Last Updated: May 5, 2024

Japan Area Guides

Articles on the Country’s Hidden Gems

Donny Kimball

--

Yamagata Prefecture’s Yamadera temple complex

To be completely honest with you, I absolutely adore the ability to syndicate content here on Medium. From the already-present community of people who enjoy reading in-depth articles to the amazing publishing interface, there’s a lot to love about this amazing platform.

That said, one of the biggest downsides to Medium is that it is a nightmare to curate your work in any comprehensive fashion. Seeing as I’ve now been publishing here for a good many years, it’s become harder and harder to come up with a navigation system that works with Medium’s limitations.

To make things easier for you, the reader, I’ve opted to compile all of my area guides into a single, easy-to-browse location. Just use the table of contents below to jump between the various prefectures. Note that articles are listed in reverse chronological order in each of the subsections.

Table of Contents

Hokkaido
Hokkaido
Tohoku
Aomori
Akita
Iwate
Yamagata
Miyagi
Fukushima
Kanto
Tochigi
Gunma
Ibaraki
Saitama
Tokyo
Chiba
Kanagawa
Chubu
Niigata
Nagano
Yamanashi
Shizuoka
Toyama
Gifu
Aichi
Ishikawa
Fukui
Kansai
Shiga
Mie
Kyoto
Nara
Osaka
Wakayama
Hyogo
Chugoku
Tottori
Shimane
Okayama
Hiroshima
Yamaguchi
Shikoku
Kagawa
Tokushima
Ehime
Kochi
Kyushu
Fukuoka
Oita
Miyazaki
Saga
Nagasaki
Kumamoto
Kagoshima
Okinawa
Okinawa

Hokkaido

The flower fields of Shikisai Hill in Biei, Hokkaido
  • Matsumae Castle
    Situated on the southernmost tip of Hokkaido, this former outpost is home to thousands of cherry blossoms that only reach full bloom in late May.
  • Visit Furano & Biei
    Located in the center of Hokkaido, the dual towns of Furano and Biei are home to some of the most legendary flower fields that man has ever made.
  • Head to Hakodate
    Found in the southern Hokkaido, Hakodate is home to one of Japan’s best night views as well as cherry blossoms at the former fort of Goryokaku.
  • Northern Hokkaido
    Hokkaido’s northern reaches are home to the remote but beautiful islands of Rishiri and Rebun as well as all of Japan’s northernmost locations.

Aomori

A heart-shaped opening in the cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Park in Aomori Prefecture
  • Iwakiyama Shrine
    Found at the foot of Aomori Prefecture’s Mt. Iwaki, Iwakiyama Shrine is an ancient sanctum that few foreigners ever get the chance to explore.
  • Autumn in Aomori
    Aomori is a prefecture that is great all year round but it truly comes alive during the months of autumn when the fall foliage starts to turn.
  • Hungover in Hachinohe
    Seaside Hachinohe is the second largest city in Aomori Prefecture. It is home to both boozy alleyways as well as Japan’s largest morning market.
  • Mt. Osore (Osorezan)
    Found on the northernmost tip of Aomori Prefecture, Mt. Osore (Osorezan) has been described to a earthly manifestation of the Buddhist afterlife.

Akita

A pair of Akita Prefecture’s Namahage from the Oga Peninsula
  • Akita Prefecture
    Found in northern Japan, Akita is a prefecture with many allures. Whether you’re after history and culture or natural vista, Akita delivers!
  • The Oga Peninsula’s Namahage
    Akita’s rural Oga Peninsula is home to a unique take on oni called the Namahage. These ogres terrify people into getting their act together.

Iwate

Morioka, the capital city of Iwate Prefecture along with Mt. Iwate
  • Make Time for Tono
    Nestled deep away in the mountains of Iwate Prefecture, the town of Tono is rife with folktales, historic buildings and countryside charm.
  • Iwate’s Morioka
    Found between Aomori to the north and the rest of Tohoku to the south, Morioka is a convenient transportation hub that also has many attractions.
  • The Tragedy of Hiraizumi
    Unbeknownst to foreign tourists, the area of Hiraizumi in present day Iwate used to be a political center of power that rivaled that of Kyoto.

Yamagata

Yamagata Prefecture’s famous hot spring town of Ginzan Onsen
  • Uketamo (I Accept)
    Yamagata’s Shonai Plain is home to a unique culture of Yamabushi mountain ascetics that have been training on the Dewa Sanzan for centuries.
  • Yamagata Winters
    Located in the center of Tohoku, Yamagata is home to all sorts of wintery fun. From Ginzan Onsen to Mt. Zao, there’s something for everyone.
  • The Heights of Yamadera
    Found in rural Yamagata Prefecture, Yamadera is one of northern Japan’s most picturesque attractions. Don’t miss this one when in Tohoku!

Miyagi

A statue of Date Masamune in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture
  • Miyagi Zao Fox Village
    Though a bit difficult to get to due to it’s location in the mountains, Miyagi’s Zao Fox Village is a great wintertime attraction in Tohoku.
  • The Hitome Senbonzakura & Funaoka Castle
    Situated in the southern part of Miyagi, the Hitome Senbonzakura and Funaoka Castle together constitute one of Japan’s top cherry blossom spots.
  • The City of Sendai
    While not typically a destination on many tourists’ itineraries, Tohoku’s city of Sendai is chock full of an amazing assortment of hidden gems.

Fukushima

The double-helixed Sazaedo of Fukushima Prefecture’s Aizu-Wakamatsu area
  • The Miharu Takizakura
    Located to the east of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture’s Miharu Takizakura is one of the most famous cherry blossom trees in all of Japan.
  • Fukushima’s Iwaki City
    Situated along the coast of Fukushima, the city of Iwaki is a history port town that is most well known today for Spa Resort Hawaiians.
  • Nishi-Aizu & Kitakata
    Situated in the western extremes of Fukushima, Nishi-Aizu and Kitakata are two hidden gems that are perfect for repeat visitors to Japan.
  • Ashinomaki Onsen’s Okawaso
    Okawaso, a ryokan in Fukushima’s Ashinomaki Onsen, was the real life inspiration for Muzan’s Infinity Castle in the hit anime Kimetsu-no-Yaiba.
  • Aizu-Wakamatsu
    Most visitors only know of Fukushima in the context of the disasters of 2011 but the prefecture is actually home to a lot of samurai history.

