Off the beaten track in Japan
By Martha Hales
Japan's venerable culture is as fascinating as it is complex. A visit to the incredible cities of Tokyo and Kyoto is usually top of the list for visitors, and with good reason, but often it is those unexpected experiences in authentic, off the beaten track spots which make your trip so memorable. There is no better way to get under the skin of a destination than to experience it at a local level in places less accustomed to tourists, where the welcome is warm and the local life authentic.
What will your most memorable moment be? We're taking a closer look at some of Japan's best ‘off the beaten track’ destinations in today's blog.
If it’s beautiful coastal scenery you are after, you’ll find it on the Noto Peninsula which juts into the Japan Sea from the north coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu. Discover wild landscapes which lead from one picturesque village to another, many of which still make their living from fishing.
Its an authentic and peaceful region where you can explore hilly inland terrain on foot or by bike, or follow the flat coastal trails where you can see rice terraces and spectacular coastal views. To round off your trip choose fabulous local accommodation where you can experience the traditional life of the area, enjoy hot spring soaks and dine on wonderful regional specialities.
A relatively new arrival on the Japanese tourism scene, the Diamond Route has been designed with those who love outdoor pursuits in mind. Get out into nature on a bike, on foot or by water, with multiple options to choose from, including mountain trails, forests, rivers and gorges to explore. The infrastructure in this region is excellent and everything is set up for adventure sports so all you have to do is enjoy the action and the great scenery, ending your exciting days with a relaxing soak in an onsen.
Follow numerous Japanese holidaymakers and head for Okinawa, the most southerly region of Japan which has a very different feel to the rest of the nation. Here you will sense the significant Chinese influence everywhere and feel the importance of the Ryukyu heritage when it comes to local history, culture and cuisine. This is a region where you can enjoy time out on some of Japan's finest beaches, perfect curves of white sand and cerulean sea are the norm in Okinawa.
It is also somewhere to head for if you are visiting in winter and would like a break from the cold, as it's the most southerly region it’s also the warmest. Winter visitors can even catch the cherry blossom as the celebrated flowering begins in mid January in Okinawa, lasting around a month.
Located off the southern shore of Honshu - Japan's major island - lies Shikoku, a fairytale mixture of forest clad mountains sheltering clear streams and forgotten temples inland, encircled by a busy coastline of commerce and fishing ports. Secluded Iya valley is a real get away from it all destination in Shikoku’s central region, where traditional bridges woven from vines are strung over rushing emerald rivers.
One of the main reasons that domestic tourists make their way to Shikoku is to complete the 88 temple pilgrimage route, a trail that weaves all around the island frequented by white clad pilgrims pacing out their devotion step by step, often carrying a traditional walking stick and wearing a conical straw hat. To undertake the whole pilgrimage is quite a commitment, but taking in one of the most scenic stretches is a great way to get to know more about this island and Japanese culture in close up.
There are a whole host of reasons to make the effort to explore Hokkaido, not least because many visitors to Japan do not venture to Japan’s northernmost island. This area does see some tourist footfall, but it is still a relatively undiscovered region particularly rich in natural scenery, dotted with hot springs and cool, clear lakes. During the winter months Hokkaido is known amongst power hounds as a great ski and snowboarding destination, but beyond the slopes of the Japanese Alps it isn’t usually on the tourist radar. Make the most of the solitude with some stunning hiking among coastal nature reserves, wetlands bursting with wildlife and remote peninsulas stretching into the sea. Don’t miss the chance to sample some of Japan’s best seafood.
Make it happen
Who can resist the lure of Japan? With it's intoxicating mixture of ancient and modern, traditional and quirky, serene and overwhelming, it is a truly mind blowing destination. Contact our trusted local experts who will create a bespoke itinerary just for you based on your preferences and priorities. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.