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Off The Beaten Path Japan—Top 18 Places To Discover

Are you planning for a trip to explore some fascinating and highly underrated off the beaten path Japan destinations? 

Great news—you are definitely at the right place! 

You might have heard that getting to Japan means you will have to visit the major cities, such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. 

Because well, how can you conclude that you have been to Japan without a stop at any of these 3 beautiful cities? 

Nevertheless, there are more to Japan than these big tourist-flocking, equally stunning Japanese cities. 

Japan has such vast geographical features that some remote places in the country remain untouched by modernisation, offering a spectacular and authentic gateway for a break from the bustling cities.     

Make sure to read this article till the very end to know the top 18 off the beaten track Japan places that you can include in your Japan itinerary!

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Where Can I Go Off The Beaten Track In Japan: Top 18 Places

  1. Hokkaido
  2. Akita
  3. Yokohama
  4. Kanazawa
  5. Nagano
  6. Matsumoto
  7. Takayama
  8. Izu Peninsula
  9. Gokayama
  10. Lake Biwa
  11. Ine
  12. Koyasan
  13. Kurashiki
  14. Matsuyama
  15. Naoshima
  16. Okinawa
  17. Fukuoka
  18. Yakushima

Top 18 Lesser Known Places To Visit In Japan

Japan is segregated into 9 regions, and each region consists of several prefectures. 

Fun fact: There are about 47 prefectures in Japan!

The top 18 Japan off the beaten path places listed in this article are categorised based on their region so that it will be easier for you to read, follow through, and make plans. 

Because any itinerary planning—or in this context, off the beaten track Japan itinerary planning—can be overwhelming at times.  

But fret not. 

At the end of this, you will be able to know the non-touristy places in Japan that are waiting to be graced with your presence.

So let’s dive right in!

Hokkaido Region: Off Beaten Path Japan

Hokkaido

Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, is the least developed among the 4 Japanese islands. 

And thanks to that, you get to see the unspoiled, breathtaking nature and landscapes that Hokkaido has to offer to fellow travellers—making this fascinating island truly off the beaten path in Japan.

If you are looking forward to getting close to nature and admiring its beauty, you will be glad to know that Hokkaido is home to several magnificent natural parks

Some of the natural parks that you can visit for some sightseeing and trekking activities are:

  • Shiretoko
  • Daisetsuzan
  • Akan Mashu National Park

Make sure to head over to Lake Shikotsu and Lake Toya for a scenic view of layers upon layers of big mountains as the backdrop. 

If you want to explore an active volcano up close in Hokkaido, then Mount Usu needs to be on your off the beaten path Japan list. 

Big fan of dreamy rural landscapes with vast flower plantations? 

Getting to Furano Flower Fields will be a good match for you—showcasing beautiful flowers from lavender, poppy, and lilies. 

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Besides, Niseko and Furano Ski Resort of Hokkaido are great spots for snowboarding and skiing enthusiasts in winter.

Of course, you should not miss Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital city, especially when you are on the island during winter.

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The main festival, Sapporo Snow Festival, exhibits impressive ice and snow sculptures for a week. 

You ought to try the scrumptious Sapporo Ramen and Sapporo Beer before leaving for another hidden gem in Japan!

What Is There To Do In Hokkaido Off the Beaten Path

Tohoku Region: Off The Beaten Path Japan

Akita

Another prefecture that makes it to the off beaten path Japan list is none other than Akita. 

Akita boasts the beautiful rural life of Japan, rich with historical and geographical amazements that ought to leave visitors in awe. 

Make sure to make your way to Nyuto Onsen in Akita.

This scenic hot spring resort houses several traditional ryokans, offering hot spring baths to their guests and visitors. 

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If you are looking to have an enjoyable dip in the oldest ryokan with over 300 years of history, Tsurunoyu Onsen is the place that you need to be.

Akita’s Lake Tazawa is also one of a kind in the country. 

Being Japan’s deepest lake, Lake Tazawa offers a rustic vibe to fellow visitors.  

Another place that you need to visit in Akita is Mount Akita-Komagatake.

Among the highest mountains in the prefecture, you will get to admire the picturesque view of the landscape after some easy hiking. 

It is also a popular place among hikers in the autumn, showing fiery fall foliage on the magnificent mountain. 

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Kakunodate is a well-preserved samurai district in Akita that you should not miss visiting. 

Some of the ancient samurai residences are open to visitors—boasting their impressive architecture, rich history, and traditions. 

