Though Japan is best known for tourist hotspot cities like Kyoto, Tokyo, and Osaka, Japan has many underrated places and hidden gems that tourists often overlook.
Discover the best places to visit on your next trip to Japan and ditch the crowds in these twelve underrated sites every traveler needs to know about.
Thanks to the Hokuriku Shinkansen line opening in March 2015, the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa, became accessible to most people. Retaining its countryside charms, Kanazawa is an excellent alternative to the big and crowded city of Kyoto.
Kanazawa is home to the Kenroku-en, one of the three most majestic traditional Japanese gardens, and the Kanazawa Castle, known for having the longest multi-sided turret hall in Japan.
Millennials and other youngsters will be delighted with the minimalist and modern architecture of the 21st Century Art Museum and the D.T. Suzuki Museum.
Moreover, tea lovers will find paradise in its teahouse district, Higashi-chaya, better known as “Little Kyoto.”
Only an hour from Kanazawa, Toyama is a smaller city populated mostly by the elderly. The area gives a nostalgic and melancholic vibe that matches its slow and calm pace of life.
The Tateyama Kurobe Mountain, or the Japanese Alps, is best seen from the city. The view of the mighty mountain ranges dusted with white snow is a picturesque scene that greets visitors all year long.
Notable architectures that are worth visiting are the Toyama Castle and the Toyama City Glass Museum. Visitors can also stroll along the Fugal Canal Park, famed for its wide surface area dotted with rows of sakura trees, making a picture-perfect scene.
To top it all, the Toyama Bay is a must-see, being one of the most spectacular bays in the world!
Located in the west of Kyushu, Nagasaki is a charming city with a lot to offer. While it features a relatively smaller Peace Park than its counterpart in Hiroshima, Nagasaki’s Peace Park’s main centerpieces are a giant bronze statue and the remains of a prison complex that was reduced to ashes following the Hiroshima explosion.
Visitors can also experience the untouched and well-preserved locations of Nagasaki, such as the Dejima, which was the site of a former Dutch trading post. Meanwhile, the Huis Ten Bosch will take visitors all the way to Europe with its Dutch-themed amusement park.
Besides sightseeing, visitors can also indulge in Nagasaki’s unique and delectable delicacies, such as the kasutera, a type of sponge cake originating from Portuguese merchants who brought the recipe to the city in the 16th century.
Now, kasutera comes in different flavors, such as the cult-favorite matcha, all with a touch of Japanese cuisine.
Often overshadowed by Okinawa’s capital, Naha, Okinawa is the second-largest city rich with culture and history that will surely be a hit to travelers and visitors.
Starting with the Koza Music Town, the bastion of Okinawa music is where people can learn about the diverse influences of Okinawa rock music and Ryukyu folk songs.
During summers, visitors are welcome to join the Okinawa Zento Eisa Festival, where people perform the eisa, a traditional folk dance, all over the island during Obon. This happens every August when the ancestors’ spirits are said to return.
The multicultural community of Okinawa also boasts a wide array of restaurants that appeal to the appetite of people all over the world.
Okayama, the capital of Okayama Prefecture, is the second-largest city in the Chugoku region. Often bypassed by travelers, Okayama’s great attractions, such as the Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden, another one of Japan’s best landscape gardens, are often overlooked.
The Prefectural Museum of Art and Hayashibara Museum of Art are must-visit areas for art lovers and history enthusiasts. It is also interesting to note that Okayama is also where the popular folk hero, Momotaro, originated, which is evident in the city’s many references to the hero.
From there, a short train ride will take visitors to the Kurashiki, known as the “Mini Venice” of Okayama Prefecture because of its stunning canals. Next to the canal is the Ohara Museum of Art, home to Western art in Japan.
Filled with gourmet attractions and surrounded by Ariake Sea and Genkai Sea, Saga is well-known for its seasonal seafood and glossy marbled meat.
Fresh squid is easily found in the port town of Yobuko, which boasts one of the largest morning markets in the country. The squid caught here is served as live squid sashimi.
