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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

8 Locations to Uncover in Japan off the Crushed Path


Japan is having a journey heyday proper now – and rightfully so – it’s an unbelievable nation.  In reality, it’s one in all my favourite international locations to journey to. Nevertheless, in my quest to seek out the lesser-traveled locations wherever I’m 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 standard 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 beautiful Iya Valley in Shikoku to the horse tradition of Tokachi to the snow-capped Japanese Alps and the wild shoreline of Tohoku. These locations dwell within the shadows of Japan, which few worldwide guests learn about.

Overtourism in Japan

Based on 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 a tendency 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 might negatively have an effect on the atmosphere and disrupt the lives of locals. 

Vacationers in Japan additionally are inclined to flock to Mt. Fuji.  Nevertheless, so many individuals climbed the long-lasting Mt. Fuji, queues had been on the high, and the atmosphere was broken.

Japan overtourismJapan overtourism
Picture by Jason Goh at Pixabay

This has led the Japanese Tourism Company to create measures to ease this overtourism. They not too long ago designated 11 areas 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 a number of of my favourite Japan off-the-beaten-path locations! Discovering distinctive journey experiences and lesser-traveled areas on the planet is my specialty.  After intensive journeys to Japan, I’ve all the time loved these smaller villages, and lesser-known prefectures to the extra widespread 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 under.  Some are extra hidden than others, however all of them are nice choices so as to add to any Japan itinerary so that you could you should definitely 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 checklist!

A few of these locations are very particular areas inside a prefecture, and a few are bigger areas you may journey by which might be much less traveled as a complete. Due to Japan’s unbelievable transit choices – all of those lesser-known locations are accessible by public transit.  Isn’t that unbelievable?!

Map of Japan Off the Crushed Path Suggestions

Tokachi – Hokkaido Prefecture

We’ll begin on the northernmost a part of Japan – Hokkaido. Most individuals follow 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 primarily based throughout my go to. 

Japan off the beaten path Tokachi Japan off the beaten path Tokachi
Tokachi’s rural landscapes

Issues to do in Tokachi off the Crushed Path

Let’s be actual – just by going to Tokachi, you might be far off the crushed path.  Only a few worldwide guests ever go to right here, which implies it feels untouched in a means. 

It’s price spending a day or so simply testing Obihiro with its beautiful parks and the Obihiro Metropolis Museum. Plus, since Obihiro is legendary for its meals, you should definitely attempt “buta-don” (pork rice bowl), an area specialty. Additionally, attempt “katsu-don” (breaded pork cutlet over rice) at one of many metropolis’s many eating places.

If you happen to like mixology or Japanese Whiskey, then be sure you cease at A Glass Shot Bar.  You’ll meet the proprietor and award-winning bartender there, who mesmerized me along with his mixology expertise and methods. We might solely talk by Google Translate and some props.

In case you are searching for one thing distinctive, Banei Horse Racing is the one race of its variety 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 important 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 higher perceive the unique Japanese historical past.

Be sure to get out into the agricultural areas that Tokachi is legendary for through a cycle tour by the agricultural countryside. You’ll be able to expertise Tokachi’s uniqueness with all 5 senses as you meet farmers, stroll by the fields, and style the native produce, all whereas touring by bike.  

Don’t miss your alternative to soak in a uncommon moor scorching spring in Tokachi.  Tokachigawa Onsen is a “moor scorching 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 colour, and it’s identified to go away the pores and skin feeling gentle and clean.  

How one can Get to Tokachi

The Tokachi space could 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.

Tohoku Area

The Tohoku area includes the six northernmost prefectures on Japan’s essential island: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Sendai, Yamagata, and Fukushima. Only a few international guests wander away 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 assets, akin to scrumptious recent seafood. There are numerous sights to see, like essentially the most lovely 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 climbing 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 important addition to Japan’s different historic pilgrimage routes. For sure – there’s loads of journey in Tohoku alongside the coastal path!

Tohoku Japan off the beaten pathTohoku Japan off the beaten path
The rugged Kitayamazaki Cliffs in Tohoku

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 provides beautiful 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 essentially the most highly effective coastal fantastic thing about any coastal panorama in Japan. This was my favourite hike as a part of the Michinoku Coastal Path!

Along with climbing sections of the coastal path, you too can bike it in lots of areas, akin to the world round Rikuzentakata Metropolis. You’ll be able to pedal by rice fields and untouched coastlines – an actual hidden gem in Tohoku.