Besides, Kakunodate is also a popular place for cherry blossom viewing (hanami) in the Tohoku region.

If you are in Akita city during summer, make sure to participate in their annual, jaw-dropping celebration of Kanto Matsuri

The performers will balance the kanto (long bamboo poles) attached with at least 46 lit lanterns on their body parts, such as the forehead, shoulder, and hip. 

If you want to get your hands on balancing the kanto pole, you can visit the Kanto Museum while learning the history behind this unique festival. 

Kanto Region: Off The Beaten Path Japan

Yokohama

Once a sleepy fishing village in Edo Period (1603-1868), Yokohama transformed into one of the biggest cities in the country after opening up to foreign trade.

This spectacular off-the-beaten-path Japan place is located mere 30 minutes away from Tokyo by train, making a detour from the capital city a breeze

Make sure to make your way to Sankeien Garden in Yokohama—a beautiful and calming Japanese garden ideal for a short break from the bustling city life.

Sankeien Garden is also a popular hanami spot among locals in spring with hundreds of cherry trees planted around the garden. 

If you are into tall skyscrapers and shopping malls, then you will have to get to Yokohama city centre, Minato Mirai 21

Yokohama Chinatown is the largest Chinatown in Japan—prepared to be bombarded with colourful signboards, red lanterns, swarming locals, and mouth-watering Chinese food! 

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Besides, Yokohama has several interesting museums to visit: 

If you are a big fan of admiring the city’s impressive skyline, you can visit the Osanbashi Pier which is located next to Yamashita Park

Hokuriku Region: Off The Beaten Path Japan

Kanazawa

Located in Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa is yet another culturally rich Japan off the beaten path that is worth discovering. 

Kanazawa is among the few big cities that were left undamaged in World War 2.

Hence much of the historical buildings and monuments are well preserved and open to the public. 

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Make sure to head over to Kanazawa Castle to admire the impressive architecture of the castle. 

Though most of the old structures were destroyed in multiple fires, much effort is poured to reconstruct some of the monuments so that visitors can have a glimpse into the castle’s former glory once again. 

Kanazawa is also home to Kenrokuen, one of the most beautiful Japanese landscape gardens in the country.

This impressive garden gives captivating vibes when the season changes; cherry and plum trees blossom in spring, fall foliage of maple trees in autumn, floral and greenery view in summer and snow blanket on the trees in winter.

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Another attraction that you should not miss in this Japan off beaten track is Nagamachi District, a well-preserved samurai district. 

Make sure to visit Nomura-ke and Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiryokan to delve into the samurai history, important relics, and their lifestyle during ancient times.

You can also learn about the history and culture behind Kanazawa’s main entertainment district, the Higashi Chaya District

You can visit the preserved tea houses (Shima and Kaikaro Teahouses) while learning about geisha performances and instruments used.

Kanazawa is also home to several unique museums including the 21st Century Museum and DT Suzuki Museum

If you are a foodie (like me), make sure to head over to Omicho Market to spoil yourself with a wide range of delicious local fresh seafood cuisine!

Chubu Region: Off The Beaten Path Japan

Nagano

The capital of Nagano Prefecture, Nagano city is among the best off the beaten path Japan destinations to explore. 

One of the main highlights in Nagano is Togakushi Shrine

Hike up the trails to visit all the 3 shrines of Togakushi while admiring the scenic mountain views or by boarding the public bus.

Also, make sure to make your way to Zenkoji Temple—one of the most important Buddhist temples of Japan. 

This ancient temple was believed to keep Japan’s first-ever Buddhist statue in the 7th century. 

You can have a glimpse of the replica statue when it is displayed to the public every 6 years. 

Note: The tentative date for the replica display will be from April 3 to May 29 2022. 

If you are a big fan of Japanese ninjas, make sure to head over to these unique museums in Nagano:

  • Togakure Ninpo Museum
  • Kids Ninja Museum

As the former host of Winter Olympic 1998, you also get to visit some of the remaining world-class sports facilities scattered around this stunning city.

While you are in Nagano, you can have a short detour to Yamanouchi to explore Jigokudani Monkey Park—where you get to see the playful wild snow monkeys dipping in the hot spring all year long. 

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Matsumoto

While you are in Nagano Prefecture, you can include Matsumoto into your off the beaten track Japan itinerary. 

Matsumoto is among the few Japanese cities that houses an original castle and hence its main attraction is none other than the stunning Matsumoto Castle

Apart from boasting its intricate wooden interior design details, Matsumoto Castle serves as a popular hanami spot among the locals in spring. 