Tochigi

The Nikko Toshogu Shrine’s ornately decorated Yomeimon gate
  • Kita Onsen Ryokan
    Found deep in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture’s Nasu Highlands, Kita Onsen Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn with centuries of history.
  • Kawaji Onsen & Ryuokyo
    Found to he north of Kinugawa Onsen, the hot spring town of Kawaji Onsen and the Ryuokyo Gorge are a pair of great attractions in Tochigi.
  • Tochigi Prefecture’s Nasu
    While the Nikko area is well known, Tochigi also home to hidden gems like Nasu, a locale that’s great for fans of hiking and hot springs.
  • Up in Utsunomiya
    Though located near the ever-popular area of Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture’s capital city of Utsunomiya rarely gets the attention that it deserves.
  • Furumine Shrine
    Located near Nikko in Tochigi, Furumine Shrine is a hidden gem that pays homage to the tengu as well as the quasi-mythical hero, Yamato Takeru.
  • Lake Chuzen-ji
    The deeper areas of Nikko are sadly often passed up by tourists but Lake Chuzen-ji is a really relaxing spot that really ought not to be missed!
  • Seeing it ALL in Nikko
    While not exactly a hidden gem per se, the Nikko area is a destination that many overseas visitors to Japan fail to properly experience.
  • Nikko’s Takino-o Shrine
    While most overseas visitors make a beeline for the Toshogu Shrine, Nikko’s roots actually predate the Tokugawa shogunate by nearly 1,000 years.
  • Nikko’s Taiyuin-byo
    Taiyuin-byo is the mausoleum of the third shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu. It’s located in Nikko, right next to the ornately iconic Toshogu Shrine.

Gunma

The yubatake of Gunma Prefecture’s famous Kusatsu Onsen
  • Mystical Mt. Myogi
    Found at the western extremes of Gunma, Mt. Myogi is home to an ancient shrine as well as some of Japan’s best weeping cherry blossom trees.
  • Gunma’s Koizumi Inari Shrine
    Found in remote Gunma Prefecture, Koizumi Inari Shrine is home to a collection of torii gates that’s worthy of being posted to Instagram.
  • Mountainous Minakami
    Found at the northernmost tip of Gunma, Minakami is without a doubt Japan’s top spot for adventure tourism and other outdoor activities.
  • Journey to Mt. Haruna
    Considered to be one of the three sacred peaks of Gunma, Mt. Haruna is chock full of all sorts of attractions such as shrines and hot springs.
  • Manza Onsen
    Manza Onsen is one of Japan’s highest hot spring towns. Here, you can quite literally soak away all of your worries while bathing in the clouds.
  • Kusatsu Onsen
    This in-depth guide to Gunma’s Kusatsu Onsen will tell you all that you need to know about what may very well be Japan’s top hot spring town.

Ibaraki

The nemophila fields of Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki Prefecture
  • Ibaraki’s Oiwa Shrine
    Nestled in the Hitachi Alps, Oiwa Shrine is an ancient Shinto sanctuary that enshrines 188 deities and is said to be older than history itself.
  • Ibaraki’s Mt. Tsukuba
    Located only an hour away Tokyo up in Ibaraki Prefecture, Mt. Tsukuba is one of the best day hikes around for those in search of a casual climb.
  • Ibaraki Prefecture
    While Ibaraki is regularly considered to be one of the least appealing prefectures, it’s a treasure trove of attractions and hidden allures.
  • Kashima Jingu
    Kashima Jingu is a timeworn shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture that has a history dating back nearly 3,000 years to the very origins of the Japanese empire.
  • Mito & Kairaku-en
    Mito is the capital city of Ibaraki. In addition to striking the perfect balance between urban and rural, Mito is also home to an amazing garden.

Saitama

The old Edo period (1603–1868) warehouse district of Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture
  • The Kumagaya Sakura Tsutsumi
    Hidden away in northern Saitama, the Kumagaya Sakura Tsutsumi is considered to be one of Japan’s top 100 places to see the cherry blossoms.
  • The Senbonzakura of Torayama
    Found deep in the mountains of eastern Chichibu, this hill is home to thousands of cherry blossoms and is also extremely popular with cosplayers.
  • The Town of Nagatoro
    Situated to the north of Chichibu in Saitama, Nagatoro is a tiny hamlet that is great for hiking, water spots and traditional river boat cruises.
  • Kinchakuda Manjushage Park
    Kinchakuda Manjushage Park is home to a 5 million spider lilies. Known as higanbana in Japanese, these flower around the autumn equinox.
  • Musashi Ichinomiya Hikawa Shrine
    Found just to the north of Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture, Omiya’s Musashi Ichinomiya Hikawa Shrine is an often overlooked hidden gem.
  • The Hundred Caves of Yoshimi
    Found up in the middle of nowhere in Saitama, the so-called Hundred Caves of Yoshimi have often been referred to as “Japan’s Cappadocia.”
  • Mitsumine Shrine
    Found in the mountains of Chichibu, Mitsumine Shrine is an ancient sanctuary that pays homage to the now-extinct Japanese wolves of yesteryear.
  • Escape to Chichibu
    This primer will tell you all you need to know about Saitama Prefecture’s rural Chichibu. The area makes for a great day trip from Tokyo.
  • The Castle at Kita-in
    The Kita-in temple complex in Kawagoe belies a hidden secret. It was essentially constructed out of the former pieces of the former Edo Castle.
  • Kawagoe’s Warehouses
    Found less than an hour north of central Tokyo in Saitama, Kawagoe is home to a number of historic warehouses from the Edo period (1603–1868).

