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8 Places to Discover in Japan off the Beaten Path

8 Places to Discover in Japan off the Beaten Path

Japan is having a travel heyday right now – and rightfully so – it’s an incredible country. In fact, it’s one of my favorite countries to travel to. However, in my quest to find the lesser-traveled places wherever I go, I spent a lot of time in Japan off the tamed path on multiple trips to Japan!

I’ll requite you ideas on going vastitude the traditional Tokyo to Kyoto route and getting yonder from the crowds. I’ll introduce you to some favorite subconscious gems from my travels in Japan, from the stunning Iya Valley in Shikoku to the horse culture of Tokachi to the snow-capped Japanese Alps and the wild coastline of Tohoku. These places live in the shadows of Japan, which few international visitors know about.

Overtourism in Japan

According to the Japan Tourism Agency, the number of visitors to Japan has returned to pre-pandemic levels, with over 17 million people visiting between January and September 2023. The downside to these visitors is that they tend to flock to all the same cities; Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. These cities are phenomenal; however, they are crowded. The influx of tourists moreover brings increased petty crime, waste management issues, noise pollution, and overcrowding, which can negatively stupefy the environment and disrupt the lives of locals.

Tourists in Japan moreover tend to flock to Mt. Fuji. However, so many people climbed the iconic Mt. Fuji, queues were at the top, and the environment was damaged.

Japan overtourism
Image by Jason Goh at Pixabay

This has led the Japanese Tourism Agency to create measures to ease this overtourism. They recently designated 11 locations wideness the nation as “model tourism destinations“, hoping to encourage overseas visitors to explore vastitude metropolitan areas while in the country.

In that vein, I too have identified a few of my favorite Japan off-the-beaten-path destinations! Finding unique travel experiences and lesser-traveled regions in the world is my specialty. Without wide-stretching trips to Japan, I have unchangingly enjoyed these smaller villages, and lesser-known prefectures to the increasingly popular ones.

I hope you can wits a increasingly tranquil, less populated side of Japan that immerses you remoter into its unique Japanese culture.

Add These Subconscious Gems to Your Japan Itinerary

I haven’t been everywhere in Japan, but I have been to each of the places listed below. Some are increasingly subconscious than others, but all of them are unconfined options to add to any Japan itinerary so that you can be sure to wits the slower, lesser-known side of Japan in wing to places like Tokyo and Kyoto. Actually – I moreover provided an off-the-beaten-path Tokyo neighborhood in this list!

Some of these destinations are very specific areas within a prefecture, and some are larger regions you can travel through that are less traveled as a whole. Thanks to Japan’s incredible transit options – all of these lesser-known destinations are wieldy by public transit. Isn’t that incredible?!

Map of Japan Off the Tamed Path Recommendations

Tokachi – Hokkaido Prefecture

We’ll start at the northernmost part of Japan – Hokkaido. Most people stick to Sapporo, the wanted municipality of Hokkaido prefecture. Tokachi is an zone of southeastern Hokkaido surrounded by national parks. It felt like the Midwest of Japan with its landscapes dotted with small farms. The largest municipality in Tokachi is Obihiro, where I was based during my visit.

Japan off the tamed path Tokachi
Tokachi’s rural landscapes

Things to do in Tokachi off the Tamed Path

Let’s be real – simply by going to Tokachi, you are far off the tamed path. Very few international visitors overly visit here, which ways it feels untouched in a way.

It’s worth spending a day or so just checking out Obihiro with its lovely parks and the Obihiro Municipality Museum. Plus, since Obihiro is famous for its food, be sure to try “buta-don” (pork rice bowl), a local specialty. Also, try “katsu-don” (breaded pork cutlet over rice) at one of the city’s many restaurants.

If you like mixology or Japanese Whiskey, then make sure you stop at A Glass Shot Bar. You’ll meet the owner and topnotch bartender there, who mesmerized me with his mixology skills and techniques. We could only communicate through Google Translate and a few props.

If you are looking for something unique, Banei Horse Racing is the only race of its kind in the world and takes place in Obihiro. Large typhoon horses race on a special undertow in a 200 m straight line while pulling an iron sled that weighs up to 1 ton. And to make it plane increasingly special, spectators can run and cheer on the side of the undertow with the horse.

This is moreover a unconfined endangerment to wits increasingly of the Ainu ethnic culture that exists in Hokkaido. The local Obihiro Ainu culture preservation society is starting to offer tourists cultural experiences to largest understand the original Japanese history.