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You can also visit Daio Wasabi Farm in Matsumoto, one of the biggest wasabi farms in the country. 

Note: Make sure to try its one-of-a-kind wasabi ice cream, soba, and beer before leaving the farm!

Matsumoto has several interesting museums that are worth visiting, including:

  • Japan Ukiyo-e Museum
  • City Art Museum

Japan Ukiyo-e Museum showcases a massive collection of precious ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints).

While City Art Museum exhibits local-born artists artwork including the famous Kusama Yayoi.

Get a glimpse into the former merchant district of Matsumoto by exploring Nakamachi.

Some of these old white-painted warehouses are still being used and converted into restaurants and ryokan. 

If you are looking for some nice cafes with great ambience, Matsumoto’s Frog Street is where you will need to be. 

Takayama

Takayama is among the most underrated off-the-beaten-path Japan destinations that you would not regret visiting.

This lovely rustic town is home to one of the most stunning festivals in Japan—Takayama Matsuri.

Held twice a year in spring and autumn, this interesting festival involves a grand procession of massive and intricate yatai (festival floats) accompanied with karakuri performances. 

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If the festival float designs intrigue you, you can spend some time admiring the fine craftsmanship at Matsuri No Mori and Yatai Kaikan

Takayama’s Old Town is so well preserved that it brings you back to the ancient period of Japan once you are here.

Some of the traditional buildings are converted into museums, homes, and sake breweries.

To immerse yourself in the local culture and history, make your way to Hida Folk Village and Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Centre

If you want to mingle with the friendly locals, make sure to visit one of Takayama’s morning markets. Some of the items sold here include flowers, local crafts, and snacks. 

One unique museum that you can visit in this beautiful remote town is Takayama Jinya—the only place in Japan where a historical government house remains and is open to the public. 

Izu Peninsula

The Izu Peninsula is one of the most popular off the beaten path Japan among locals in this country—but remains under the radar among the foreign travellers!

This hidden gem offers magnificent scenic views, stunning coastlines, natural hot springs, and beautiful beaches to visitors.

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Make sure to participate in the Kawazu Cherry Festival where you will get to enjoy the hanami of different cherry tree varieties. 

Not to miss is to admire the beautiful coastlines and scenic views at Irozaki Coast (you can even board a cruise for that).

Fan of Japanese and East Asian art collections? Make sure to head over to MOA Museum of Art in Atami. 

Shuzenji Onsen is also a must-visit place in the Izu Peninsula for a change of a more relaxing and zen-filled environment.

For an extraordinary sightseeing place, Mount Omuro—a bowl-shaped, grass-covered extinct volcano—will be your best bet. 

Gokayama

Gokayama is located in a remote rural area, surrounded by the splendour of lush mountains and nature—a perfect example of off the beaten path in Japan!

This small, unspoiled town is famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri house.

Its unique architecture was designed in such a way to withstand the heavy snowing in winter.

To have a glimpse of the gassho-zukuri, make sure to visit Gokayama’s UNESCO world heritage sites Ainokura Village and Suganuma Village

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Due to the villages’ remote locations, much of the traditional culture and way of living is still practised by the locals to this day. 

Getting a night’s stay in one of the minshuku (farmhouse turned Japanese style lodgings) is highly recommended to immerse yourself in the local culture. 

Other attractions in these villages include:

  • Cultural folk museums,
  • Washi paper workshops,
  • Visiting high vintage viewpoints for panoramic views of farmhouses, and
  • Attending local folk songs performances.

Kansai Region: Off The Beaten Path Japan

Lake Biwa

The next destination off the beaten path in Japan in the list is none other than Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. 

Also one of the world’s oldest lakes, there are so many interesting things to do along Lake Biwa’s 235 km long shorelines!

The main attractions include visiting Hikone Castle, Shirahige Shrine, Ishiyama-Dera Temple, and Mii-Dera Temple

Lake Biwa is also a great place for fishing, camping, kayaking, and even bird-watching—definitely a hidden gem in Japan to unwind yourself and get closer to nature!

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There is also a big floating torii gate (belongs to Shirahige Shrine) in the lake, resembling the one at Miyajima Island. 

This dazzling off-the-beaten-path Japan makes a good day trip from Osaka or Kyoto.   

What Is There To Do In Lake Biwa Off the Beaten Path

Ine

Ine could probably be considered as one of the picturesque off beaten path Japan spots that made it to this list. 