Besides food, Saga is also renowned for its intricate pottery and exquisite porcelain from Arita and Imari. A few minutes away from the city is the Yoshinogari Historical Park, one of Japan’s largest archeological sites. Those with a knack for history will find delight in the park as it is heavily reminiscent of the Yayoi Period.
Lastly, the annual Saga International Balloon Fiesta, which decorates the blue skies with colorful hot air balloons, is also one of the best things visitors and locals alike can look forward to while in Saga.
Being the second-largest city of Ehime Prefecture, Imabari is usually treated as a transit area for cyclists who take part in the Shimanami Kaido expedition and ride along the 74-kilometer bikeway. Three out of the six islands connected by the bikeway belong to Imabari.
Imabari is home to six of the famous Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage – Enmeji, Nankobo, Taisanji, Eifukuji, Senyuji, and Kokubunji.
The city also features sights such as the Imabari Castle, an interesting coastal castle with a moat, several beaches, lookout spots, and parks that are spread along the city’s coast.
While visiting the place, it is customary for visitors to bring with them an Imabari towel as a souvenir, as the city produces towels with the best quality in Japan.
Home to the Tokyo Disneyland and the Narita International Airport, Chiba has a lot more to offer than being a transit city before heading to Tokyo.
The Boso-no-Mura, an open-air museum that features a reconstruction of traditional Japanese villages during the Edo period, is a must-visit site for those who would like to go back in history.
The place features a replica of a Samurai House that is open to the public, plus, people can also cosplay as a samurai, too! To complete the time travel back in history, visitors can head to Sawara, a traditional Edo town that served as a former transportation hub.
Visitors can take a boat tour and experience the Ono River while marveling at the historic buildings lined along the iconic river.
Hakodate was the first city in Japan to open for foreign trade; that’s why the city is filled with historical buildings with varying architecture.
The city’s main centerpiece is the Goryokaku, a star-shaped fort surrounded by a moat to boot. It is best viewed from its own observatory tower, which is open to the public.
Meanwhile, the Bay Area, a historic district lined with a row of red brick buildings facing the harbor that offers shop-hopping, sampling of local delights, and much more!
People also flock to catch a glimpse of the majestic and iconic night view from the top of Mount Hakodate, where tourists and locals alike can marvel at the night sky and the spectacular view overlooking the city.
Tsu is the gateway to the Ise Jingu, the head shrine of Japan’s Shinto faith. To get there, though, one must pass through the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail, which encompasses mountain paths taken by people of the Shinto faith during the old days.
Not far from the city is Toba, best known as the producer of the luxurious Mikimoto pearls. Visitors are welcome to interact with the traditional female divers, called the ama, and can try on their traditional ama diving wear.
The gateway to Kyushu, Fukuoka is a port city that was once the chosen landing point of the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. The city is famed for its Canal City, a multi-story commercial complex that offers shopping, dining, and entertainment all in a building surrounded by a canal!
For those who would want to relax, a picnic at Ohori Park is the way to go. Once part of the Fukuoka Castle’s moat, the Ohori Park still has some of its ruins which can be spotted and discovered!
Some other notable attractions are the Asian Art Museum, the Dazaifu Tenmangu – the head Tenmangu shrine in Japan – and the Yanagawa River District – a perfect spot for a boating trip offering sights of old houses buildings, and the ancient Yanagawa Castle.
Located off the Seto Inland Sea, Onomichi is a charming city characterized by its narrow streets, many slopes, and traditional monochrome houses.
The city is best explored by following the trail of its Temple Walk, where visitors will pass through 25 temples and many historical spots. The U2 is a more modern piece of architecture; this renovated commercial complex was a former warehouse. It contains a cycling-themed hotel, numerous eateries, and a bicycle shop.
Onomichi is also great for cyclists. It is the start of the Shimanami Kaido, mentioned earlier as the 74-kilometer cycling path that connects six islands from Onomichi to Imabari.
A country brimming with spectacular sites and attractions, Japan is a delightful place to visit that will surely indulge travelers and visitors seeking new adventures and experiences.
Japan is a country filled with great culture, history, nature, and people, and these underrated places have so much to offer.