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More Than Just Tokyo: Underrated Places To Visit In Japan

EMA Global - July 4, 2024 - 0 comments

More Than Just Tokyo: Underrated Places To Visit In JapanJapan, with its rich cultural heritage, vibrant cities, and breathtaking landscapes, has long been a favourite destination for travellers. While Tokyo’s bustling metropolis, Kyoto’s historical charm, and Osaka’s culinary delights often steal the spotlight, Japan is a country with many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Here, we explore some underrated places that offer unique experiences away from the usual tourist trails.

1. Kanazawa: The Little Kyoto

Nestled on the western coast of Honshu, Kanazawa is often dubbed the “Little Kyoto” due to its well-preserved Edo-period districts, traditional crafts, and stunning gardens. The city is home to Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s most beautiful landscaped gardens, offering a serene escape with its lakes and waterfalls, streams, and seasonal flora.

Kanazawa also boasts a rich cultural heritage, which is evident in its samurai and geisha districts. The Nagamachi Samurai District and Higashi Chaya District provide a glimpse into Japan’s past, with well-preserved residences and teahouses. Moreover, Kanazawa’s 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art stands as a testament to the city’s vibrant artistic scene, blending modernity with tradition.

2. Takayama: A Step Back in Time 

Located in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture, Takayama is a small city that offers a journey back in time. Known for its beautifully preserved Edo-era streets, Takayama’s old town, Sanmachi Suji, is lined with traditional wooden houses, sake breweries, and small shops selling local crafts.

One of the highlights of visiting Takayama is the Takayama Festival, held in spring and autumn. This festival is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful, featuring festival floats (yatai) and lively processions. The nearby Hida Folk Village, an open-air museum, offers an immersive experience of traditional rural life with its collection of historic farmhouses and buildings.

3. Shikoku Island: Pilgrimage and Natural Beauty 

Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, is often overlooked by tourists but is rich in cultural and natural attractions. The island is famed for the 88 Temple Pilgrimage, a 1,200-kilometer route that attracts spiritual seekers from around the world. This pilgrimage offers a deep dive into Japan’s spiritual heritage.

Apart from its religious significance, Shikoku boasts stunning natural landscapes. The Iya Valley, with its narrow gorges, vine bridges, and gorgeous natural scenery, provides a picturesque escape.

4. Nara: Beyond the Deer Park

While Nara is often visited as a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, it deserves more time for a thorough exploration. Nara Park, with its friendly deer and iconic Todaiji Temple housing the Great Buddha, is undoubtedly a major attraction. However, there is much more to this ancient city.

The Kasuga Taisha Shrine, with its thousands of stone and bronze lanterns, offers a mystical experience, especially during the Lantern Festivals. Nara’s lesser-known temples, such as Horyuji and Yakushiji, are among the oldest wooden structures in the world, showcasing the architectural prowess of ancient Japan. The city’s serene gardens and traditional neighbourhoods further add to its charm.

5. Nikko: Nature and Spirituality 

Located north of Tokyo, Nikko is where nature and spirituality converge. The town is home to the beautiful Toshogu Shrine, which is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Nikko is also a gateway to some of Japan’s most beautiful natural landscapes. The nearby Nikko National Park offers hiking trails that lead to stunning waterfalls like Kegon Falls and serene lakes such as Lake Chuzenji.

6. Matsue: The City of Water

Matsue, the capital of Shimane Prefecture, is often called the “City of Water” due to its location between Lake Shinji and Nakaumi. This scenic city is rich in history and culture. Matsue Castle, one of the few remaining original castles in Japan, offers panoramic views of the city and its waterways.

The city is also known for its connection to Lafcadio Hearn, a writer who played a significant role in introducing Japanese culture to the West. The Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum and his former residence are worth a visit.

7. Kumamoto: A Blend of History and Modernity 

Kumamoto, located on Kyushu Island, is a city that seamlessly blends historical landmarks with modern attractions. Kumamoto Castle, although damaged in the 2016 earthquakes, remains an imposing structure and a symbol of the city’s resilience. The Suizenji Jojuen Garden, designed to represent the 53 post stations of the Tokaido Road, is a beautifully landscaped park that offers a tranquil retreat.

Kumamoto is also the gateway to Mount Aso, one of the world’s largest active volcanic calderas. The region’s hot springs, hiking trails, and panoramic views make it a must-visit for nature enthusiasts.

8. Tottori: Sand Dunes and Scenic Coastlines

Tottori is best known for its vast sand dunes, the Tottori Sand Dunes. These unique dunes, stretching over nine miles, offer a desert-like landscape where visitors can enjoy activities like sandboarding and camel riding.

The prefecture is also home to stunning coastal scenery along the Uradome Coast, part of the Sanin Kaigan National Park. The coast features dramatic cliffs, clear waters, and scenic hiking trails.


Japan’s beauty extends far beyond its popular tourist destinations. Cities like Kanazawa and Matsue, regions like Shikoku and Tottori, and historical gems like Nara and Takayama offer rich cultural experiences, stunning natural landscapes, and a chance to delve deeper into the heart of Japan. By exploring these underrated places, travellers can uncover the diverse and multifaceted charm of this extraordinary country.

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