Are you looking to get off the beaten path in Japan? We’ve got 30 totally underrated Japan hidden gems to add to your itinerary!
It’s safe to say that we absolutely adore Japan. We fell in love with the country from the first moment we landed. From the fascinating culture to the delicious food, and the lovely Japanese people. Japan is one of those countries we could totally go back to again and again.
When most travellers visit Japan for the first time, they usually plan their itinerary around the typical tourist hotspots – a quick tour around Tokyo, followed by a few days in Kyoto, then maybe spend a day in Osaka or Hiroshima to tick off the bucket list.
But there is so much more to Japan than these well-known tourist hotspots! If you’re wanting to discover some of Japan’s off the beaten path hidden gems during your visit, then we recommend picking a few of the (mostly) undiscovered places on this list to add to your itinerary!
Whether you’re planning a trip to Japan in Autumn, Spring, Summer, or winter. There’s a place on this list for every season!
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In This Post:
Off the Beaten Path in Japan – At A Glance
- Kumano Kodo
- Lake Biwa
- Ize Peninsula
- Naoshima Island
Top 15 Japan Off the Beaten Path Spots
#1 | Okinawa
The birthplace of karate is considered one of the most beautiful parts of Japan. But Okinawa is one of those hidden gems in Japan that won’t remain a secret for long. It’s quickly gaining a reputation amongst western tourists.
The tropical paradise is often called the “Hawaii of Japan”. With its incredible beaches and wild jungle, it is the perfect combination of untouched yet developed enough.
Okinawa would be the ideal destination for nature and water lovers who admire natural beauty and the laid-back island life. But beautiful surroundings are not the only thing the island is famed for. Expect to see the cherry blossoms (in spring, of course) and taste some divine cuisine.
How to Get There: A flight from Tokyo to Okinawa takes about 3 hours.
#2 | Kumano Kodo
If you are in search of one of Japan’s true hidden gems, look no more! Kumano Kodo – an ancient pilgrimage trail that heads in the mountains of Wakayama – is not commonly visited but should be on every adventure traveller’s bucket list.
Well known amongst hiking addicts, there are several trails in the Kumano Kodo, some take days (or even weeks) to hike the entire length. Most parts rare eachable by bus so you can start and end your hike wherever you like.
To have the most authentic experience, remember to pack light and stay at the local guesthouses (Ryokans) along the way.
Although it is possible to hike the Kumano Kodo year-round, be prepared that winter can bring some snow.
During your journey, you will spot the Nachi Falls, which are registered as part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sacred Sites. While you are there, stop by the Seiganto-Ji Temple to see its vermilion 3-story pagoda.
How to Get There: Catch the Kuroshio limited express from Osaka (Shin-Osaka Station) to Kii-Tanabe Station.
#3 | Hakone
Although Hakone is located just a bit more than a 1-hour train ride away from the south of Tokyo, it is often overlooked by western tourists. That is a pity because the beautiful regions has plenty to offer. From quaint mountain towns, to traditional Ryokans with onsen, stunning mountain views, active volcanos, and beautiful lakes. It’s also one of the best places to see Autumn foliage or cherry blossoms in spring.
While you are there, make sure to make a day trip to the Hakone Air Museum, where you will find one of the most extensive Picasso exhibits in the world.
Use our detailed guide to Hakone to help plan your trip!
How to Get There: Catch the Odakyu Limited Express Romancecar from Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station. If you plan to use a Japan Rail Pass, you’ll need to depart from Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station instead.
Read More: A Complete Guide to Visiting Hakone, Japan
#4 | Lake Biwa
Lake Biwa might be Japan’s largest freshwater lake, located in the Shiga Prefecture, but it’s also one of the most underrated places in Japan to visit!
There are plenty of things to do around the lake. From island hopping by boat, swimming, windsurfing, exploring majestic castles, traditional villages, and discover the regions amazing cuisine (having some sweetfish and carp is a must!). The best part – the lake can be accessed in 10 minutes from Kyoto.
Don’t miss the Shirahige Shrine, with the “floating” torii gate in the water.
How to Get There: Take a JR Tokaido train line from Kyoto Station to Otsu Station.
