Japan is a glorious country with an abundance of natural beauty, yet most travellers visit the same places such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Of course there is so much to see in the metropolis that is Tokyo, and Kyoto boasts such fantastic temples which are especially beautiful as the autumnal leaves change color.
Here we will explore five spots, or areas, away from these much written about famous cities. Each of these five offer a tourist a wonderful sightseeing experience, without the hoards of people found in the more well documented tourist spots.
These are all worth a visit.
Okinawa is the southern-most prefecture in Japan and has a much more laid back atmosphere from elsewhere in the country. The Ryukyu culture lives on and offers different cuisine and culture from elsewhere in Japan. The Ryukyu Islands describes the various islands surrounding Okinawa and the seas in this region are considered some of the most beautiful in the world.
Particularly stunning are the Yaeyama Islands with superb serene beaches and plenty of opportunities to enjoy fantastic diving and snorkelling. This is one of the best relaxation destinations you’ll find.
Okinawa is easily accessible as it is served by an International airport in Naha.
For those who wish to go directly to the Yaeyama Islands, a domestic flight can take you to New Ishigaki Airport on the Ishigaki Island.
Although not as remote as Okinawa, Kyushu is still a significant distance from Tokyo – therefore a destination that most tourists miss out on altogether. That really shouldn’t be the case because Kyushu is a great place to visit with some of the most relaxed and friendly people you’ll meet.
Volcanoes such as Mt. Aso and Sakurajima make the news, and in fact many of the volcanoes in Kyushu have had hiking trails closed or restricted due to recent activity. Still, you’ll find numerous spots to observe these volcanoes from a distance – often making for spectacular panoramas.
Miyazaki is perhaps the highlight for people hoping to discover less touristy areas. Miyazaki benefits from tremendous weather, seemingly sunny all the time, and it’s no wonder that the locals are so relaxed. They also have the shortest commute of all Japanese.
A boat ride through the Takachiho Gorge is recommended.
Also worth a visit is Udo Shrine. Visit the shrine (which is free of charge) early, around 8 a.m., and there are likely to be more staff than visitors.
Unless you are already in Kyushu, Miyazaki is most easily reached by plane. Domestic flights land daily in Miyazaki Airport.
Seto Inland Sea
The Seto Inland Sea runs between the Shikoku and Chugoku regions. There are two fantastic options for exploring the Ehime – Hiroshima areas; by sightseeing ferry, and by rental car or bicycle on the Shimanami Kaido.
You could ride a rental bicycle one way, use the drop off service, and take the ferry back – allowing you to explore this incredibly picturesque region from multiple angles. Perhaps the easiest way to do this would be to access Hiroshima by shinkansen, especially if you are taking advantage of the Japan rail pass.
If you have time, it would be fantastic to stop off at the various islands along the route from Hiroshima on the main land, heading over to beautiful Ehime on Shikoku.
Kosanji Temple is recommended, with wonderful architecture and refreshingly nice staff.
Children can enter for free and the number of excellent sights in this temple complex make it well worth the time to visit.
The Kii Peninsula is famous for rugged coastlines, lush greenery and spiritual significance – the home of Kumano Kodo – famous pilgrimage routes.
The Kumano Sanzan – a set of three grand shrines; Kumano Hongu Taisha (Grand Shrine), Kumano Nachi Taisha, and Hamataya Taisha, are noteworthy and can be visited in a day if travelling by car.
Otherwise, take your time and enjoy the pilgrimage routes and natural hot springs as you soak up the spiritual side of Japan.
Last but not least, Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture of Japan.
Hokkaido is sparsely populated, boasts phenomenal natural parks, and benefits from a mild summer without a rainy season. It offers breathtaking scenery in all seasons.
Winter scenes are breathtaking and Hokkaido also has an abundance of top ranking ski resorts. There is also the Sapporo Snow Festival if you’re in the area in winter.
Hokkaido is so vast compared with other prefectures, that it’s work arranging a rental car to explore freely. If you enjoy camping, hiking, photography, etc., then Hokkaido will be a haven that you’ll fall in love with.
Visiting these lesser known areas of Japan
These areas aren’t unknown, but they are certainly much further from the beaten track.
Okinawa, Kyushu and Hokkaido tend to be relatively quiet even during Japanese holidays. However, you would be wise to avoid the holiday periods in the Kii Peninsula and Seto Inland Sea, which will see a big uplift in tourism (particularly Golden Week – the end of April / beginning of May, and Obon – mid-August).
Each of these will make for lifetime memories, so make sure you pack extra film or memory cards for those cameras.