Tokyo

People cross a busy intersection in Tokyo’s Shinjuku area at dusk
  • Asukayama Park
    Located on Tokyo’s northern edge, Asukayama Park is home to hundreds of cherry blossom trees and is a great alternative to more crowded spots.
  • The Unko Museum
    Hidden away inside of the DiverCity Tokyo Plaza shopping complex in Odaiba, the Unko Museum (lit. “the Poop Museum”) is Tokyo’s latest oddity.
  • Scaling Mt. Kumotori
    Found in the far west of Tokyo, Mt. Kumotori is the tallest peak in the prefecture. It’s also the home of Kamado family in Kimetsu-no-Yaiba.
  • Tokyo’s Retro Koenji
    Found west of Shinjuku, Koenji is Tokyo’s top retro neighborhood. From vintage clothing to old school eateries, Koenji has much on offer.
  • Fantastic Fuchu
    From ancient shrines to the lovely Kyodo-no-Mori, western Tokyo’s Fuchu is an area that is chock full of hidden gems and attractions.
  • Tokyo’s Top Onsen
    Unbeknownst to many overseas visitors, Japan’s capital of Tokyo actually has a wide variety of natural hot springs within the confines of the city.
  • Tokyo’s Shibaura Minami Futo Park
    Found at the foot of Tokyo’s ever-iconic Rainbow Bridge, Shibaura Minami Futo Park has been one of my go-to spots when I need a place to think.
  • Tokyo’s Todoroki Ravine
    The Todoroki Ravine is a natural sanctuary in the middle of Tokyo. Found near Futako Tamagawa, this hidden allure is a welcome reprieve.
  • Tokyo’s Gotoku-ji
    If you’ve spent any time on Instagram and follow Japan creators, chances are high that you’ve seen Gotoku-ju and its maneki neko statues before.
  • Tokyo’s Tennozu Isle
    Found near Shinagawa Station, Tokyo’s artsy island of Tennozu Isle is one of my favorite getaways from the hustle and bustle of the megalopolis.
  • Tokyo’s Great Fire of Meireki
    This installment of Backyard Tourism traces the roots of the devastating Great Fire of Meireki to a small temple compound in Tokyo’s Sugamo area.
  • Sugamo’s Crimson Panties
    Tokyo’s historic Sugamo area is often referred to colloquially as “grandma’s Harajuku” due to the fact that many elderly shop there.
  • Open Air Museums
    Found near Tokyo, the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural and the Nihon Minka-en Open Air Museum have some amazing historic buildings to explore.
  • A Haneda Layover Guide
    This guide will show you how to make the most of a 24 hour layover at Tokyo International Airport (or just sneak in one more final attraction).
  • Ryusen-ji & Meguro
    The names of many places in Japan belie a hidden history and Meguro is no exception. This article will reveal the origins of Merugo’s moniker.
  • Old School Shibamata
    Found on the eastern outskirts of central Tokyo, Shibamata is an adorable neighborhood that is chock full of all sorts of hidden attractions.
  • Yasukuni Shrine
    While Yasukuni Shrine is a political landmine, I believe that visitors to Japan should visit so that they can see the OTHER side of the story.
  • Meguro Parasitological Museum
    Tokyo is home to a number of odd curations but nothing tops Meguro’s Parasitological Museum. Here, you’ll find all sorts of grotesqueness.
  • Nakano Broadway
    Found in Tokyo’s Nakano area, Nakano Broadway is a great alternative to Akihabara when it comes to places to purchase anime and gaming goods.
  • Tokyo’s Mt. Mitake
    Situated in the westernmost reaches of Tokyo, Mt. Mitake has long been a sacred pilgrimage site. These days, it makes for a great day trip.
  • The Yokai of Chofu
    Located in the western Tokyo, Chofu makes for a wonderful day trip from the city center. The area is rife with references to GeGeGe-no-Kitaro.
  • Relaxing in Ryogoku
    Eastern Tokyo’s Ryogoku is home to both the sumo area and the Awesome Edo-Tokyo Museum. The area makes for a great half-day adventure in Tokyo.
  • Tokugawa Ienari’s Sloppy Seconds
    Tokugawa Ienari was the scandalous 11th Tokugawa shogun. Though best known for his sexual antics, he also saved a number of temples too.
  • Tokyo’s Ramen Jiro
    While ramen is a well known dish, few foreign visitors have ever heard of Ramen Jiro. This monstrosity is nothing short of pure, greasy gluttony.
  • Mt. Takao & the Tengu
    Found in the westernmost reaches of Tokyo Prefecture, Mt. Takao is a sacred mountaintop enclave that is a popular day trip from Japan’s capital.
  • The Haunts of Yotsuya
    While Yotsuya is best known as the location of Sophia University, it’s also home a famous ghost story as well as a number of other tales.
  • Tokyo’s Themed Dining
    While Tokyo has many themed dining experiences, it hard be hard to pick out the good spots from the scams. This guide will provide some pointers.
  • Wolves, Cats, & Darkness
    Tokyo has a large collection of shrines and temples but a handful of them are actually hiding some amazing secrets. Here’s three of my favorites!
  • Mori Tower’s Sky Deck
    If you’re in search of the best high-rise view in all of Tokyo, look no further than Mori Tower’s 238 meter-high outdoor Sky Deck in Roppongi!
  • Tokyo Ramen Street
    Conveniently located within Tokyo Station, Tokyo Ramen Street is a collection of shops that is a delicious mecca for noodle lovers.
  • Take-no-Yu Onsen
    Found in Tokyo’s post area of Azabu Juban, Take-no-yu is an authentic onsen that boast hot springs with waters as dark as a cup of black coffee.
  • Tokyo’s Atago Shrine
    Found in the center of the city near Tokyo Tower, Atago Shrine is one of the many hidden gems that are located within the confines of Tokyo.
  • Yanaka’s Shitamachi Vibes
    Found near Ueno Park, Tokyo’s area of Yanaka is one of only a few places to survive World War II. As such, it retains its old school charm.
  • Happo-en’s Gardens
    Found in the heart of Tokyo, Happo-en’s gardens are sure to be a great addition to any itinerary. Moreover, they are entirely free to explore!
  • Koishikawa Korakuen
    Nestled in the world’s most densely populated megalopolis, Koishikawa Korakuen is one of the top traditional Japanese gardens in Tokyo.
  • Ueno Park
    Oddly enough, Tokyo’s Ueno Park is the best one-day itinerary for those short on time. It has a bit of everything great about Japan.

