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As one of the most fascinating countries in the world, there is no lack of places to visit in Japan. From the country's delicious cuisine (fresh sushi, anyone?) to the multitude of gorgeous shrines, Japan guarantees travelers experiences of a lifetime. While there are many popular tourist destinations, Japan has more to offer travelers who want to try something a little different. There are hidden gems all over the country (even inside tourist-centric cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka) that are less-visited but just as stunning. If you want a truly unique experience, visit these parts of off the beaten path in Japan to discover the real heart and soul of the country.
Discover a new side of Kyoto on a trip to Amanohashidate. This sandbar spans the mouth of Miyazu Bay and is covered in pine trees. The name translates to “bridge in heaven” because when you look at it from the mountains on either end of the bay it looks like a path between heaven and earth. It’s undoubtedly one of the most scenic views in the country!
- Why we love it: The stunning views of this unique natural formation from the nearby mountainsides are some of our favorite in all of Japan! There’s nothing quite like Amanohashidate anywhere else in the country.
- Best time to visit: Come any time of year for beautiful views but it’s best between May to August.
2. Hozenji Yokocho Alley
The Hozenji Yokocho Alley is an off-the-beaten-path spot in Osaka that you don’t want to miss. With its edo-era architecture, you’ll feel like you’re walking back in time as you navigate this historic alley, located right next to the Hozenji temple (which is another must-see). This narrow street is 80-meters long and home to a ton of excellent restaurants and interesting shops to explore.
- Why we love it: The Hozenji Yokocho Alley is packed with taverns and restaurants where you can binge on some of Osaka’s local dishes.
- Best time to visit: Visit any time of the year! In the day, snap some pictures and return in the evening for a whole new atmosphere.
The island of Chichijima is a perfect place to be if you’re looking to escape the crowd and venture into lesser explored parts of Japan. The island is only a ferry ride away from Tokyo, and here you can relax with some tropical island vibes, white sandy beaches and bright blue waters included. Spend a morning whale watching and then go snorkeling over a shipwreck in the afternoon. It’s, This peaceful island chock-full of outdoor adventure activities from swimming to hiking in the mountains is the perfect place to escape the bustle of Tokyo.
- Why we love it: The water around the islands is home to dolphins all year, so you can add “swim with the dolphins” to your Japanese vacation checklist!
- Best time to visit: Weatherwise, this island is beautiful pretty much year round. If you’re interested in seeing whales though, your best bet is to come between February to April or July to September.
For a totally unique diving experience, visit the island of Yonaguni. This underrated island is a hotspot for diving enthusiasts, with a high population of hammerhead sharks living in its waters and the Yonaguni Submarine Ruins, a fascinating submerged rock formation of debated origin. Some experts say the ruins are a natural rock structure, and others believe they are the sunken remains of an ancient city. You’ll have to decide for yourself what you believe.
- Why we love it: We love a good mystery and the Yonaguni Monument is certainly mysterious! You can explore the area underwater without restriction as you try to determine its origin for yourself.
- Best time to visit: While experienced divers can dive here year-round, if you want to catch a glimpse of the schools of hammerhead sharks, you’ll want to head there between November and June.
5. Iya Valley
If you’ve heard of Japan’s famous woven vine bridges, then you’ve probably heard of Iya Valley. If you haven’t, then you’re in for a treat! This remote valley is buried in the mountains of Tokushima Prefecture and is home to a handful of gorgeous bridges made of living vines. It’s also a great area to start out in if you want to get into the mountains for some hiking and experience (really, really) rural Japanese life.
- Why we love it: Japan is full of beautiful nature, but there’s something surreal about climbing across these living bridges. It’s unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere!
- Best time to visit: Come between October and November to see the stunning autumn foliage in the valley!
6. Sado Island
This remote island is certainly one of the more underrated places in Japan. Famous for being the place of exile for several famous figures, including an emperor and the founder of Noh theatre, this island has a lot to offer the intrepid traveler. Sado island is home to scenic views, gold mines you can explore, and is one of the only places you can see the endangered Japanese Ibis. And those aren’t even what it’s most famous for!
- Why we love it: Sado Island is best known for its Earth Celebration, a music and dance festival, put on by the world-renowned Kodo taiko group. The festival includes performances, marketplaces, and workshops where you can learn taiko drumming and traditional dance.
- Best time to visit: Time your visit on the island to be in August for the Earth Celebration!
You probably haven’t heard too many people talking about Takayama, even though it’s home to one of Japan’s best festivals, because of its remote location. But this rural mountain town is the perfect place to experience Japanese history. Takayama has two charming morning markets you can visit and the old town neighborhood is remarkably well preserved so you’ll feel like you’re taking a walk through Japan’s history. If that’s not enough history for you, there are several great museums in town to check out!
- Why we love it: If the impressive open-air museum and charming scenic location weren’t enough, Takayama also hosts the Takayama Festival twice a year, with beautiful floats and Karakuri performances.
- Best time to visit: Catch the Takayama Festival in April or October for the best experience.
8. Izu Peninsula
Ready for a beach vacation? Head to the Izu Peninsula! This area is best known for its plethora of hot springs and gorgeous coastline. Whether you want to lounge on the white sand beach of Shirahama or hike the rugged Irozaki Coast, you can get your seaside fix here. Izu is also one of the first places you can have a hanami holiday each year during the Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival, as it’s home to an early blooming type of cherry tree.
- Why we love it: This area combines our favorite natural features, with beautiful walking trails along the coast and plenty of hot springs to soak in afterward. It’s the perfect place to relax after the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
- Best time to visit: Come between February and March to enjoy the Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival.
9. Shirakawa and Gokayama Village
If you really want to explore an off the beaten path in Japan, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the winter wonderland of Shirakawa and Gokayama Village. This UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its unique farmhouse with steep thatched roofs. It’s a little tricky to get to, but this remote site is worth the visit. It’s beautiful in the summer, but it’s unbelievable in the winter.
- Why we love it: Take a trip to the Shiroyama viewpoint on one of the Winter Light-Up nights to see the village of Ogimachi illuminated in the snow and looking like something straight out of a storybook.
- Best time to visit: January and February are best, but make sure to reserve your spot ahead of time!
For a real change of pace, visit Yakushima, a subtropical island that is home to some of Japan’s oldest living trees. This national park features a massive cedar forest where you can find many trees, called Yakusugi, which are over 1000 years old. The oldest tree, the towering Jomonsugi, maybe as old as 7,000 years! If you like hiking and nature, you really don’t want to miss this unique forest.
- Why we love it: There’s something magical about being in a forest this old and part of that magic is that you can visit the Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine, which was the inspiration for the Studio Ghibli film, Princess Mononoke.
- Best time to visit: If you want to hike, the best time to visit is between September and November when there is less rain and cooler temperatures but between the end of March and early April the island bursts into bloom with the mountain cherry blossoms.
Nothing compares to the unique experiences you get by tackling an off the beaten path in Japan; from diving among sharks to hiking with the country’s oldest trees, the country has so much more to offer than its main tourist attractions. If you’re interested in visiting some of these remote places (winter wonderland in Shirakawa sounds pretty good to us), there are plenty of Japan tours, any of which could prove to be your perfect trip. You can also connect with our travel experts in Japan to help you plan a trip of a lifetime!
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