Make sure you get out into the rural areas that Tokachi is famous for via a cycle tour through the agricultural countryside. You can wits Tokachi’s uniqueness with all five senses as you meet farmers, walk through the fields, and taste the local produce, all while traveling by bike.

Don’t miss your opportunity to soak in a rare moor hot spring in Tokachi. Tokachigawa Onsen is a “moor hot springs” with a upper content of organic substances, including plants. Its upper levels of organic plant matter requite the water a brown and red color, and it is known to leave the skin feeling soft and smooth.

How to Get to Tokachi

The Tokachi zone can be accessed from Tokyo or by public transport from Sapporo.

Fly from Tokyo to Tokachi-Obihiro Airport. It takes 30 minutes by car or 40 minutes by bus to Obihiro Station from the airport. It takes virtually three hours from Chitose Airport or Sapporo Station to reach Obihiro Station by train.

Tohoku Region

The Tohoku region comprises the six northernmost prefectures on Japan’s main island: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Sendai, Yamagata, and Fukushima. Very few foreign visitors wander off the tamed path to Tohoku, so you’ll enjoy stuff an anomaly.

The zone boasts unconfined natural eyeful and an zillions of natural resources, such as succulent fresh seafood. There are many sights to see, like the most trappy cliffs in Japan, the marvelous scenery of the Ria coastline, the sheer zillions of the world’s third-largest fishing grounds, and more.

I visited Tohoku to trammels out Japan’s newest long-distance hiking route, the Michinoku Coastal Trail, a 1000 km trail. The paved roads and forest trails tie together a region that joined in harmony to rebuild without the 2011 East Japan earthquake and tsunami. It’s a unconfined wing to Japan’s other warmed-over pilgrimage routes. Needless to say – there’s plenty of venture in Tohoku withal the coastal trail!

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

Things to do in Tohoku off the Tamed Path

One of the weightier hikes from the long-distance Michinoku Coastal Trail is the Urato Islands of Matsushima Bay. The islands have not been ripened as a tourist destination, and visitors can enjoy the traditional tranquil Sanriku island scenery. In addition, the bay offers stunning scenery consisting of oddly shaped rocks eroded by the waves of the Pacific Ocean. Take a wend to see them up close!

For a real challenge, hike the Kitayamazaki Cliffs. The 200-meter-tall sheer cliffs boast the most powerful coastal eyeful of any coastal landscape in Japan. This was my favorite hike as part of the Michinoku Coastal Trail!

In wing to hiking sections of the coastal trail, you can moreover velocipede it in many areas, such as the zone virtually Rikuzentakata City. You can pedal through rice fields and untouched coastlines – a real subconscious gem in Tohoku.

You can’t spend time in Tohoku without paying homage to the 2011 tsunami that devastated the region. To learn increasingly well-nigh the disaster and, most importantly, the resiliency of the people in the region – stop at the Iwate Tsunami Memorial in Rikuzentakata City.

L’OreoleTanohata restaurant is literally hidden, tucked in between the trees and cliffs of the Rias Coast. At lunchtime, L’OreoleTanohata is a popular restaurant opened by a Japanese doughboy (French-trained) who is passionate well-nigh local resources and aims to develop the local supplies culture. Dishes that bring out the goodness of the ingredients themselves without unnecessary seasoning convey the richness of the land.

Check out Soma Municipality where the trail begins. You can explore the Nakamura Shrine and try some succulent Soma whinge Menchikatsu here. It’s whinge that is deep-fried on the spot when ordered! The hot and juicy menchikatsu is rich and full of flavor!

Enjoy getting in the water at Jodogahama Beach and Sanriku Fukko (reconstruction) National Park. Stop in at the visitor part-way and walk withal the boardwalk to view the stunning white rocks in the sea. The water is a trappy turquoise and perfect for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, or swimming! I took a kayak tour, permitting us to get up tropical to the unusual waddle formations.

If you are looking for a stunning place off the tamed path to wits cherry floweret season, plan to go to Hitome Senbonzakura withal the Shiroishi River in the southern part of Miyagi Prefecture. Here you’ll find 8 kilometers of cherry floweret trees withal the river embankment, creating a stunning landscape with a majestic snow-capped Zao Mountains backdrop.