Chiba

The former main hall of the Naritasan temple complex in Chiba Prefecture
  • Visit Awa Shrine
    Located on the southernmost tip of Chiba’s Boso Peninsula, Awa Shrine is an ancient Shinto sanctuary with three millennia of history to it.
  • Come to Katsuura
    Located at the southernmost tip of Chiba’s Boso Peninsula, the fishing village of Katsuura is the perfect spot for those in need of an escape.
  • Sakura City’s Hiyodori-Zaka
    Located near Narita International Airport, the Hiyodori-zaka in Sakura City is a bamboo-lined path that can rival the likes Kyoto’s Arashiyama.
  • Katori Jingu
    Found not too far from Narita International Airport, Katori Jingu is a holy site in Chiba that pays homage to the legacy of swordsmanship.
  • Chiba’s Nokogiriyama
    Found on the western coast of the Boso Peninsula, Nokogiriyama (lit. “Sawtooth Mountain”) makes for the perfect day trip from Tokyo.
  • Historic Sawara
    Found a mere stone’s throw from Narita International Airport, the historic area of Sawara makes for a great final destination before your flight.
  • A Narita Layover Guide
    Unbeknownst to many transit passengers, the area around Japan’s Narita International Airport is home to an amazing smorgasbord of allures.

Kanagawa

The iconic Kamakura Daibutsu at Koto-in in Kanagawa Prefecture
  • Nishihirabatake Park
    Located in the town of Matsuda, Nishihirabatake Park hosts an annual Kawazu-zakura cherry blossom festival from mid February to early March.
  • Visit Misaki Port
    Found on the southern tip of Kanagawa’s Miura Peninsula, this sleepy fishing village is well known for both its tuna and natural beauty.
  • Yokohama’s Koganecho
    Formerly a seedy red light district that was chock of brothels, this part of Yokohama has now been transformed into a haven for artists.
  • Kanagawa’s Samukawa Shrine
    Samukawa Shrine in Kanagawa is a serene, 1,600 year-old hidden gem that rarely (if ever) pops up on the radars of overseas visitors to Japan.
  • Heavenly Hayama
    Found near the historical area of Kamakura, Hayama is a posh, seaside retreat that is popular with Tokyoites during the humid months of summer.
  • Yugawara Onsen
    Conveniently found on the westernmost extremes of Kanagawa Prefecture, Yugawara Onsen is one of the closest hot spring towns to central Tokyo.
  • Spiritual Mt. Oyama
    Nestled on the western border of Kanagawa, Mt. Oyama has long been a spiritual peak to which many wayward pilgrims have flock for years.
  • THE Kamakura Area Guide
    While Kamakura is not really a hidden gem, this exhaustively definitive guide will show you that there’s far more than most visitors think.
  • Kamakura’s Kencho-ji
    Found in Kita-Kamakura, Kencho-ji is one of the area’s great temples. This sprawling complex has enough attractions to be a day trip unto itself.
  • Sankei-en Gardens
    Situated only a few minutes away from downtown areas, Sankei-en is a traditional garden that is a stark contrast to the rest of the Yokohama.
  • Benzaiten & the Fox
    Found in the ever-historic Kamakura, the neighboring Zeniarai Benzaiten Shrine & Sasuke Inari Shrine are some of the area’s best hidden gems.
  • Yokohama’s Chinatown
    Yokohama’s Chinatown is always bustling with commerce. It’s an area that is a living example of the city’s legacy as an important port town.
  • Odawara Castle
    Conveniently located in nearby Kanagawa Prefecture on the outskirts of Hakone, Odawara Castle is the closest medieval fortress to central Tokyo.
  • Two Days in Hakone
    Thought not what one might call an off the beaten path destination, Hakone has more than enough hot springs, history, nature and more to enjoy.
  • Yokosuka’s Sarushima
    Found in Kanagawa Prefecture, the historic Sarushima (lit. “Monkey Island”) is an uninhabited island that’s located off the coast of the Miura Peninsula.
  • Fushimi Hakuseki Inari Shrine
    Found just outside of the military base in Yokosuka, this dilapidated shrine will give you the sense of being spirited away by the deity Inari.
  • Noge’s Boozy Backstreets
    Found on the yet-to-be-developed side of Sakuragicho Station, the boozy back streets of Yokohama’s Noge area have a lot of soul to them.
  • Yokohama’s Minato Mirai
    The seaside area of Minato Mirai is both simultaneously a romantic getaway from Tokyo and a great spot for those who love diving into history.
  • Kamakura’s Wakaejima
    Kamakura’s Wakaejima (or “Wakae Island”) was Japan’s first man made port. You can still see the ruins of this engineering marvel today.
  • Charming Hase-dera
    Situated not too far from the coast of Sagami Bay, the Hase-dera temple complex is one of the Kamakura area’s many must visit attractions.
  • The Legend of Enoshima
    Located near the former military capital of Kamakura, Enoshima is a great add-on to any itinerary. It has both fun and spiritual attractions.
  • The Mandarado Yagura
    Found on the border of Zushi in the hills surrounding Kamakura, the eerie Mandarado Yagura is the largest collection of tombs in all of Japan.

