Japan’s timeless traditions, stunning natural wonders, and bustling city scape attract millions of tourists each year. Whilst it’s tempting to stick to major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan has a lot to offer off the beaten track. Dare to travel away from the crowds and find yourself in a forest filled with majestic foxes, an arid desert landscape or a dreamlike snowy village, all without having to leave Japan.
Not far from the prefecture capital of Okayama City, this unique Japanese city is home to a preserved canal area that dates back to the Edo period. Sometimes referred to as the Venice of Japan, this area is well known for its history as an important rice distribution centre. The name “Kurashiki” can be translated into “town of storehouses” in reference to the rice storehouses than line the banks of the old canal. Many of these storehouses have been converted into museums, boutiques and cafes. If you visit here, take time to admire the graceful weeping willows spread around the city and visit the Ohara museum where you’ll find a collection of works by famous Western artists.
Tottori Sand Dunes
Nestled away in the Sanin Kaigan National Park, you’ll find the Tottori Sand Dunes. Measuring up to two kilometres wide and 50 metres high, climb to the top of the dunes to enjoy a stunning view of the sea of Japan. For adrenaline junkies, paragliding and sandboarding are available as well as camel rides around the desert. Take a short stroll away from the dunes, and you’ll find the sand museum, which houses sand sculptures from international artists. The best place to observe the constantly changing dunes is the observation deck of the Sakyu Center, which can be reached by chairlift.
As one of Japan’s smallest and most isolated islands, Shikoku boasts unspoiled beauty that has been untouched for centuries. With roaring rapids, mountain ranges and a rugged Pacific coastline, this is the perfect place for visitors who love exploring the outdoors. For those in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, the island is also the birthplace of the founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect, Kōbō Daishi, and is home to Japan’s most famous pilgrimage — The 88 Sacred Temples of Shikoku. With delicious regional cuisine and an abundance of remote temples, historic castles and shrines, this is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of Japan.
Known as the Tuscany of Japan, this region grows around 80 percent of east Asia’s grapes. Visit here to see the many vineyards spread across the hills of the Katsunuma district. This area is home to Chateau Mercian, one of the oldest wineries in Japan. Be sure to visit the museum, where you can learn more about the history of Japan’s wine industry.
Located at the base of Mt. Haku-san in the northwestern region of the Gifu Prefecture, this dream-like land features little cottages constructed in the “gassho-zukuri” style. Registered as a world heritage site, some of the traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses are over 250 years old. The farmhouses feature thatched roofs that look like the hands of Buddhist monks and help the structures withstand heavy snowfall. The best way to experience this ancient city is to stay overnight in one of the farmhouses.
Zao Fox Village
If you’re keen to take a walk on the wild side, visit Zao Fox village which is home to six different species of fox. The sanctuary allows the wild foxes to roam freely and visitors are able to get up close and personal with the cheeky animals in special feeding areas. Get ready for a cuteness overload as the village is also home miniature ponies, goats, birds and a petting zoo full of bunnies.