How to Get to Tohoku:

Tohoku Shinkansen is a bullet train that connects Tokyo with Aomori at the northern tip of Honshu. The Tohoku Shinkansen is operated by JR East. You can utilize the JR Pass for this train.

Yanaka Neighborhood Tokyo

Considering Tokyo is the most popular place for tourists, it’s nonflexible to find subconscious places in Tokyo – but it is possible! Welcome to the Yanaka neighborhood.

This historic neighborhood located in the Taito ward of Tokyo, Japan is known for its traditional, old-world atmosphere. It is popular to visit if you want to wits the ‘old Tokyo’. Luckily, not many tourists want to see Old Tokyo – they’d rather stick to the glitzy areas.

Yanaka is moreover known for its large population of stray cats. Some locals and organizations have taken steps to superintendency for these cats, making it a popular destination for cat lovers like me!

Yanaka Neighborhood Tokyo
Yanaka Neighborhood Tokyo

Things to do in Yanaka off the Tamed Path

Take a supplies tour in Yanaka from Arigato Supplies Tours and hit many of the areas listed below. I did this last time in Tokyo and fell in love with the neighborhood. Plus – I learned so much well-nigh Japanese supplies and restaurants that I could utilize as I traveled throughout Japan!

Wander the Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street. The pedestrian-friendly shopping street is lined with small shops, cafes, and restaurants. It’s a unconfined place to explore and try traditional Japanese snacks and souvenirs.

The Yanaka cemetery is a resting place for many historical figures and a peaceful zone with cherry blossoms in spring and colorful foliage in autumn. Take a walk through this trappy space full of 7000 gravesites, and stone paths, and soak in the peaceful atmosphere.

Nezu Shrine: A Shinto shrine with trappy vermilion gates, a pond, and a well-manicured garden. It’s a serene spot for visitors to explore.

Participate in a tea ceremony. The first floor of Gallery Okubo is filled with reversion tea utensils and pottery. However, wander upstairs and you’ll find a unique little tea room. Here you can wits an pure Japanese tea ceremony. The weightier part is that they utilize reversion teapots and cups, and they transpiration in each season.

Scai the Bathhouse: This trendy art gallery is housed in a renovated public bathhouse and features various trendy art exhibitions. If you like trendy art – you’ll definitely want to stop here.

Learn well-nigh my other Tokyo off the Tamed Path recommendations

How to Get to Yanaka

You can reach Yanaka hands using public transportation. The nearest train station to Yanaka is Nippori Station, which is well-connected to the rest of Tokyo via the JR Lines.

Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture

Matsumoto is not necessarily a small town but increasingly of a lesser-visited town. The peaks of the Japanese Alps can be seen in the distance. Although the part-way of town is pretty modern, the municipality retains much of its heritage from olden times, and many of the vestiges are still seen in the when alleys and outlying areas.

It is probably weightier known for its castle, built in 1504. The original moats and stone walls still remain intact. The castle was one of my favorite things to visit in this zone so don’t miss it!

Matsumoto Castle Subconscious Gem
Matsumoto Castle

Things to do in Matsumoto off the Tamed Path

Tour the Matsumoto Castle: Matsumoto Castle is one of five castles designated as ‘National Treasures of Japan’ and the oldest five-tiered, six-story castle tower remaining in Japan. You’ll find a small stand near the castle archway that houses English-speaking tour guides. They are volunteers and their services are self-ruling (no tips allowed). I loved our guide and learned so much. It’s a unconfined way to see the castle and learn well-nigh the history of the samuari there. They operate year-round from 10:00 to 15:00 daily.

Matsumoto Municipality Museum of Art: Enjoy traditional Japanese script and modern art. The museum really focuses on local talent including Yayoi Kusama and her well-known works.

Visit Daio Wasabi Farm – A short train ride from Matsumoto, this sublet is a welter to walk virtually and learn well-nigh how wasabi is farmed and used in Japan. Make sure you plan your visit virtually lunch so that you can try the many variegated dishes that include wasabi…even ice cream! Plus you can add a fun velocipede ride to this outing from the train station to the sublet and back. It’s really scenic and lovely to do on a nice day.

Timepiece Museum: Enjoy timepieces of all styles and sizes from all over the world. You can’t miss the archway with a giant pendulum clock on the outside of the building.

How to Get to Matsumoto

Matsumoto is hands wieldy via JR lines from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, Nagoya, and Nagano City. Or if you are coming from Takayama, you can travel by bus.