Niigata

Niigata Prefecture’s skii town of Echizen-Yuzawa
  • Niigata City & Tsukioka Onsen
    Found on the Sea of Japan side, Niigata City and the nearby Tsukioka Onsen are a great option for anyone looking for something different.
  • Yahiko & Its Ancient Shrine
    Located to the southwest of Niigata City, Yahiko and its ancient shrine are a real hidden gem that more visitors to Japan ought to experience.
  • Japan’s Snow Country
    Though called Snow Country (or “Yukiguni” in Japanese), this part of Japan has a lot more on offer than JUST amazing options for winter sports.

Nagano

Clouds float over Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture
  • The Ultimate Guide to Ueda
    While not as famous as Nagano’s capital, Ueda is a city in central Japan that is blessed with a smorgasbord of nature, history and hot springs.
  • Nagano’s Narai-juku
    Sheltered away in the northern sections of the Kiso Valley, Nagano’s Narai-juku was the biggest and most wealthy town on the Nakasendo highway.
  • Iiyama City
    Located up in northern Nagano, the city of Iiyama is home to bountiful in both breathtaking natural landscapes and a rich historical legacy.
  • A Day Trip to Matsumoto
    Nestled amidst the Japanese Alps in Nagano, Matsumoto and its ever-iconic Matsumoto Castle are one of the best day trips from Japan’s capital.
  • Welcome to Nagano City
    Nagano City is the capital of the prefecture. In addition to being the host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, it’s also a great spot for sightseeing.
  • Mystical Suwa
    Found on the banks of Nagano’s Lake Suwa, this part of Japan is home to some truly antediluvian shrines that date from time immemorial.

Yamanashi

Lake Kawaguchi and Mt. Fuji as seen from Yamanashi Prefecture
  • Saruhashi Bridge
    Nestled in the mountains between Tokyo and Yamanashi, Saruhashi is one of Japan’s top three bridges and is especially enchanting during autumn.
  • Savoring Kawaguchiko
    Found in Yamanashi, Kawaguchiko is a spot that is normally crowded but thanks to the pandemic, its lakeside attractions aren’t as busy anymore.
  • Hottarakashi Onsen
    This hot spring offers great views of the Kofu valley basin as well as Mt. Fuji. It’s the type of place that you go to just get away from it all.
  • Hidden Yamanashi Redux
    Yamanashi is a cornucopia of allures that range from the sacred Mt. Minobu and the ruins of the Koshu domain to the wineries of the Koshu Valley.
  • Aokigahara
    Found at the foot of Mt. Fuji, the ever-serene Aokigahara forest is in need of shedding its stigma of being Japan’s so-called “suicide forest.”
  • Hidden Yamanashi
    Though best known for Mt. Fuji, Yamanashi Prefecture is also actually home to gorgeous nature, great local food and ancient pilgrimage sites.

Shizuoka

The Mt. Fuji World Heritage Center in Shizuoka Prefecture
  • Come to Kawazu
    Found on the east coast of the Izu Peninsula, Kawazu is home to some of the earliest blooming and most vibrant cherry blossoms in Japan.
  • Mishima Skywalk
    Shizuoka’s Mishima Skywalk is situated along the way to Kyoto and Osaka and makes for a great half-day adventure en route to western Japan.
  • Welcome to Ito
    One of the crowning jewels of the Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka ’s laid-back city of Ito is blessed with hot springs, bountiful nature and charming vibes.
  • Hangout on Hatsushima
    Situated just off the coast of Atami in Shizuoka, Hatsushima is the perfect place to escape the worries of the city and relax in nature.
  • Shuzenji Onsen
    Found in the heart of Shizuoka Prefecture’s Izu Peninsula, Shuzenji Onsen is a charming hot spring town with over 1,000 years of history to it.
  • The Inatori Hosono Highlands
    Hidden away in the mountains of the Izu Peninsula, the Inatori Hosono Highlands are home to one of Japan’s most epic fields of tall silver grass.
  • Akihasan Hongu Akiha Shrine
    Found on Hamamatsu’s northern outskirts, Akihasan Hongu Akiha Shrine is an ancient sanctuary that’s famous for it’s “golden torii of happiness.
  • Hang Out in Hamamatsu
    Found between Tokyo to the east and Kyoto to the west, Hamamatsu is a treasure trove of hidden gems that most visitors to Japan sadly skip.
  • The Story of Shimoda
    Found at the southern tip of Shizuoka’s Izu Peninsula, the historic town of Shimoda is is deeply tied Commodore Perry and the opening of Japan.
  • Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha
    Found at the base of Mt. Fuji in Fujinomiya, the venerable Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha has honored Japan’s iconic peak since time immemorial.
  • Kunozan Toshogu Shrine
    Many people are aware of Nikko’s ornate Toshogu Shrine but the original place of enshrinement for Tokugawa Ieyasu is actually in Shizuoka.
  • Seaside Atami
    Located near Tokyo, Shizuoka’s onsen town of Atami offers visitors a glimpse of what life would have been life during Japan’s economic bubble.

Toyama

The city of Toyama set against the prefecture’s magnificent mountains
  • Toyama Prefecture
    Nestled between the Sea of Japan and the northern Japanese Alps, Toyama Prefecture is chock full of an endless array of hidden gems and allures.

Gifu

The Nakasendo post town of Magome-juku in Gifu Prefecture
  • Heavenly Hida-Takayama
    While it has grown greatly in popularity as of late, Gifu Prefecture’s historic town of Hida-Takayama is definitely still worth visiting.
  • Gujo-Hachiman
    Nestle in the northern half of Gifu Prefecture, Gujo-Hachiman is a former castle town with an epic Bon dance that can last for weeks at a time.
  • Go to Gifu City
    While Shirakawago and Hida-Takayama have gained a lot of fame in recent years, the southern sections of Gifu are a treasure trove of hidden gems.
  • Gero Onsen
    Found just around an hour to the south of the historic Hida-Takayama, Gifu Prefecture’s Gero Onsen is one of Japan’s top three hot spring towns.
  • The Site of Reversible Destiny
    Yoro Park is home to a bizarre attraction called the Site of Reversible Destiny that is said to be able to alter the trajectory of one’s fate.
  • The Ultimate Kiso Valley Guide
    In all of Japan, there are few allures that are as authentic as the stretch of the Kiso Valley between the post towns of Magome and Tsumago.