Located in Northern Kyoto Prefecture, this stunning fishing village is about a 2-hour train ride away from Kyoto—making a great place for a day tour from Kyoto

What is so special about Ine is its well-preserved traditional funaya (boathouses) that have been around in the country since the Edo Period. 

If you are travelling leisurely without having to follow tight travel schedule, make sure to have a night’s stay in the funaya minshuku to have a glimpse into the authentic locals’ way of living. 

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Boat tours are also offered to visitors where you get to admire the magnificent scenic view funaya lining along the coastline from the sea. 

Experience feeding the sea birds directly off your hand while on the boat—a fun and adrenaline-rush activity for adventure seekers!

You can get to Funaya no Sato Park for boat reservations, apart from admiring the view of Ine from its uphill observation deck.

What Is There To Do In Ine Off the Beaten Path

Koyasan

The next Japan off the beaten path place is among the most sacred sites in the country, Koyasan

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Aside from boarding cable cars to reach Koyasan, there are many available hiking and walking trails to Koyasan if you prefer to hike up while admiring the surrounding gorgeous mountainous view.  

Some of these trails need 7 hours to complete. 

While you are in Koyasan, make sure to visit Okunoin Temple, Konguki Temple, and Garan

A popular pilgrimage site, Okunoin Temple is the place where Kobo Daishi (Shingon Buddhism founder) mausoleum is built. 

This temple also houses Japan’s largest cemetery site, containing over 200 000 tombs ranging from warlords, respected monks, and individuals of different ages across the centuries. 

If you are a fan of religious and cultural artefacts, make sure to visit Koyasan’s Reihokan Museum before heading back down. 

 A trip to Koyasan is best enjoyed while having lodgings at one of the temples, commonly known as shukubo

You can experience the traditional life of a Buddhist monk and also get to participate in their daily morning prayers.

You can book lodgings at shukubo via Japanican.

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Chugoku Region: Off Beaten Path Japan

Kurashiki

Kurashiki is definitely another gorgeous Japan off beaten track city that not many travellers know about and venture into. 

Once an important rice distribution centre in Edo Period, much of its historical buildings still remain and are preserved in a good condition to this date—almost bringing you back to the past instantly once you are in this picturesque town. 

Taking a boat cruise along the willow trees-lined Kurashiki River is one of the must-do things in Kurashiki. 

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The black-and-white buildings (former storehouses) are also an IG-famous spot that is too good to be ignored. Some of these buildings are converted into hip cafes, restaurants, and shops.

Other main attractions in Kurashiki include museum-hopping, such as:

  • Ohara Museum of Art
  • Japanese Toy and Doll Museum 
  • Museum of Folkcraft
  • Kurashiki Archaeological Museum

If sake tasting is your thing, make sure to head over to the century-old Jizake Dotemori—a specialised sake store that has been around Kurashiki since the 1920s.  

End the day by exploring Kurashiki’s Denim Street—to get your hands on the high-quality Japanese denim or to fill up your tummy with denim blue coloured snacks!

What Is There To Do In Kurashiki Off the Beaten Path

Shikoku Region: Off The Beaten Path Japan 

Matsuyama

If you are in the Shikoku region, make sure to visit Matsuyama—one of the off the beaten path in Japan that you won’t regret visiting!

Also the largest city in Shikoku, Matsuyama is home to one of the few remaining original castles in Japan.

Matsuyama Castle is a great place to admire the scenic panoramic view due to its hilltop location.

It is also a lovely hanami spot in spring with the presence of 200 cherry trees. 

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Another attraction to go to is Dogo Onsen Honkan in Dogo Onsen.

Note: Dogo Onsen is considered as the oldest hot spring resort in Japan.  

If this stunning onsen looks familiar to you, that is because this traditional onsen was used as inspiration in the award-winning Studio Ghibli’s animation Spirited Away!

Make sure to explore Ishiteji Temple too, the most popular temple in Matsuyama.

It houses important artefacts, historical statues, and most importantly being the 51st temple of the 1200 kilometres long Shikoku Pilgrimage.

And before you leave Matsuyama, treat your palate with the locals’ most favourite sweets: botchan dango.

What Is There To Do In Matsuyama Off the Beaten Path

Naoshima

For any art lover, getting to this one-of-a-kind art paradise located in Kagawa Prefecture will definitely make you feel glad that you have done so. 

Naoshima has lots of unique museums and art installations—bringing you to other-worldly dimensions— contributed by some of the world-renowned artists.

Naoshima’s iconic dotted pumpkin was in fact sculptured by none other than Yayoi Kusama, Matsumoto born internationally recognised artist. 

