distinctive onsen expertise at Resort Iyaonsen, trip a cable automobile right down to the river on the backside of the gorge to benefit from the pure sizzling springs.
The best way to Get to the Iya Valley
The best and commonest strategy to attain the Iya Valley from elsewhere is through practice to JR Oboke Station. Restricted Categorical trains go to/from right here about as soon as an hour and most native buses head out from right here.
Kotohira – Shikoku Kagawa Prefecture
Kotohira is house to probably the most well-known shrines in Shikoku, historic websites, and cultural property, making it an excellent place to walk via historical past. Despite the fact that there are a good variety of memento outlets and guests, I nonetheless think about it off the crushed path as a result of most of these guests are Japanese vacationers. You received’t discover many worldwide guests in Kotohira.
Issues to do in Kotohira off the Crushed Path
The climb to Kotohiragu Shrine is memorable and difficult. There are 785 steps to get to the primary shrine, however there’s a lot to see alongside the best way, which gives a number of little relaxation breaks. You possibly can even cease and have lunch alongside the best way if you need!
When you attain the highest, discover the a number of shrines, ponds, and gardens, and take in the panoramic views of the city. And if you wish to see an actual hidden gem, then stroll additional to the 2nd temple. Nevertheless, you’ll need to climb 583 extra stairs to get to the inside shrine and greet the deity!
Go to Kanamaruza Theater, a standard Kabuki theater positioned close to Kompira-san Shrine. Inbuilt 1835, the shrine has been meticulously preserved and continues to be used right now. Even when you don’t watch a efficiency, you may go to the theater to understand its historic and architectural significance. I didn’t get to see a efficiency, nonetheless, the tour backstage was fascinating.
One of the crucial distinctive issues I did whereas in Kotohira was attempt their two well-known ice cream cone treats. Get a cone with Oiri (Japanese sweet) on it. The colourful spherical candies are gentle and candy – like cereal in your gentle serve cone. Or, in case you are actually adventurous, attempt the soy sauce ice cream with inexperienced onions. I can’t say it was my favourite, however I used to be glad I attempted it!
Are you prepared for a cooking expertise you received’t discover anyplace else? Take a Sanuki udon noodle-making class. You’ll study all of the steps to make your individual udon noodles and even get to eat them on the finish. Nevertheless – be ready for some surprises alongside the best way. The category is form of half cooking class, half Japanese sport present. I assure that you should have enjoyable, and have a scrumptious lunch!
The best way to Get to Kotohira
Kotohira is accessible from Takamatsu Airport on Shikoku or from Okayama Station on the Sanyo Shinkansen. From Takamatsu Station, take a practice to both JR Kotohira or Kotoden Kotohira Station through Takamatsu-Chikko Station, subsequent to Takamatsu Fortress. Each journeys take about an hour.
Make the most of 12Go to Get to Japan’s Hidden Gems
With so many public transportation choices to get round Japan, it may be complicated to determine how you can evaluate costs and timetables. Nevertheless, 12Go helps you evaluate totally different modes of transportation in Japan simply from their web site or cell app. You possibly can search on dates and places and discover all the choices and guide proper from the location – together with buses, ferries, trains, hotel-airport switch, and extra.
The best way to Plan Your Japan Off the Crushed Path Journey
I’ve utilized just a few firms focusing on creating itineraries that expose you to Japan’s hidden gems. As well as, I’ve discovered just a few of my very own!
I design Japan itineraries that may take you off the crushed path on a personalized foundation. Let me know your pursuits, timeframe, and price range, and I’ll put collectively a customized itinerary together with details about Japan transportation and suggestions. To study extra, contact me at [email protected]
Oku Japan focuses on Japan off the crushed path and mountaineering in Japan. I’ve accomplished a few excursions with them, together with the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, and love the distinctive experiences they provide with locals, equivalent to indigo dying, alternatives to satisfy monks, and extra. They function guided, self-guided, and customized excursions round communities deep within the countryside that protect the traditions of the previous.
You may get a 5% low cost off Oku Japan bookings while you use the code OTTSWORLD5. Company might want to enter the code within the ‘Notes and Particular Requests’ subject after they guide on OkuJapan.com to have the low cost utilized.
Inside Japan Excursions can also be an excellent tour firm with nice guides who will immerse you within the hidden gems of Japan.
Expertise Japan Much less Traveled
Japan gives a wealth of charming experiences past its well-known vacationer locations. Venturing off the crushed path to any of those eight locations permits vacationers to uncover hidden gems, immerse themselves in genuine cultural encounters, and witness the fantastic thing about Japan’s less-explored areas. By stepping away from the vacationer crowds and embracing the serendipity of discovery, vacationers can forge deeper connections with the nation’s wealthy historical past, tradition, and pure magnificence, making their go to to Japan unforgettable.