Off the beaten track in Japan is your guide to interesting places in Japan that don’t get many visitors (or at least many foreign visitors).
This is not really an itinerary — unless you have a couple of months and unlimited funds at your disposal — but rather a listing of interesting places scattered around Japan. Find the region you’ll be visiting below, and see if you can work in a few of these into your own itinerary. From north to south:
- Shiretoko National Park— hot spring waterfalls, bears and rugged scenery
- Dewa Sanzan— the Three Holy Mountains of Dewa
- Hirosaki— the self-proclaimed Kyoto of the North
- Shimokita Peninsula— featuring a heavenly mountain valley and the Japanese entrance to Hell
- Shirabu Onsen— ski, hot springs and piles of snow away from it all, yet surprisingly accessible from Tokyo
- Hachimantai Plateau— Volcanic alpine meadow which bridges Akita and Iwate prefectures
- Odaiba—Tokyo‘s newest district on a reclaimed island in Tokyo Bay, very popular among Japanese but still under the radar for most foreigners
- Kawasaki— dull industrial Tokyo suburb known for the inimitable Iron Penis Festival (April) and its home shrine
- Oku-Hida Onsen Villages— luxurious hot springs nestled in the Japan Alps
- Ono— castles and temples without the tourists
- Sado Island— place of exile and gold mines, now featuring the yearly Earth Celebration and the self-proclaimed Alcohol Republic
- Eiheiji Temple— head temple of the Soto Zen School of Buddhism. It was founded in 1244 by Zen Master Dogen.
- Kiso Valley— Area in southwestern Nagano Prefecture / eastern Gifu Prefecture. Contains a fairly well-preserved section of the old Nakasendo (mountain road used for traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto in olden times) as well as two checkpoint towns, Magome and Tsumago. Going between the two towns makes for a nice hiking day-trip. Onsen abound as well.