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Some of the interesting museums to visit in Naoshima are:

  • Chichu Museum
  • Benesse House
  • Lee Ufan Museum
  • Miyanoura Gallery 6
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Make sure to head over to Homura, a small town in Naoshima to explore the Art House Project.

Over here you get to admire extraordinary artworks in some of the abandoned traditional storehouses, a temple, and a shrine.

Some of these well-preserved buildings are more than 100 years old. 

I Love Yu is another unique art place to get to in this dazzling island.

It is a public bathhouse decorated with interesting artwork so that visitors can enjoy the bath while admiring the paintings, posters, and so on. 

What an off beaten track Japan island eh?

What Is There To Do In Naoshima Off the Beaten Path

Kyushu Region: Off The Beaten Path Japan

Okinawa

Okinawa is a tropical, laid-back chain of beautiful islands that are popular for its pristine beaches, lush green forests, and interesting historical buildings.

These natural splendours make Okinawa one of the most popular Japan off the beaten path spots for city dwellers.  

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You can opt for jungle hiking or kayaking in Iriomote Island or visiting Taketomi Island to learn more about the culture of Okinawa’s natives, Ryukyuan.

Okinawa Island is where the former Ryukyu Kingdom was based, so you can expect much of the historical buildings to be found here. 

Make sure to make your way to Shuri Castle, Nakagusuku Castle, Okinawa World, and Nakamurake Residence to learn about Okinawa’s past and interesting culture.

Miyako Island is the best place to be in Japan for beautiful beaches, snorkelling, and diving activities with its rich marine life.

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Here are some of the must-go clear blue water beaches:

  • Maehama Beach
  • Yoshino Beach
  • Sunayama Beach

Apart from being a great place for snorkelling and paddle boarding, Zamami Island is also a popular spot for whale watching from January to March. 

Fukuoka

A fun fact to share about Fukuoka: this stunning city is nearer to Seoul than to Tokyo (539 kilometres vs 883 kilometres)!

Among the underrated hidden gems Japan, this lovely off the beaten path has one of the country’s most interesting festivals—the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival

Held in July annually, the lively festival is celebrated with a beautiful kakiyama float procession race over a distance of 5 kilometres on the main streets. 

If you are in the city during spring, make sure to visit Uminonakamichi Park for hanami. 

You can also rent a bicycle to explore the big park while admiring the surrounding captivating flower gardens. 

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This hidden gem of Japan is also where the first Zen temple was built in the country; Shofukuji Temple

Though the main temple is not open to the public, you can still wander around the temple grounds and soak up the zen vibes. 

Of course, you can’t leave Fukuoka without trying its best local dish—Hakata Ramen!

And the best place to get this dish and other mouth-watering local cuisine is from the iconic yatai (food stand).

What Is There To Do In Fukuoka Off the Beaten Path

Yakushima

The last off-the-beaten-path Japan destination that made it to this alternative Japan itinerary is none other than Yakushima

Yakushima is definitely a must-hangout place for nature lovers.

This fascinating island offers several hiking trails for visitors to explore the beautiful lush cedar forests while checking out the local wildlife.

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This unique UNESCO World Heritage site is home to Japan’s oldest tree, a 5-metre wide cedar tree estimated to be within 2000 to 7000 years old!

Some other ancient cedar trees that are worth visiting include:

  • Buddhasugi,
  • Futagosugi, and
  • Sennensugi in Yakusugi Land.

To learn more about Yakushima’s culture and its historical cedar forest, make sure to make a trip to Yakusugi Museum and Environmental Cultural Village Centre.

Apart from venturing into the enchanting forests, get up close to watching sea turtles laying eggs on this island’s beaches from June to July.

Off The Beaten Path Japan: Conclusion

Here you go—the top 18 off the beaten path in Japan places that you can include in your upcoming Japan trip to experience the different sides of this fascinating country!

From crystal clear, pristine blue sea to the lush green countryside mountains to beautiful snow in the northern Japanese region and not to forget the culturally rich towns filled with ancient temples and historical buildings, you can definitely find any intriguing underrated place in Japan that you want to venture into—there is something for everyone!

And after you “been there, done that”, you will thank yourself for getting yourself to these off the beaten path Japan places in the first place.

Do you have other hidden gems Japan that you have been to but are not listed in this article? Please let me know; I would love to hear from you!

And if you find this article useful, I would really appreciate it if you share it with your friends and family members—sharing is caring!

Adventure is out there.

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