Aichi

The iconic Nagoya Castle in Aichi Prefecture
  • Aichi’s Town of Tokoname
    Located to the south of Nagoya, Tokoname is one of Japan’s most famous kilns with a history that dates back to the Heian period (794–1185).
  • Inuyama Castle
    Aichi Prefecture’s Inuyama Castle is Japan’s oldest surviving medieval fortress. If you’re in the area and like history, you need to check it out!
  • Aichi’s Toyokawa Inari
    Toyokawa Inari is a Buddhist temple in Aichi that is part of a trinity of Inari sanctuaries along with Kyoto’s famous Fushimi Inari Taisha.
  • Aichi’s Industry Tourism
    While a lot of overseas tourists tend to skip Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture in lieu of Kyoto, this part of Japan is a haven for industrial tourism.
  • Explore Nagoya Castle
    Found in Central Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, Nagoya Castle was an incredibly important medieval stronghold during the Edo period (1603–1868).
  • Atsuta Jingu
    Hidden in downtown Nagoya, Atsuta Jingu is a shrine that allegedly is home to the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi which has been called “Japan’s Excalibur.”

Ishikawa

The Eastern Chaya District of Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture
  • Visit Komatsu City
    Located just 30 minutes outside of Kanazawa in Ishikawa, Komatsu is a treasure trove of hidden gems, natural beauty and Japanese crafts.
  • Historic Kanazawa
    Often referred to as “Mini Kyoto,” Kanazawa is every bit as historic and charming as Kyoto but is rarely as crowded as the former capital.
  • Kanazawa’s “Ninja-dera
    Kanazawa’s Ninja-dera is a temple that has been designed to function as a concealed castle. The building is full of false doors and deadly traps.

Fukui

A T-Rex at Fukui Prefecture’s Dinosaur Museum
  • Fukui’s Town of Obama
    In addition to sharing a name with a former president, Obama is a town rife with history and culture due to its historical connection to Kyoto.
  • Fukui Prefecture
    Found on the Sea of Japan side of the country, Fukui Prefecture is a treasure trove of Buddhism, medieval castles and, of all things, dinosaurs.

Shiga

The main keep of Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture
  • Shiga’s Omihachiman
    Located on the eastern shores of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, Omihachiman is a historic hamlet with with perfectly preserved merchant quarters.
  • Needing Nagahama
    Found just to the north of Hikone, Shiga’s former castle town of Nagahama is home to both samurai era vibes and the sacred isle of Chikubushima.
  • Enryakyu-ji & Mt. Hiei
    Sacred Mt. Hiei is home to a Buddhist temple named Enryaku-ji that was so influential that the warlord Oda Nobunaga was forced to attack it.
  • Shirahige Shrine
    Shiga’s Shirahige Shrine (lit. “White Beard Shrine”) has long been a popular pilgrimage spot for those looking to live as long as they can.
  • Shiga’s Koka Area
    Found in Shiga Prefecture, the Koka region is home to an eclectic collection of nature, ancient kilns, ninja enclaves and artsy museums.
  • The Mysteries of Chikubushima
    Found in the middle of Shiga Prefecture’s Lake Biwa, Chikubushima is a sacred island that is dedicated to the syncretic goddess Benzaiten.
  • Historic Hikone Castle
    Situated on the northern bank of Lake Biwa, Hikone Castle is one of Japan’s remaining original strongholds. It is also a defensive masterclass.

Mie

The intwined Meoto Iwa of Mie Prefecture
  • Asama-dake Kongosho-ji
    Located to the northeast of Ise Jingu at its Kimon, Asama-dake Kongosho-ji has long served as a protective bulwark for the ancient shrine.
  • The Ninja of Iga-Ueno
    Often hailed as the cradle of ninjutsu, Iga-Ueno in Mie is one of the only places in Japan where you can experience authentic ninja culture.
  • Mie Prefecture
    A trip to Mie Prefecture will be a travel experience that will create everlasting memories. Regardless of your interests, it is sure to deliver.

Kyoto

Kyoto’s iconic Yasaka Pagoda stands alone without any tourists
  • Kyoto's Magical Miyama
    Located deep in the dense forests of Kyoto, Miyama and the Kayabuki-no-Sato are a stark contrast to the overcrowding found elsewhere in Japan.
  • My Oh Maizuru
    Nestled along the Sea of Japan, this city was once home to the Maizuru Naval District and much evidence of this wartime legacy still remains.
  • The Yodo Suiro Waterway
    Located somewhere between Kyoto and Osaka to the south, the Yodo Suiro Waterway is home to hundreds of beautiful Kawazu-zakura cherry blossoms.
  • Yasui Konpiragu
    Situated in the heart of Kyoto’s Gion district, Yasui Konpiragu is a spiritually potent shrine that can help you sever any bad entanglements.
  • Amanohashidate & Ine
    The beautiful Amanohashidate sandbar and the fishing village of Ine are two of the top attractions in the seaside portions of Kyoto Prefecture.
  • Kyoto’s Seimei Shrine
    Abe-no-Seimei was a Heian period (794–1185) geomancer who is often described as the “Merlin of Japan.” Kyoto’s Seimei Shrine is dedicated to him.
  • Uji & Daigo-ji
    Found to the southeast of Kyoto, the ever-iconic Byodo-in Uji combines surprisingly well with a visit to the massive Daigo-ji temple complex.
  • Kurama & Kibune
    Kurama and Kibune are a pair of destinations in Kyoto that are respectively home to the spiritual attractions Kurama-dera and Kifune Shrine.
  • Kyoto During the Pandemic
    Kyoto used to be a city plagued by overtourism but the pandemic has allowed the ancient capital to reclaim its former charm that had been lost.
  • The Myth of Shuten Doji
    Hidden away in the extreme western reaches of Kyoto, Mt. Oe is the mythical home of the vengeful Shuten Doji, the so-called “Drunken Demon.”
  • Iwashimizu Hachimangu
    Located around 30 minutes south of Kyoto, Iwashimizu Hachimangu is a hidden gem that played an integral role in the Minamoto’s rise to power.
  • Fushimi Inari Taisha at Night
    Fushimi Inari Taisha is open 24 hours a day meaning that you can visit at night when the shrine is far less crowded than it is during the day.