Read More: The Perfect Kyoto 2 Day Itinerary
#5 | Takayama
Located in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture, Takayama is one of the most unique places to visit in Japan, offering a more traditional experience than other parts of the country.
Another great spot to see autumn foliage and cherry blossoms in spring, Takayama is known for its heritage-listed old township and superb local food – including ramen, sake, wasakana and sansei. It’s the perfect Japan hidden gem for the curious gourmand!
How to Get There: Take a train from Nagoya (about 4.5 hours), Toyana (5 hours) or Matsumoto.
#5 | Funaya
Are you a fan of Venice? Turns out – you can have a feel of Italy while being in Japan. In fact, “Funaya” translates into “the Boathouses of Ine” and is often called the “Venice of Japan”.
Located in the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture, it is a truly fascinating destination and one of the most unique places to visit in Kyoto. A seaside village with wooden boathouses built right on the water. Due to its unique appearance, it’s a very popular spot for filming movies and TV shows.
It’s possible to visit Funaya on a day trip from Kyoto city centrek. Be sure to take a boat cruise to see the boathouses from the water or join a cycle tour to learn about the town’s history.
How to Get There: Take the train from Kyoto (Amanohashidate Station on the Kyoto Tango Miyatoya Railway Line), then the Tankai Bus to Ine (1 hour).
Read Next: Top 25 Things to do in Kyoto
#6 | Asahikawa
If you are not afraid of the snow, Asahikawa should be on your travel bucket list because it is one of the best secret places in Japan.
Located on Japan’s Hokkaido Island and surrounded by the Taisetsuzan mountains, the area offers epic snow dumps in winter, so it is a much-loved destination for skiers and snowboarders.
When exploring the city, visiting its famous zoo to see polar bears, penguins and orangutans is a must. The city is also known for its winter festival where you will see incredible ice sculptures. Don’t forget to try the famous Asahikawa Ramen while you’re there.
Keep in mind, though – Asahikawa is the coldest city in the country, so bring your jacket!
How to Get There: Limited express trains connect Sapporo with Asahikawa (approx. 80 minutes).
#7 | Ize Peninsula
Nestled around 100km southwest of Tokyo, the mountainous Ize Peninsula is one of Japan’s stunning natural hidden gems.
Expect to see impressive rock formations, stunning beaches and lush greeneries. Also, make sure to visit Mount Omuro – one of the largest volcanoes in the Izu region.
Being so close to Tokyo, it is the perfect day trip destination for anyone looking to escape the city. But being a resort area, its prefect for a weekend getaway with beautiful hotels and hot springs – so you might want to stay a little longer.
How to Get There: The train from Tokyo to the peninsula takes about 50 minutes.
#8 | Niigata
Niigata is the capital city of the Niigata Prefecture located on the west coast of Japan. Set along the coast of the Sea of Japan, Niigata is famed for its rice (make sure to discover all the majestic rice fields) and incredible sake.
In whichever season you decide to travel to Niigata, know it will be a pleasant surprise. In summer – enjoy the spectacular fireworks, while in winter – put on your snow boots and hop on the slopes.
How to Get There: The city is easily accessed by train from almost any part of the country, but the most common route is from Tokyo.
#9 | Kyushu
If you really want to experience the hidden Japan, Kyushu is the right place to be. Active volcanoes, natural hot springs, mouth-watering food and a bustling metropolis – t is hard to describe the colourful island in just one sentence.
The southern-most of Japan’s main islands, Kyushu’s sub-tropical climate is popular amongst surfers who enjoy catching waves between Hyuga and Cape Toi.
The island also offers active volcanos, beautiful beaches, pumping waves, and natural hot springs. When hunger kicks in, satisfy your inner foodie by tasting Kyushu’s famous porky Hakata ramen.
How to Get There: From Tokyo Station, a train ride to Kyushu takes about 5 hours.
#10 | Naoshima Island
Admirers of modern art will surely enjoy a visit to Naoshima Island and, more specifically – the Benesse Art Museum. A trip to the beautiful destination wouldn’t be the same without seeing the Giant Pumpkin – a famous sculpture by Yayoi Kusama.
