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8 Locations to Uncover in Japan off the Overwhelmed Path

Japan is having a journey heyday proper now – and rightfully so – it’s an unimaginable nation.  The truth is, it’s one in every of my favourite international locations to journey to. Nonetheless, in my quest to seek out the lesser-traveled locations wherever I am going, I spent a variety of time in Japan off the overwhelmed path on a number of journeys to Japan!

I’ll provide you with 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 stay within the shadows of Japan, which few worldwide guests find out about.

Overtourism in Japan

In keeping with the Japan Tourism Company, the variety of guests to Japan has returned to pre-pandemic ranges, with over 17 million individuals 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 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.  Nonetheless, so many individuals climbed the enduring Mt. Fuji, queues have been on the high, and the atmosphere was broken.

Japan overtourism
Picture by Jason Goh at Pixabay

This has led the Japanese Tourism Company to create measures to ease this overtourism. They just lately 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 a number of of my favourite Japan off-the-beaten-path locations! Discovering distinctive journey experiences and lesser-traveled areas on this planet is my specialty.  After in depth journeys to Japan, I’ve all the time loved these smaller villages, and lesser-known prefectures to the extra in style 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 all places 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 be sure you 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 via which are much less traveled as a complete. Because of 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 Overwhelmed Path Suggestions

Tokachi – Hokkaido Prefecture

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

Japan off the beaten path Tokachi
Tokachi’s rural landscapes

Issues to do in Tokachi off the Overwhelmed Path

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

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, be sure you 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.

In case you like mixology or Japanese Whiskey, then ensure 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 strategies. We may solely talk via Google Translate and some props.

If you’re on the lookout for one thing distinctive, Banei Horse Racing is the one race of its type on this 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 incredible 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 you get out into the agricultural areas that Tokachi is legendary for through a cycle tour via the agricultural countryside. You may 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 scorching spring in Tokachi.  Tokachigawa Onsen is a “moor scorching springs” with a excessive content material of natural substances, together with crops.   Its excessive ranges of natural plant matter give the water a brown and pink shade, and it’s identified to go away the pores and skin feeling smooth and easy.  

The right way to Get to Tokachi

The Tokachi space will be accessed from Tokyo or by public transport from Sapporo.

Fly from Tokyo to Tokachi-Obihiro Airport. It takes half-hour by automotive 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 prepare.

Tohoku Area

The Tohoku area includes the six northernmost prefectures on Japan’s important island: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Sendai, Yamagata, and Fukushima. Only a few overseas guests wander away the overwhelmed path to Tohoku, so that you’ll take pleasure in being an anomaly.

The realm boasts nice pure magnificence and an abundance of pure assets, resembling scrumptious contemporary seafood. There are various 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 mountain 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 incredible addition to Japan’s different historical pilgrimage routes. Evidently – there’s loads of journey in Tohoku alongside the coastal path!

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

Issues to do in Tohoku off the Overwhelmed Path

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

Along with mountain climbing sections of the coastal path, you may as well bike it in lots of areas, resembling the world round Rikuzentakata Metropolis. You may pedal via rice fields and untouched coastlines – an actual hidden gem in Tohoku.

You may’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 individuals 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 captivated with native assets and goals to develop the native meals tradition. Dishes that convey 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 may 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 heart 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.

If you’re on the lookout for a shocking place off the overwhelmed 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 right way to Get to Tohoku:

Tohoku Shinkansen is a bullet prepare that connects Tokyo with Aomori on the northern tip of Honshu. The Tohoku Shinkansen is operated by JR East. You may make the most of the JR Go for this prepare.

Yanaka Neighborhood Tokyo

Contemplating Tokyo is the most well-liked place for vacationers, it’s exhausting to seek out hidden locations in Tokyo – however it’s attainable! Welcome to the Yanaka neighborhood.

This historic neighborhood situated within the Taito ward of Tokyo, Japan is thought for its conventional, old-world ambiance.  It’s in style to go to if you wish to expertise the ‘outdated Tokyo’.  Fortunately, not many vacationers wish to see Previous Tokyo – they’d slightly stick with the glitzy areas.

Yanaka can be identified for its giant inhabitants of stray cats. Some locals and organizations have taken steps to look after these cats, making it a well-liked vacation spot for cat lovers like me!

Yanaka Neighborhood Tokyo
Yanaka Neighborhood Tokyo

Issues to do in Yanaka off the Overwhelmed Path

Take a meals tour in Yanaka from Arigato Meals Excursions and hit lots of the areas listed beneath.  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 may make the most of as I traveled all through Japan!

Wander the Yanaka Ginza Buying Road. The pedestrian-friendly purchasing avenue is lined with small outlets, cafes, and eating places. It’s an incredible 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 ambiance.

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.  Nonetheless, 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, 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. In case you like up to date artwork – you’ll undoubtedly wish to cease right here.

Study my different Tokyo off the Overwhelmed Path suggestions

The right way to Get to Yanaka

You may attain Yanaka simply utilizing public transportation. The closest prepare station to Yanaka is Nippori Station, which is well-connected to the remainder of Tokyo through the JR Traces.

Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture

Matsumoto will not be essentially a small city however extra of a lesser-visited city.  The peaks of the Japanese Alps will 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 lots of the vestiges are nonetheless seen within the again alleys and outlying areas.

It’s in all probability finest identified for its citadel, inbuilt 1504.  The unique moats and stone partitions nonetheless stay intact. The citadel was one in every of my favourite issues to go to on this space so don’t miss it!

