8 Locations to Uncover in Japan off the Overwhelmed Path

Japan is having a journey heyday proper now – and rightfully so – it’s an unbelievable 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’m going, I spent a number 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 reside within the shadows of Japan, which few worldwide guests find out about.

Overtourism in Japan

In line 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 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 setting 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 have been on the prime, and the setting 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 standard ones.

I hope you may expertise a extra tranquil, much less populated aspect 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 under.  Some are extra hidden than others, however all of them are nice choices so as to add to any Japan itinerary so to you should definitely expertise the slower, lesser-known aspect of Japan along with locations like Tokyo and Kyoto.  Truly – I additionally supplied an off-the-beaten-path Tokyo neighborhood on this listing!

A few of these locations are very particular areas inside a prefecture, and a few are bigger areas you may journey by way of which might be much less traveled as an entire. 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 Overwhelmed 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 most important 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 Overwhelmed Path

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

It’s price spending a day or so simply testing Obihiro with its beautiful parks and the Obihiro Metropolis Museum. Plus, since Obihiro is known for its meals, you should definitely strive “buta-don” (pork rice bowl), a neighborhood specialty. Additionally, strive “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 abilities and strategies. We might solely talk by way of Google Translate and some props.

If you’re in search of one thing distinctive, Banei Horse Racing is the one race of its form 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 aspect of the course with the horse.

That is additionally an awesome probability to expertise extra of the Ainu indigenous tradition that exists in Hokkaido. The native Obihiro Ainu tradition preservation society is beginning to provide vacationers cultural experiences to raised perceive the unique Japanese historical past.

Be sure you get out into the agricultural areas that Tokachi is known for by way of a cycle tour by way of the agricultural countryside. You’ll be able to expertise Tokachi’s uniqueness with all 5 senses as you meet farmers, stroll by way of 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 purple colour, and it’s recognized to go away the pores and skin feeling mushy and easy.  

The 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 automotive or 40 minutes by bus to Obihiro Station from the airport. It takes round three hours from Chitose Airport or Sapporo Station to achieve Obihiro Station by prepare.

Tohoku Area

The Tohoku area contains the six northernmost prefectures on Japan’s essential island: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Sendai, Yamagata, and Fukushima. Only a few overseas guests get lost the overwhelmed 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, corresponding to scrumptious contemporary seafood. There are lots of 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 awesome 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 pathTohoku Japan off the beaten path
The rugged Kitayamazaki Cliffs in Tohoku

Issues to do in Tohoku off the Overwhelmed Path

Probably the greatest 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 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, it’s also possible to bike it in lots of areas, corresponding to the realm round Rikuzentakata Metropolis. You’ll be able to pedal by way of 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 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 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. 

Try 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 heart and stroll alongside the boardwalk to view the gorgeous white rocks within the sea. The water is a good looking turquoise and excellent for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, or swimming! I took a kayak tour, permitting us to rise up near the weird rock formations.

If you’re in search of a surprising 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 surprising panorama with an imposing snow-capped Zao Mountains backdrop.

The 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’ll be able to make the most of the JR Go for this prepare.

Yanaka Neighborhood Tokyo

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

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

Yanaka can 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 well-liked vacation spot for cat lovers like me!

Yanaka Neighborhood TokyoYanaka 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 under.  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 might make the most of as I traveled all through Japan!

Wander the Yanaka Ginza Purchasing Road. The pedestrian-friendly buying avenue is lined with small retailers, cafes, and eating places. It’s an awesome 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 way of this lovely area 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 crammed 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 perfect half is that they make the most of vintage teapots and cups, they usually change in every season.

Scai the Bathhouse: This modern artwork gallery is housed in a renovated public bathhouse and options varied modern artwork exhibitions. In case you like modern artwork – you’ll positively wish to cease right here.

Study my different Tokyo off the Overwhelmed Path suggestions

The way to Get to Yanaka

You’ll be able to attain Yanaka simply utilizing public transportation. The closest prepare station to Yanaka is Nippori Station, which is well-connected to the remainder of Tokyo by way of the JR Traces.

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 instances, and lots of the vestiges are nonetheless seen within the again alleys and outlying areas.