You’ll be able to’t spend time in Tohoku with out paying homage to the 2011 tsunami that devastated the area. To be taught extra in regards to 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 enthusiastic about native assets and goals to develop the native meals tradition. Dishes that carry out the goodness of the substances themselves with out pointless seasoning convey the richness of the land. 

Take a look at Soma Metropolis the place the path begins.  You’ll be able to discover the Nakamura Shrine and check out some scrumptious Soma beef Menchikatsu right here. It’s beef that’s deep-fried on the spot when ordered! The recent and juicy menchikatsu is wealthy and stuffed 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 beautiful white rocks within the sea. The water is a good looking 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 searching for a surprising 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 surprising panorama with an impressive snow-capped Zao Mountains backdrop.

How one can 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’ll be able to make the most of the JR Move for this practice.

Yanaka Neighborhood Tokyo

Contemplating Tokyo is the preferred place for vacationers, it’s onerous to seek out hidden locations in Tokyo – however it’s doable! Welcome to the Yanaka neighborhood.

This historic neighborhood situated within the Taito ward of Tokyo, Japan is understood for its conventional, old-world environment.  It’s widespread to go to if you wish to expertise the ‘outdated Tokyo’.  Fortunately, not many vacationers need to see Outdated Tokyo – they’d fairly follow the glitzy areas.

Yanaka can also be identified 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!

Yanaka Neighborhood TokyoYanaka Neighborhood Tokyo
Yanaka Neighborhood Tokyo

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 under.  I did this final time in Tokyo and fell in love with the neighborhood. Plus – I realized a lot about Japanese meals and eating places that I might make the most of as I traveled all through Japan!

Wander the Yanaka Ginza Buying Avenue. The pedestrian-friendly buying avenue is lined with small outlets, cafes, and eating places. It’s an important place to discover and check out 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 by this lovely house stuffed with 7000 gravesites, and stone paths, and soak within the peaceable environment.

Nezu Shrine: A Shinto shrine with lovely 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. One of the best half is that they make the most of vintage teapots and cups, and so they change in every season.

Scai the Bathhouse: This modern artwork gallery is housed in a renovated public bathhouse and options varied modern artwork exhibitions. If you happen to like modern artwork – you’ll undoubtedly need to cease right here.

Find out about my different Tokyo off the Crushed Path suggestions

How one can Get to Yanaka

You’ll be able to 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 Traces.

Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture

Matsumoto shouldn’t be essentially a small city however extra of a lesser-visited city.  The peaks of the Japanese Alps could be seen within the distance. Though the middle of city is fairly trendy, the 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 in all probability finest identified for its fort, in-built 1504.  The unique moats and stone partitions nonetheless stay intact. The fort was one in all my favourite issues to go to on this space so don’t miss it!

Matsumoto Castle Hidden GemMatsumoto Castle Hidden Gem
Matsumoto Fortress

Issues to do in Matsumoto off the Crushed Path

Tour the Matsumoto Fortress:  Matsumoto Fortress is one in all 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 companies are free (no suggestions allowed).  I beloved our information and realized a lot. It’s an effective way to see the fort and be taught in regards to the historical past of the samuari there.  They function year-round from 10:00 to fifteen:00 day by 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 experience 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 so that you could attempt the various totally different dishes that embody wasabi…even ice cream! Plus you may add a enjoyable bike experience 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 sizes and styles from all around the world. You’ll be able to’t miss the doorway with an enormous pendulum clock on the skin of the constructing.

How one can Get to Matsumoto

Matsumoto is well accessible through JR traces 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 Web site in 1995. This tiny village is stuffed with conventional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, a lot of that are 250 years outdated.  They’re identified 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 surprising overview of the valley and the Japanese Alps. You’ll be able to go to the outdated village atmosphere for a day or keep in a single day in a thatch dwelling Ryokan. They even have pure scorching springs you may get pleasure from whereas staying in Shirakawago.

Shirakawago off the beaten pathShirakawago off the beaten path
UNESCO village Shirakawago with Japanese Alps in background

How one can Get There to Shirakawago

There are a number of day by day categorical bus companies to and from Shirakawa-go from Takayama or Kanazawa. Nevertheless, within the winter months, it may be onerous to get to as typically 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’s additionally numerous shrines and museums dedicated to crafts, outdated existence, and different native traditions.

Takayama off the beaten path JapanTakayama off the beaten path Japan
Takayama Outdated City

Issues to do in Takayama off the Crushed Path

Stroll round San-machi Suji (Outdated City).  The colourful slender streets are stuffed 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 good place to do a extra in-depth sake tasting.  You’ll acknowledge the sake breweries indicated by a ball made from cedar hanging outdoors the store.

Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine: At this complicated, you should definitely cease on the Takayama Yatai Kaikan, a museum that homes some examples of the floats paraded twice yearly by the streets as a part of the spring and autumn festivals.

Hida Beef: Be sure to attempt the well-known Hida beef. It’s one in all Japan’s particular forms of finely branded beef identified 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 for those who can.

How one can Get to Takayama

Takayama is simple to entry from the principle cities of Honshu like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka or Kyoto. The practice is one of the best ways to get to Takayama until you’re coming from Kanazawa, through which case a bus is your finest wager.

Iya Valley – Shikoku Tokushima Prefecture

The Iya Valley is also known as one of the 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’s not one straight street within the Iya Valley.  In reality – my finest tip is to carry Dramamine. All the roads appear to be perched on the steep hills with sharp drop-offs to the river gorge under. Nevertheless, with all of this ruggedness, comes an immense quantity of magnificence. 

Iya Valley remote JapanIya Valley remote Japan
Iya Valley

Issues to do in Iya Valley off the Crushed Path

The valley is stuffed with distinctive issues to do, however one of many high 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 means throughout the gorge, nonetheless as we speak it’s only for vacationers. You pay a small price to cross the wobbly bridge, and it’s undoubtedly not for people who find themselves terrified 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, try Iya Valley’s Scarecrow Village.  Sure – that seems like a spot present in a horror film – nevertheless 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 you should definitely go into the outdated major faculty for an uncommon sight.

In fact, in such a lush atmosphere, there may be some nice climbing 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 scorching springs across the valley.

For a extremely distinctive onsen expertise at Lodge Iyaonsen, experience a cable automobile all the way down to the river on the backside of the gorge to benefit from the pure scorching springs.

Iya Valley vine bridgeIya Valley vine bridge
Iya Valley Vine Bridge

How one can Get to the Iya Valley

The best and most typical method 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 dwelling to essentially the most well-known shrines in Shikoku, historic websites, and cultural property, making it an important place to walk by historical past. Regardless that there are a good variety of memento outlets and guests, I nonetheless take into account it off the crushed path as a result of most of these guests are Japanese vacationers.  You gained’t discover many worldwide guests in Kotohira.  

Kotohira climb to Kotohiragu Shrine Kotohira climb to Kotohiragu Shrine
Kotohira climb to Kotohiragu Shrine

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 principle shrine, however there’s a lot to see alongside the best way, which supplies a number of little relaxation breaks.  You’ll be able to even cease and have lunch alongside the best way if you would like!

When you attain the highest, discover the a number of shrines, ponds, and gardens, and absorb 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 should climb 583 extra stairs to get to the interior shrine and greet the deity!

Go to Kanamaruza Theater, a standard Kabuki theater situated close to Kompira-san Shrine. Inbuilt 1835, the shrine has been meticulously preserved and continues to be used as we speak. Even for those who 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 gained’t discover wherever else?  Take a Sanuki udon noodle-making class. You’ll be taught all of the steps to make your personal udon noodles and even get to eat them on the finish. Nevertheless – be ready for some surprises alongside the best way.  The category is type of half cooking class, half Japanese recreation present.  I assure that you’ll have enjoyable, and have a scrumptious lunch!

How one can 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 tips on how to examine costs and timetables. Nevertheless, 12Go helps you examine totally different modes of transportation in Japan simply from their web site or cellular app. You’ll be able to search on dates and areas and discover the entire choices and guide proper from the location – together with buses, ferries, trains, hotel-airport switch, and extra.  

JR Pass JR Pass

How one can Plan Your Japan Off the Crushed Path Journey

I’ve utilized a number of firms specializing in creating itineraries that expose you to Japan’s hidden gems. As well as, I’ve discovered a number of 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 be taught extra, contact me at [email protected]

Custom Japan Travel ItinerariesCustom Japan Travel Itineraries
I may also help design customized Japan Journey Itineraries

Oku Japan focuses on Japan off the crushed path and climbing 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, akin 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. Friends might want to enter the code within the ‘Notes and Particular Requests’ subject once they guide on OkuJapan.com to have the low cost utilized.

Inside Japan Excursions can also be an important tour firm with nice guides who will immerse you within the hidden gems of Japan.  

Expertise Japan Much less Traveled

Japan provides a wealth of fascinating 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.

8 Places to Discover in Japan off the Beaten Path8 Places to Discover in Japan off the Beaten Path



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