Nara

A deer in Nara Park grazes on grass
  • The Muro-ji Temple Complex
    Situated in eastern Nara Prefecture, Muro-ji is a secluded temple with over a millennia of history to it that’s particularly pretty during fall.
  • Shigisan Chogosonshi-ji
    Located atop of Mt. Shigi, the Shigisan Chogosonshi-ji Buddhist enclave is a hidden gem in Nara Prefecture that feels very similar to Mt. Koya.
  • Overnight in Nara
    Most visitors to Nara only ever experience it as a day trip. To really unlock the city’s potential though, you need to spend a night nearby!
  • Nara’s Omiwa Shrine
    Found in Nara Prefecture, Omiwa Shrine is regularly considered to be the oldest Shinto shrine in all of Japan. Don’t miss it if you’re nearby!
  • Yagyu Village’s Itto-seki
    Located in Nara, Yagyu Village’s Itto-seki is the source of inspiration for the famous bolder splitting scene in the anime Kimetsu-no-Yaiba.
  • Nara Prefecture
    Overseas visitors to Nara rarely experience much beyond the deer-filled Nara Park but there’s so much more to see and explore in the prefecture!
  • Nara’s Asuka Area
    Found to the south of Nara’s iconic deer park, the Asuka area was where the polity that become the early Japanese empire first rose to power.
  • Gorgeous Mt. Yoshino
    Found in the southern sections of Nara Prefecture, Mt. Yoshino is one of Japan’s best spots for viewing the cherry blossoms during spring.

Osaka

Osaka’s internationally infamous Dotonbori area
  • Osaka’s Minoo Park
    Found to the north of Osaka, Minoo Park is one of the Kansai region’s best kept secrets when it comes to viewing the breathtaking autumn foliage.
  • Heaven & Hell at Osaka’s Senko-ji
    A visit to Osaka’s secret Senko-ji temple complex is like experiencing a journey and back again to the Buddhist interpretations heaven and hell.
  • Osaka’s Daisen Kofun
    The ancient Mozu Kofun Cluster in Osaka’s Sakai City allegedly contains the tomb of Emperor Nintoku. It now has UNESCO World Heritage Status.

Wakayama

Kumano Nachi Taisha in Wakayama Prefecture
  • Wakayama Foodies
    Conveniently located near Kansai International Airport, Wakayama City offers multiple options for culturally-rich culinary experiences.
  • Visit Wakayama City
    Wakayama’s capital city is a treasure trove of hidden allures but far too many tourists zip by it en route to Mt. Koya and the Kumano Kodo.
  • Wakayama’s Shirahama
    Considered to be one of Japan’s largest three onsen towns, Shirahama in Wakayama has been beloved by the people of Kansai for over a millennia.
  • The Ogumotori-goe
    Unable to break free of alcoholism, I beseeched the gods of Kumano and they sent me on an epic quest of redemption across the Ogumotori-goe Pass.
  • The Kumano Sanzan
    The sacred and antediluvian Kumano Sanzan trio of shrines is comprised of Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha.
  • Overnight on Mt. Koya
    While Wakayama’s sacred Buddhist bastion of Mt. Koya isn’t exactly a hidden gem, a lot of people don’t miss out by not staying overnight.

Hyogo

The harborland of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture
  • The Takeda Castle Ruins
    Regularly referred to as Japan’s Machu Picchu these castle ruins in Hyogo Prefecture often appear to be floating above the clouds in the early morning.
  • Hightail to Hyogo
    The city of Kobe as well as the rest of Hyogo is chock full of hidden gems and off the beaten path destinations that most tourists sadly miss.

Tottori

The famed sand dunes of Totottori Prefecture
  • Tottori Prefecture
    Though Japan’s least populated prefecture, Tottori is home to some truly amazing attractions such as Mt. Daisen and the legendary sand dunes.

Shimane

Miho Shrine at Miho-no-seki in Shimane Prefecture
  • Tamatsukuri Onsen
    Situated directly to the south of Shimane’s Lake Shinji, Tamatsukuri Onsen has long been known for the amazing effect of its hot springs.
  • Shimane Prefecture
    Shimane Prefecture is an area that is hailed as the “land of the gods.” Here, you’ll find Izumo Taisha and a number of other ancient allures.

Okayama

Okayama Prefecture’s famed Kouraku-en with Okayama Castle in the background
  • Come to Kojima
    Situated along the Seto Inland Sea, Kojima is the birthplace of the Japanese denim industry and is also home to some amazing cherry blossoms.
  • Okayama’s Saijo Inari
    Located just to the north of central Okayama City, Saijo Inari is considered to be one of the top three Inari sanctums in all of Japan.
  • Deep Okayama
    While Okayama Prefecture does make for a great half-day add on to Hiroshima and Miyajima, there’s a heck of a lot more to this part of Japan.
  • Hop off at Okayama
    While Okayama has many layers to it, the prefecture also makes for a great half-day addition to most of the standard Hiroshima itineraries.

