Stunning Places to Discover in Japan Off the Beaten Path

japan travel off the beaten path

“The beaten path is the safest, but the traffic’s terrible” ~ Jeffery Taylor.

As the popularity of Japan as a tourist destination continues to rise, more and more travelers are seeking to explore the country off the beaten path. While cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima are well-known and attract large crowds, there are numerous hidden gems in Japan that often go unnoticed by foreign visitors.

Planning a trip to Japan can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to finding lesser-known destinations. But fear not, as I have spent years researching and traveling off the beaten path in Japan. As an invisible tourist, I believe in experiencing the best a country has to offer while avoiding overtourism.

If you’re looking to create your own Japan off the beaten track itinerary, this guide will provide you with inspiration for your adventure. I have personally visited many of these destinations and have included others that are on my Japan bucket list.

Discover the Japan Less Travelled

Sure, everyone wants to visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. These cities are famous for a reason. However, there are countless hidden places in Japan that often get overlooked by tourists, and I don’t want you to miss out on them.

As a self-proclaimed lover of all things Japan, I am constantly searching for new destinations and planning my future visits. In this guide, I will explore various towns, nature spots, and alternative locations that offer a unique and off-the-beaten-path experience.

So, are you ready to venture off Japan’s Golden Route? Let’s start our journey in the south and work our way up north to Hokkaido.

Kyushu Island

Kyushu, Japan’s third-largest island, is filled with beauty and historical gems waiting to be uncovered. The largest city on the island, Fukuoka, played a vital role in trade with Asia and beyond throughout the centuries. One of the highlights of Kyushu is Takachiho Gorge, a stunning natural beauty that resembles something out of Iceland.

Kagoshima offers incredible natural scenery, while Kumamoto Castle showcases stunning architecture. And let’s not forget about Nagasaki, a port city with a dark past. Kyushu has so much to offer for those willing to venture off the beaten path.

Chūgoku Off the Beaten Path

The Chugoku region is the perfect place to break up your journey between Osaka and Hiroshima. This region is home to some of my favorite hidden gems in Japan.

Kurashiki, often called the “Venice of Japan,” is a small town overlooked by foreign tourists. It boasts a rich arts and culture scene, with the Ohara Museum of Art displaying works by Monet, Picasso, and Pollock. Kurashiki’s canals and traditional boats add to its charm.

Onomichi, an arty seaside town, is known for its cliffside temples and its love for cats. It’s also popular among locals as the starting point for the Shimanami Kaido cycling route. The Senko-ji Temple, accessible via the Mountain Ropeway, offers stunning views over the Seto Inland Sea.

Tottori’s expansive sand dunes, resembling those in the Middle East, are a unique sight to behold. Covered in snow during the winter months, they attract tourists despite efforts to preserve their natural beauty. Remember to be respectful and not leave a mark on this ancient landscape.

Shikoku Off the Beaten Path

Shikoku, known for its breathtaking beauty, is home to various off-the-beaten-path destinations. Takamatsu, the port town and main entry point to Shikoku, offers a rising star experience. Megijima Island, just off the coast of Takamatsu, is a hidden gem reminiscent of Miyajima Island.

Naoshima Island and Iya Valley are also worth exploring on Shikoku. These destinations provide a unique perspective of Japan, away from the hustle and bustle of the major cities.

Kansai Off the Beaten Path

The Kansai region, often visited by international tourists, still has lesser-known locations waiting to be discovered. Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake, offers a serene alternative to popular Miyajima Island. With its own Grand Torii gate and Hikone Castle, Lake Biwa provides a peaceful escape.

Wakayama, known for its lush forests and ancient pilgrimage routes, offers a chance to delve into the spiritual side of Japan. The Kumano Kodo, a network of trails and shrines, attracts pilgrims from all over. And let’s not forget about Mount Koya, the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism.

Chūbu Off the Beaten Path

Gujo Hachiman, also known as Japan’s “Water City,” is often overlooked by tourists. This hidden gem offers temple gardens rivaling those in Kyoto, UNESCO World Heritage preserved streets, and a white “Castle in the Sky” perched on a hillside. Don’t miss the opportunity to hunt for unique Japanese souvenirs here.

Nagano, famous for its alpine region and snow monkeys, provides a perfect escape into nature. The Jigokudani Monkey Park is a year-round attraction, offering a chance to observe these playful creatures. Matsumoto, with its stunning castle and steep staircases, is another hidden gem waiting to be explored. And Takayama, often compared to Kyoto, offers enchanting streets and hidden temples.

Fujinomiya

Often overshadowed by other popular destinations, Fujinomiya is a hidden gem that shouldn’t be missed. Located between Tokyo and Kyoto, this city offers UNESCO World Heritage sites, stunning natural scenery, and breathtaking views of Mt Fuji. With fewer crowds and incredible sunrises, Fujinomiya provides a unique perspective of Japan’s iconic volcano.

Hokuriku Off the Beaten Path

Kanazawa, also known as “Little Kyoto,” offers a glimpse into the life of samurais. The well-preserved Nagamachi district showcases traditional townhouses and a rich cultural heritage. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s top gardens.

Niigata, famous for its fall foliage, provides a nice alternative to popular Nikko. Sado Island, located off the coast, offers a fascinating history and beautiful scenery. And don’t forget to try some of Niigata’s finest sake.

Tōhoku Off the Beaten Path

As we reach the northernmost point of Honshu, we enter the uncharted territory of Aomori. This city is an ideal escape from the crowds, especially during cherry blossom season. Hirosaki Castle, surrounded by over 50 varieties of cherry blossoms, offers a dreamy experience. The “World’s Longest Cherry-Lined Road” is another highlight not to be missed.

These are just a few of the stunning places waiting to be discovered in Japan off the beaten path. As you plan your trip, don’t be afraid to explore beyond the famous cities and delve into the hidden corners of this beautiful country. There’s so much more to Japan than meets the eye, and these hidden gems offer a truly unique and memorable experience.

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