Matsumoto Castle Hidden Gem
Matsumoto Fort

Issues to do in Matsumoto off the Overwhelmed Path

Tour the Matsumoto Fort:  Matsumoto Fort is one in every of 5 castles designated as ‘Nationwide Treasures of Japan’ and the oldest five-tiered, six-story citadel tower remaining in Japan. You’ll discover a small stand close to the citadel 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 citadel and study concerning the historical past of the samuari there.  They function year-round from 10:00 to fifteen:00 each 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 prepare 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 you plan your go to round lunch with the intention to attempt the various completely different dishes that embrace wasabi…even ice cream! Plus you may add a enjoyable bike experience to this outing from the prepare station to the farm and again.  It’s actually scenic and beautiful to do on a pleasant day.

Timepiece Museum:  Take pleasure in timepieces of all sizes and styles from all around the world. You may’t miss the doorway with an enormous pendulum clock on the skin of the constructing.

The right way to Get to Matsumoto

Matsumoto is well accessible through JR traces from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, Nagoya, and Nagano Metropolis. Or if you’re 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 identified for his or her thatched sloped roofs. 

Take a stroll across the homes, a few of which have museums inside. Be sure you cease on the Wada home and the Shiroyama viewpoint for a shocking overview of the valley and the Japanese Alps. You may go to the outdated village atmosphere for a day or keep in a single day in a thatch house Ryokan. They even have pure scorching springs you may take pleasure in whereas staying in Shirakawago.

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

The right way to Get There to Shirakawago

There are a number of each day specific bus companies to and from Shirakawa-go from Takayama or Kanazawa. Nonetheless, 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 fantastically preserved and it’s what makes this city so particular. There’s additionally numerous shrines and museums dedicated to crafts, outdated life, and different native traditions.

Takayama off the beaten path Japan
Takayama Previous City

Issues to do in Takayama off the Overwhelmed Path

Stroll round San-machi Suji (Previous 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 product of cedar hanging outdoors the store.

Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine: At this complicated, be sure you 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 you attempt the well-known Hida beef. It’s one in every of Japan’s particular kinds 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 should you can.

The right way to Get to Takayama

Takayama is straightforward to entry from the principle cities of Honshu like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka or Kyoto. The prepare is one of the best ways to get to Takayama except you’re coming from Kanazawa, during which case a bus is your finest guess.

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.  The truth is – my finest tip is to convey Dramamine. The entire roads appear to be perched on the steep hills with sharp drop-offs to the river gorge beneath. Nonetheless, with all of this ruggedness, comes an immense quantity of magnificence. 

Iya Valley remote Japan
Iya Valley

Issues to do in Iya Valley off the Overwhelmed 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 once utilized by the locals as a means throughout the gorge, nonetheless at present 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 petrified 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 appears 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 a whole lot of life-size ‘dolls’ full of paper.  The scarecrows outnumber the residents, of whom there are solely 30. Wander across the village and be sure you go into the outdated main college for an uncommon sight.

After all, in such a lush atmosphere, there’s some nice mountain climbing to be carried out.  Hike to the highest of the best mountain in Tokushima Prefecture and second highest in western Japan, Mt Tsurugi. And if you find yourself completed, you may take pleasure in one of many many scorching springs across the valley.

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

Iya Valley vine bridge
Iya Valley Vine Bridge

The right way to Get to the Iya Valley

The simplest and most typical strategy to attain the Iya Valley from elsewhere is through prepare 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 incredible place to walk via historical past. Despite the fact that there are a good variety of memento outlets and guests, I nonetheless contemplate it off the overwhelmed path as a result of most of these guests are Japanese vacationers.  You received’t discover many worldwide guests in Kotohira.  

Kotohira climb to Kotohiragu Shrine
Kotohira climb to Kotohiragu Shrine

Issues to do in Kotohira off the Overwhelmed 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 way in which, which gives numerous little relaxation breaks.  You may even cease and have lunch alongside the way in which if you would like!

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. Nonetheless, you’ll should climb 583 extra stairs to get to the internal 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 at present. Even should 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 mild and candy – like cereal in your smooth serve cone. Or, if you’re 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 wherever else?  Take a Sanuki udon noodle-making class. You’ll study all of the steps to make your personal udon noodles and even get to eat them on the finish. Nonetheless – be ready for some surprises alongside the way in which.  The category is type of half cooking class, half Japanese recreation present.  I assure that you’ll have enjoyable, and have a scrumptious lunch!

The right 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 prepare to both JR Kotohira or Kotoden Kotohira Station through Takamatsu-Chikko Station, subsequent to Takamatsu Fort. 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 examine costs and timetables. Nonetheless, 12Go helps you examine completely different modes of transportation in Japan simply from their web site or cellular app. You may search on dates and places and discover all the choices and e book proper from the location – together with buses, ferries, trains, hotel-airport switch, and extra.  

JR Pass

The right way to Plan Your Japan Off the Overwhelmed 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 overwhelmed path on a personalized foundation. Let me know your pursuits, timeframe, and funds, and I’ll put collectively a customized itinerary together with details about Japan transportation and suggestions. To study extra, contact me at [email protected]

Custom Japan Travel Itineraries
I might help design customized Japan Journey Itineraries

Oku Japan focuses on Japan off the overwhelmed path and mountain climbing in Japan. I’ve carried out a few excursions with them, together with the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, and love the distinctive experiences they provide with locals, resembling indigo dying, alternatives to fulfill 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 once you use the code OTTSWORLD5. Visitors might want to enter the code within the ‘Notes and Particular Requests’ subject after they e book on to have the low cost utilized.

Inside Japan Excursions can be an incredible 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 fascinating experiences past its well-known vacationer locations. Venturing off the overwhelmed 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 Path



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