Shirakawago in Gifu Prefecture

Shirakawago was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. This tiny village is filled with traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, many of which are 250 years old. They are known for their thatched sloped roofs.

Take a stroll virtually the houses, some of which have museums inside. Be sure to stop at the Wada house and the Shiroyama viewpoint for a stunning overview of the valley and the Japanese Alps. You can visit the old village environment for a day or stay overnight in a thatch home Ryokan. They plane have natural hot springs you can enjoy while staying in Shirakawago.

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

How to Get There to Shirakawago

There are several daily express bus services to and from Shirakawa-go from Takayama or Kanazawa. However, in the winter months, it can be nonflexible to get to as sometimes it gets snowed in!

Takayama in Gifu Prefecture

This mannerly of-the-beaten-path small town is surrounded by peaks of the Japanese Alps. The old town has been beautifully preserved and it’s what makes this town so special. There is moreover a large number of shrines and museums devoted to crafts, old lifestyles, and other local traditions.

Takayama off the tamed path Japan
Takayama Old Town

Things to do in Takayama off the Tamed Path

Walk virtually San-machi Suji (Old Town). The vibrant narrow streets are full of old buildings, craftsman workshops, traditional stores, restaurants, and sake breweries. This is the perfect opportunity to really enjoy the old architecture.

Sake Breweries: Speaking of sake breweries, Takayama is a unconfined place to do a increasingly in-depth sake tasting. You’ll recognize the sake breweries indicated by a wittiness made of cedar hanging outside the shop.

Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine: At this complex, be sure to stop at the Takayama Yatai Kaikan, a museum that houses some examples of the floats paraded twice yearly through the streets as part of the spring and storing festivals.

Hida Beef: Make sure you try the famous Hida beef. It is one of Japan’s special types of finely branded whinge known for its unique aroma, texture, and taste. It moreover has elaborate marbling, giving it lattermost juiciness when cooked. Many local restaurants serve it but try it at Kitchen Hida if you can.

How to Get to Takayama

Takayama is easy to wangle from the main cities of Honshu like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka or Kyoto. The train is the weightier way to get to Takayama unless you’re coming from Kanazawa, in which specimen a bus is your weightier bet.

Iya Valley – Shikoku Tokushima Prefecture

The Iya Valley is often referred to as one of the most remote regions in Japan. It’s less of a valley and increasingly of a steep and deep river gorge. Most of the landscape is inaccessible, historically making it a perfect place for feuding clans to hibernate in the late 12th century.

There is not one straight road in the Iya Valley. In fact – my weightier tip is to bring Dramamine. All of the roads seem to be perched on the steep hills with sharp drop-offs to the river gorge below. However, with all of this ruggedness, comes an immense value of beauty.

Iya Valley remote Japan
Iya Valley

Things to do in Iya Valley off the Tamed Path

The valley is filled with unique things to do, but one of the top things to wits is a walk over the kagura-bash (Vine Bridge) that crosses the Iya River. This used to be used by the locals as a way wideness the gorge, however today it’s just for tourists. You pay a small fee to navigate the wobbly bridge, and it’s definitely not for people who are scared of heights! Its vines are replaced every 3 years, and steel cables are laced inside the vines for safety.

If vine bridges weren’t unusual enough, trammels out Iya Valley’s Scarecrow Village. Yes – that sounds like a place found in a horror movie – but it’s a real town – Nagoro in Iya Valley. The streets, fields, and buildings are filled with hundreds of life-size ‘dolls’ stuffed with paper. The scarecrows outnumber the residents, of whom there are only 30. Wander virtually the village and be sure to go into the old primary school for an unusual sight.

Of course, in such a lush environment, there is some unconfined hiking to be done. Hike to the top of the highest mountain in Tokushima Prefecture and second highest in western Japan, Mt Tsurugi. And when you are finished, you can enjoy one of the many hot springs virtually the valley.

For a really unique onsen wits at Hotel Iyaonsen, ride a subscription car lanugo to the river at the marrow of the gorge to enjoy the natural hot springs.

Iya Valley vine bridge
Iya Valley Vine Bridge

How to Get to the Iya Valley

The easiest and most worldwide way to reach the Iya Valley from elsewhere is via train to JR Oboke Station. Limited Express trains go to/from here well-nigh once an hour and most local buses throne out from here.

