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Most visitors to Japan tend to stick to the traditional tourist trail of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. I did this on my first trip to Japan too! After living in Japan and since visiting again, I wish I had ventured off the beaten path in Japan sooner!
Exploring smaller cities or towns in Japan can really expand your travel experience. While Tokyo is a great city to explore (who doesn’t like the craziness of this city?!) and Kyoto is filled with more traditional experiences like shrines and temples, there are so many other cities and places that are worth adding to your itinerary!
To help you choose, I’ve included a guide to places that are off the beaten path in Japan that you should consider adding to your Japan trip!
1. Naoshima Island
Naoshima island is heaven if you’re a fan of modern art. Here you’ll find outdoor art installations (including the famous “giant pumpkin” by famous Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama). Naoshima is also home to the Chichu Art Museum, which also has beautiful works by Monet (it’s also fun to experience the novelty of removing your shoes to see the artwork!)
Even if you’re not a huge art expert, this beautiful island is worth a visit for the views alone. The water is a beautiful blue color, and as you go whizzing down the hills on a bicycle, you can’t help but wonder whether you’ve found yourself on some tropical, deserted island.
The “giant pumpkin” by Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama
Takayama is famous for its traditional wooden shop fronts. Think little alleyways filled with boutique shops and small restaurants.
Takayama is especially worth a visit if you’re planning to visit Shirakawago. Initially, I only planned on visiting Takayama as a brief stop before I traveled to Shirakawa-go, but I am SO glad I spent the night here! If you want to experience rural Japan (and you don’t have a car), Takayama is the ideal place for that. The old town is much less “touristy” than the Higashiyama District in Kyoto. This makes Takayama an ideal city to include in your itinerary if you’re looking to experience places off the beaten path in Japan.
Traditional Japanese shop fronts in Takayama
Shirakawago is an incredibly famous town in Japan. UNESCO World Heritage-listed, the houses here are built with what is called the “Gassho Style” where homes are made with thatched roofs. These homes are so different to modern day houses that it takes about three full days to remove an old roof and replace it with a new one. The community here takes turns patrolling the area during the summer in case there are any fires (one of the downsides of living in a wooden house!)
I visited in the summer, but Shirakwago is most famous during the winter when the homes are lit up and covered in snow. This makes the area look like something out of a magical wonderland!
Gassho Style houses in Shirakawa-go
4. Kamikochi (also known as “the Japanese Alps”)
Kamikochi, located in central Japan is known as the “Japanese Alps” and is perfect for those who enjoy hiking or the outdoors. Kamikochi is more popular with local Japanese and Taiwanese tourists who are “in the know.” I spent 3 nights here, though you could visit just for the weekend and still not feel rushed. It was a great way to unwind, and get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo!
Even if you’re not a huge hiker, Kamikochi has many “easy” or accessible hikes you can do. Some people visit even just for the day and don’t do any hiking!
Beautiful views in Kamikochi
This island prefecture has a world of experiences. Do you like food? Hokkaido is known for its seafood, dairy products, and fresh produce. Or are you a snow bunny? People visit Hokkaido every winter for its winter sports!
Sapporo is also home to an annual winter festival known for its ice sculptures. Conversely, if you’re more of a warm weather sort of person, Hokkaido is worth a visit in the summer. Less humid than Kyoto and Tokyo, Hokkaido is known for its beautiful flower fields during the summer. We loved our visit to Hokkaido, and were SO glad our Japanese friends suggested we visit!
Sunflower fields in Hokkaido
While Yokohama is still a major city, it’s 100% worth a visit. Most visitors to Tokyo don’t even realize Yokohama exists. It’s only a 15-20 min train ride from Tokyo!
Why should you visit Yokohama? Yokohama is home to the cup noodle museum (where you can make your very own cup noodles!) and is also home to Japan’s oldest Chinatown.
Looking up at the gates in Chinatown, Yokohama
I’m not going to lie…Okinawa is the only place on this list that I haven’t had the chance to visit yet. Everyone keeps on telling me how I need to visit Okinawa, and I have to admit, I am itching to go! This island is home to the Ryukyuan people who are the longest living people in the world and is famous for its beautiful beaches.
Japan is a country filled with such diverse landscapes. If you’re visiting Japan for the first time, make sure you include somewhere little bit “left of center” or off the beaten path in Japan. You won’t regret your decision!
And if you’re planning a trip to Japan, make sure you get access to my free resource library. Filled with checklists, phrase guides and anything you need for your trip! Just click the image below!
Tell me: if you were heading to Japan, what place from this list would you add to your itinerary?
Or if you’ve been to Japan before, what’s missing from this list?
Do you have any tips for traveling off the beaten path in Japan?
Your posts always make me want to plan a trip to Japan ASAP! I loved Yokohama and Okinawa and Hokkaido have been on my list forever, but I need to check out some of these other spots sometime!
Thank you so much, Caroline! I’m so glad my posts inspire you to travel to Japan more. Okinawa has been on my bucket list forever too – hopefully we both eventually visit one day!
Great post, it shows such a different perspectives of what I would expect from Japan. Love the Kusama Pumpkin by the way!
Thank you, Liz! The Pumpkin from Naoshima was one of my favorite experiences from Japan!
The pumpkin is fantastic! What an awesome piece of art. I didn’t even know it existed in Japan. The sunflower fields are so pretty. Great photos!
I’m so glad you think the Pumpkin is cool, Pam! This is why I love sharing experiences from Japan, it’s such a varied country. When I first visited Japan I thought it would be filled with Shrines & Temples, but there are so many other experiences to be had when you visit!
Fantastic post! So nice to see some off the beaten path recommendations. I lived in Japan for 3 years and I still haven’t made it to many of the places you mentioned. I especially want to go to Shirakawa-go now! 🙂
It must have been an amazing experience to live in Japan for 3 years, Kelly! Whereabouts did you live? I hope you get to visit Shirakawa-go!
I am going to Japan soon and this is so helpful! Thank you for sharing! Definitely want to explore more places than just the normal touristy ones! And this is definitely great!!
I hope you enjoy your trip, Jacqueline! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions 🙂
Girl you are so well travelled in Japan! I got to say besides Okinawa and Hokkaido, I haven’t been to the other places on this list. They look amazing!! Added to my list!
Thank you, Viola! I can’t wait to hear more about your Japan adventures! I’m yet to visit Okinawa, it’s been on my bucket list for soooo long!
Japan is one place that I would hands down travel back to over and over again! I didn’t know about a bunch of these places and now I really want to go. Definitely saving your post for when I hoping can go back to Japan!
I definitely feel the same way, Shannon! You could never get sick of Japan. Hope you get to visit again soon!
A fantastic post that has ignited some amazing memories from our trip. Okinawa is definitely worth a visit. I’m glad to see that I made it to all your suggestions!!
I’m so glad to hear this post has brought back memories from your trip! I hope to visit Okinawa soon – I’ve heard so many great things!
Wow! In love with those pictures and impressions ❤
Thank you, Carmelatte!<3
I actually thought Hiroshima was really interesting for the history. There’s also a day trip from Hiroshima to Saijo, otherwise known as saki town where you can go from house to house sampling the saki.
I agree, Heather! Hiroshima is filled with so much history. It’s hard not be moved by the memorials and museums. I’ve never been to Saijo, will have to look into visiting for the next time I’m in Japan!
I am definitely going to check your list when I plan my itinerary. Classic landscape… so beautiful and peaceful. And the giant pumpkin looks so artistic 😀
I’m so glad to hear this, Rajlakshmi! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions before your Japan trip!