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

Matsumoto Castle Hidden GemMatsumoto Castle Hidden Gem
Matsumoto Fort

Issues to do in Matsumoto off the Overwhelmed Path

Tour the Matsumoto Fort:  Matsumoto Fort is certainly one of 5 castles designated as ‘Nationwide Treasures of Japan’ and the oldest five-tiered, six-story fortress tower remaining in Japan. You’ll discover a small stand close to the fortress entrance that homes English-speaking tour guides.  They’re volunteers and their companies are free (no ideas allowed).  I liked our information and discovered a lot. It’s a good way to see the fortress and be taught concerning 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 prepare trip from Matsumoto, this farm is a delight to stroll round and study how wasabi is farmed and utilized in Japan. Be sure you plan your go to round lunch so to strive the numerous completely different dishes that embrace wasabi…even ice cream! Plus you may add a enjoyable bike trip to this outing from the prepare 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’ll be able to’t miss the doorway with an enormous pendulum clock on the skin of the constructing.

The way to Get to Matsumoto

Matsumoto is definitely accessible by way of 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 crammed 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. Remember 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 setting for a day or keep in a single day in a thatch residence 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

The way to 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 fantastically preserved and it’s what makes this city so particular. There’s additionally a lot of shrines and museums dedicated to crafts, outdated existence, and different native traditions.

Takayama off the beaten path JapanTakayama 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 slim streets are stuffed with outdated buildings, craftsman workshops, conventional shops, eating places, and sake breweries. That is the right alternative to essentially 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 product of cedar hanging exterior 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 way of the streets as a part of the spring and autumn festivals.

Hida Beef: Be sure you strive the well-known Hida beef. It’s certainly one of Japan’s particular varieties 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 strive it at Kitchen Hida should you can.

The 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 wager.

Iya Valley – Shikoku Tokushima Prefecture

The Iya Valley is sometimes called one of the crucial distant areas in Japan.  It’s much less of a valley and extra of a steep and deep river gorge.   Many 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 highway within the Iya Valley.  In truth – my finest tip is to convey 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 Overwhelmed Path

The valley is crammed 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 once utilized by the locals as a approach throughout the gorge, nonetheless at present it’s only for vacationers. You pay a small charge to cross the wobbly bridge, and it’s positively not for people who find themselves afraid 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 – but it surely’s an actual city – Nagoro in Iya Valley.  The streets, fields, and buildings are crammed with a whole bunch 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 main college for an uncommon sight.

In fact, in such a lush setting, there’s 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 if you end up completed, you may get pleasure from one of many many scorching springs across the valley.

For a extremely distinctive onsen expertise at Lodge Iyaonsen, trip a cable automotive right 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

The way to Get to the Iya Valley

The simplest and most typical technique to attain the Iya Valley from elsewhere is by way of 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 residence to essentially the most well-known shrines in Shikoku, historic websites, and cultural property, making it an awesome place to walk by way of historical past. Despite the fact that there are a good variety of memento retailers and guests, I nonetheless take into account it off the overwhelmed 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 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 best way, which offers plenty of little relaxation breaks.  You’ll be able to 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 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 must climb 583 extra stairs to get to the interior shrine and greet the deity!

Go to Kanamaruza Theater, a conventional Kabuki theater situated close to Kompira-san Shrine. In-built 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. 

Probably the most distinctive issues I did whereas in Kotohira was strive 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 mushy serve cone. Or, in case you are actually adventurous, strive 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 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 recreation present.  I assure that you’ll have enjoyable, and have a scrumptious lunch!

The 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 by way of 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 one can examine costs and timetables. Nevertheless, 12Go helps you examine completely different modes of transportation in Japan simply from their web site or cellular app. You’ll be able to 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.  

JR Pass JR Pass

The 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 can take you off the overwhelmed path on a custom-made 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 ideas. To be taught extra, contact me at [email protected]

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

Oku Japan focuses on Japan off the overwhelmed 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, corresponding 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 once you use the code OTTSWORLD5. Visitors 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 be an awesome 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 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 Path8 Places to Discover in Japan off the Beaten Path

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