Hiroshima

The tragic Atombic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima Prefecture
  • The Townscape of Mitarai
    Hidden away on an island in the Seto Inland Sea, the historic townscape of Mitarai is an emblematic representation of the Setouchi region
  • Kumano, Hiroshima
    Found in the hills of Hiroshima Prefecture, the sleepy town of Kumano is responsible for producing nearly all of Japan’s calligraphy brushes.
  • Why Visit Kosan-ji
    Located along the Shimanami Kaido on the island Ikuchijima, Kosan-ji is a great addition to any visit to Hiroshima’s port town of Onomichi.
  • Come to Sera Kogen
    The hilly highlands of Hiroshima are home to a number of flower fields such as Sera Kogen Farm that can hold their own against Japan’s best.
  • Takehara City
    Found in eastern Hiroshima, Takehara is a historic port town on the Seto Inland Sea that combines well with the “Rabbit Island” of Okunoshima.
  • Hiroshima’s Tomonoura
    Located at the eastern edge of Hiroshima in the city of Fukuyama, Tomonoura is a picturesque and historic port town on Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.
  • Hiroshima’s Onomichi
    Hiroshima’s Onomichi is most famous for being the starting point of the Shimanami Kaido but the port city also has its own host of attractions.
  • Osaki Kamishima
    Located off of the coast of Hiroshima in the Seto Inland Sea, Osaki Kamishima offers a glimpse of what living on one of Japan’s islands is like.
  • Hiroshima’s Okunoshima
    Found off of the coast of Hiroshima in the Seto Inland Sea, Okunoshima is home to hundreds of rabbits but the cuteness belies a dark history.
  • Braving a Visit to Kure
    Found less than hour from Hiroshima, the port and shipbuilding city of Kure served as the headquarters of the Japanese navy during the war.
  • Back in Hiroshima
    While Hiroshima is no stranger to tourists, most visitors sadly only ever experience the sites related to the atomic bombing and World War II.
  • Overnighting on Miyajima
    The sacred isle of Miyajima is a well established destination. That said, one great way to avoid the crowds is to spend the night on the island.

Yamaguchi

The endless series of torii at Yamaguchi Prefecture’s Motonosumi Inari Shrine
  • Suooshima, the Hawaii of Setouchi
    Situated off the coast of western Honshu, Suo Oshima is an isle that is blessed with deep ties to Hawaii and the “alps” of the Seto Inland Sea.
  • Introducing Iwakuni
    Found not too far from Miyajima in nearby Yamaguchi, Iwakuni and its iconic Kintai Bridge are great add ons to the standard Hiroshima itinerary.

Kagawa

Kagawa Prefecture’s picturesque Kotohira-gu during the month of autumn
  • Coming Soon

Tokushima

The famous vine bridges in Tokushima Prefecture’s Iya Valley
  • Two of Eighty-Eight
    Tairyu-ji and Yakuo-ji are the first two temples on the Shikoku Henro Pilgrimage that I’ve had the chance to see. Both are located in Tokushima.

Ehime

The main bathhouse of Dogo Onsen, Ehime Prefecture’s most well known hot spring.
  • Coming Soon

Kochi

The main area of Kochi Castle, one of the prefecture’s top attractions
  • Coming Soon

Fukuoka

People eat out at the iconic food stalls of Fukuoka Prefecture’s captial city
  • Explore Asakura
    Located in Fukuoka, Asakura was allegedly where Queen Himiko, the first Japanese known to history, held dominion over a land called Yamatai.
  • Fukuoka Prefecture’s Akizuki
    Asakura City’s former castle town of Akizuki is a representation of what samurai life would have been during the waning centuries of their power.

Oita

Mist over Yufuin’s Lake Kinrin in Oita Prefecture
  • Charming Himeshima
    Found off the coast of Oita’s Kunisaki Peninsula, Himeshima is a small island that is actually home to a treasure trove of hidden allures.
  • Deeper into Oita
    While Oita is best known for Beppu and its lovely hot springs, places like the Kunisaki Peninsula conceal many ancient and spiritual wonders.
  • The Ballad of Usa Jingu
    Oita’s Usa Jingu is an ancient shrine that was also the first place to see the syncretic union of Shinto and Buddhism over 1,000 years ago.
  • Kicking it in Oita
    Oita is a prefecture with a surprising amount of depth to it. This guide will give you a typical overview and also recommend some hidden gems.

Miyazaki

Miyazaki Prefecture’s ever-important Amano Iwato Shrine
  • Coming Soon

Saga

The three torii gates of Ouo Shrine in Saga Prefecture
  • Saga Prefecture
    Rarely on the radar for visitors to Japan, Saga Prefecture is a place that is all about high-quality ceramics, good sake and foxy shrines.

Nagasaki

An aerial shot of the capital city of Nagasaki Prefecture
  • Coming Soon

Kumamoto

The reconstructed main keep of the prefecture’s impressive Kumamoto Castle
  • Coming Soon

Kagoshima

The city of Kagoshima and the iconic mountain-island of Sakurajima
  • Between Kagoshima & Okinawa
    The area between Kagoshima Prefecture on mainland Kyushu and Okinawa is dotted with a number of unique islands that are all home to hidden allures.
  • Amami Oshima
    Located between the southern tip of Kagoshima Prefecture and the Okinawa Islands, Amami Oshima is a hidden paradise that can easily be accessed from Tokyo.
  • Sengan-en & the Shimazu Clan
    Found on the outskirts of Kagoshima, Sengan-en is a Japanese garden that has been built out of the former residence of the mighty Shimazu clan.

Okinawa

A shisha guardian statue near Ishigaki’s Kabira Bay in Okinawa
  • Okinawa’s Isle of Miyakojima
    Found far to the south of the Japanese mainland, Okinawa’s tropical island of Miyakojima is a one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Subscribe to the A Different Side of Japan newsletter to get my in-depth area guides and travel tips delivered directly to your inbox.
Subscribe to the A Different Side of Japan newsletter to get my in-depth area guides and travel tips delivered directly to your inbox. Every week, I share insightful tidbits to help travelers get off of the beaten path.

--

--

Donny Kimball

I'm a travel writer and freelance digital marketer who blogs about the sides of Japan that you can't find in the mainstream media. https://donnykimball.com/