But even if art isn’t your thing, the island will be a pleasant surprise. Simply rent a bike and explore Naoshima and its breathtaking surroundings.
How to Get There: Hop on a train from Osaka to Okayama.
#11 | Tottori
Located on the western coast along the Sea of Japan, Tottori is far different from many of these other Japan hidden spots. While most places in Japan offer volcanos and hot springs, Tottori offers massive sand dunes and ancient ruins.
Yep, in fact Tottori is well known for its glorious sand dunes, which are the largest in Japan – they cover more than 30 square kilometres. The ruins of the former feudal castle are also a must-see.
When getting off the beaten path in Japan, don’t forget to discover the Uradome Coast that features impressive rocky islands, breathtaking sandy beaches and beautiful pine trees.
How to Get There: Take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka Station. Then make a change to Super Hakuto. Plan about 6 hours for the whole journey.
#13 | Kanazawa
At first glance, Kanazawa might seem like your typical urban destination. But as you look deeper, you will find that it has plenty of traditions and even thought-provoking crafts. It’s also the place to go if you want to see the famed snow monkeys!
Up until recently, the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture was tourist-free. Now, it has become a must-hit stop for amazing food, culture and art. So, when you’re tired of wandering around Tokyo, hop on a bullet train and just in three hours, you will arrive in the beautiful city.
How to Get There: Catch the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo
#14 | Nikko
Japan is famed for its pulsing energy and vibrant way of life, but that can be a bit tiring for some. If you’re looking for a spot to calm your mind, plan a trip to Nikko National Park – a great place to learn more about the country’s traditions and World Heritage Sites.
Located just a two-hour train ride away from Tokyo, the city will surprise you with its mountain wilderness and stunning temples. Although Nikko is mostly regarded as a day trip destination, you won’t regret staying a few nights there.
How to Get There: Catch the JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya Station and transfer to the JR Nikko Line.
#15 | Matsumoto
Last, but not least, on this list of places to go off the beaten track in Japan is the city where you will see one of Japan’s most stunning castles – Matusmoto, the second largest city in Nagano Prefecture.
Matusmoto is surrounded by the Japanese Alps, its beauty is truly mesmerising. It’s a great place to base yourself for access to mountain resorts, skiing and winter activities.
Wander around the streets of Matsumoto and enjoy its delightful cafes, or in winter check out the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, a unique road through the alps cut through the snow forming a majestic “snow corridor”, where the snow walls on either side can tower as high as 20 metres.
How to Get There: The train journey between Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station and Matsumoto takes just a bit more than 2.5 hours.
Looking for More Japan Hidden Gems?
If you’re looking to discover more Japan off the beaten path places, then here are 15 additional spots that didn’t make the cut for this article but are still worth considering:
- Iya Valley
- Yukushima Island
- Sado Island
- Mount Koyasan
- Historic villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
- Takachiho Gorge
- Geibikei Gorge
- Shizuoka City
Have we missed any noteworthy Japan hidden gems? Can you recommend other off the beaten path places in Japan for other visitors to check out? Let us our readers know about them in the comments below!
Map of Hidden Gems in Japan
Ready to Book Your Trip to Japan?
Not only does Japan offer some amazing hidden gems, but the country as a whole is also a true gem in the world, waiting to be discovered!
We hope this article has helped you to find some off the beaten path places to visit on your next trip to the land of the rising sun! To make the most of your trip, be sure to check out the latest travel information and restrictions by visiting the official Japan tourism website.
Also, don’t forget to check out our other Japan travel blog articles:
Read More About Japan:
- Top 25 Things to do in Kyoto, Japan
- 25 Stunning Photos that will Inspire You to Book a Trip to Japan in Autumn
- A Complete Guide to Hakone, Japan
- Finding Relaxation at Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan
- The Perfect 2 Day Itinerary for Kyoto, Japan
- 20 Things You Should Know before Visiting Japan for the First Time
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About the Author:
Amanda Twine is the founder and creator of Bucket List Seekers – a luxury travel blog sharing informative travel guides, food guides, hotel reviews, itineraries, and tips about how to make luxury travel more affordable.