Kotohira – Shikoku Kagawa Prefecture

Kotohira is home to the most well-known shrines in Shikoku, historical sites, and cultural assets, making it a unconfined place to stroll through history. Plane though there are a pearly number of souvenir shops and visitors, I still consider it off the tamed path considering most of those visitors are Japanese tourists. You won’t find many international visitors in Kotohira.

Kotohira climb to Kotohiragu Shrine
Kotohira climb to Kotohiragu Shrine

Things to do in Kotohira off the Tamed Path

The climb to Kotohiragu Shrine is memorable and challenging. There are 785 steps to get to the main shrine, but there’s so much to see withal the way, which provides lots of little rest breaks. You can plane stop and have lunch withal the way if you want!

Once you reach the top, explore the multiple shrines, ponds, and gardens, and soak up the panoramic views of the town. And if you want to see a real subconscious gem, then walk remoter to the 2nd temple. However, you’ll have to climb 583 increasingly stairs to get to the inner shrine and greet the deity!

Visit Kanamaruza Theater, a traditional Kabuki theater located near Kompira-san Shrine. Built in 1835, the shrine has been meticulously preserved and is still used today. Plane if you don’t watch a performance, you can visit the theater to fathom its historical and architectural significance. I didn’t get to see a performance, however, the tour backstage was fascinating.

One of the most unique things I did while in Kotohira was try their two well-known ice surf cone treats. Get a cone with Oiri (Japanese candy) on it. The colorful round candies are light and sweet – like cereal on your soft serve cone. Or, if you are really adventurous, try the soy sauce ice surf with untried onions. I can’t say it was my favorite, but I was glad I tried it!

Are you ready for a cooking wits you won’t find anywhere else? Take a Sanuki udon noodle-making class. You’ll learn all the steps to make your own udon noodles and plane get to eat them at the end. However – be prepared for some surprises withal the way. The matriculation is sort of half cooking class, half Japanese game show. I guarantee that you will have fun, and have a succulent lunch!

How to Get to Kotohira

Kotohira is wieldy from Takamatsu Airport on Shikoku or from Okayama Station on the Sanyo Shinkansen. From Takamatsu Station, take a train to either JR Kotohira or Kotoden Kotohira Station via Takamatsu-Chikko Station, next to Takamatsu Castle. Both journeys take well-nigh an hour.

Utilize 12Go to Get to Japan’s Subconscious Gems

With so many public transportation options to get virtually Japan, it can be troublemaking to icon out how to compare prices and timetables. However, 12Go helps you compare variegated modes of transportation in Japan hands from their website or mobile app. You can search on dates and locations and find all of the options and typesetting right from the site – including buses, ferries, trains, hotel-airport transfer, and more.

JR Pass

How to Plan Your Japan Off the Tamed Path Adventure

I have utilized a few companies that specialize in creating itineraries that expose you to Japan’s subconscious gems. In addition, I have found a few of my own!

I diamond Japan itineraries that will take you off the tamed path on a customized basis. Let me know your interests, timeframe, and budget, and I will put together a custom itinerary including information well-nigh Japan transportation and tips. To learn more, contact me at info@Ottsworld.com

Custom Japan Travel Itineraries
I can help diamond custom Japan Travel Itineraries

Oku Japan specializes in Japan off the tamed path and hiking in Japan. I’ve washed-up a couple of tours with them, including the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, and love the unique experiences they offer with locals, such as indigo dying, opportunities to meet monks, and more. They operate guided, self-guided, and custom tours virtually communities deep in the countryside that preserve the traditions of the past.

You can get a 5% unbelieve off Oku Japan bookings when you use the lawmaking OTTSWORLD5. Guests will need to enter the lawmaking in the ‘Notes and Special Requests’ field when they typesetting on OkuJapan.com to have the unbelieve applied.

Inside Japan Tours is moreover a unconfined tour visitor with unconfined guides who will immerse you in the subconscious gems of Japan.

Experience Japan Less Traveled

Japan offers a wealth of captivating experiences vastitude its famous tourist destinations. Venturing off the tamed path to any of these eight destinations allows travelers to uncover subconscious gems, immerse themselves in pure cultural encounters, and witness the eyeful of Japan’s less-explored regions. By stepping yonder from the tourist crowds and embracing the serendipity of discovery, travelers can forge deeper connections with the country’s rich history, culture, and natural beauty, making their visit to Japan unforgettable.

8 Places to Discover in Japan off the Tamed Path

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