7 Amazing Places in Japan They Don't Show in Guidebooks
What to do when you've conquered the Fushimi Inari Shrine (and all the other shrines in the area), ran through Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, blazed through Universal Studios, Disneyland and DisneySea, took countless photos beside cherry blossoms in April, drank your way around Sapporo, and snow-boarded through Niseko? A lot apparently. Here's your off-the-guidebook guide to the other amazing places Japan has to offer.
Art-filled islands of the Seto Inland Sea
If you want a different take on island hopping, visit this group of islands found smack dab in the middle of Japan's three main regions. Though Naoshima, the place where one can find that famous yellow pumpkin by artist Yayoi Kusama, is becoming increasingly popular with foreign tourists, there is still much more to see. Neighboring islands Teshima and Inujima offer just as many interesting artworks to explore, and the massive art festival held every three years is a must for all artists and art enthusiasts. Mark your calendars for the next one in 2019.
From Tokyo, the easiest and sometimes cheapest way is to catch a domestic flight to Takamatsu Airport. You can then take a bus to Takamatsu Port where there are ferries to the different islands. Alternatively, you can also hop on the bullet train from Tokyo or Osaka, then transfer to a local train to Uno Station. Uno Port is just a short walk from the station. There are also ferries and high-speed boats between islands, though schedules vary.
Osaka has long been par for the course for any typical Japan visitor, and some may go to Kobe for a taste of world-class beef, but this island—just a boat ride away from the latter—is not something to be ignored, especially if you find yourself in the Kansai region during spring time. Cherry blossoms move over, because Awajishima is where you can find massive fields of flowers of all colors and species. You will undoubtedly find yourself running out of phone or camera memory in capturing the beauty of the landscape (or taking millions of selfies).
Awaji is easily accessible from the Kansai area, so landing in Osaka would be the best way if you’re interested in visiting. If coming from Tokyo, you can take the bullet train directly to Shin-Kobe. From that station, you can choose to take either one of the express buses to the island, or continue on to JR Akashi Station where you take the ferry from the nearby port. Buses around Awaji are infrequent so best to take note of the bus schedule beforehand, or prepare to shell out money for a cab.
Though rice fields are nothing new or extraordinary, Japan has its way of making any place a destination worth visiting. The patchwork fields of different shades are lovely and picturesque, and an afternoon of biking to different viewing vistas would be the best way to experience the charming town of Biei. The Blue Pond is also something one should not miss, with its mysterious blue water that is as reflective as a mirror in its stillness.
Though there are currently no direct flights from the Philippines to Sapporo, it can be accessed via numerous domestic flights from around Japan. It is also possible to take the train, but will be a lot more expensive and will require a few transfers via bullet train or overnight train ride. From JR Sapporo, you can take a limited express to Asahikawa then transfer to a local line to get to Biei. Though biking is the most convenient and fun way to get around, there are also a few bus tours that operate in the area depending on the season.
Nagoya is rarely the top choice as an entry point to Japan by first-time travelers, but it the best place to find yourself in if you want to visit this beautiful village in Gifu Prefecture. Located just a few hours away, the main attraction of is the magnificent view of the houses from an observation deck. Though the unique roof style of the houses is specifically designed to keep snow from piling up during the winter, Shirakawa is one of the places that is worth a visit whatever season, any time of the year.
If arriving at Nagoya, there are buses that run directly from the bus station near Nagoya Station that are bound for Shirakawa, but take note that these mostly have just two round trips a day, so either plan your time wisely or stay overnight in the nearby area. There are more buses that run until late to and from nearby Toyama, so you could also opt to spend your night there instead of returning to Nagoya. Toyama can also be reached from Tokyo or Osaka via bullet train.
This park on the outskirts of Sapporo is yet another testament to ingenuity of the Japanese. Designed by world-famous sculptor Isamu Noguchi, the massive manmade landforms and sculptures found around the park grounds almost seem unreal, almost creating a feeling of being in another world as you walk or bike around its wide expanse. The highlight of Moerenuma is Mt. Moere, a 62-meter tall mountain from where you can see a magnificent view of Sapporo City.
Same with Biei, this park is located in the Hokkaido region, so you can access Sapporo via airplane or bullet train. You can then take the subway to Kanjodori-higashi station and take the local bus bound to the park. Again, buses are sometimes few and far between, so make sure to check the schedule so you don’t waste a lot of time waiting around.
Not a lot of people may be familiar with the city of Fukui, but this interesting formation of basalt cliffs along the coastline is definitely a sight to behold. One can freely walk along the rocky terrain, and it is equally thrilling and terrifying to stand by the edge as you watch the waves surge and crash below. It has become a popular spot for shooting action movies, but also has a somewhat less savory reputation of being a suicide spot. We’ll let you decide if that's a selling point or not.
Fukui is accessible via a limited express train from Osaka and Nagoya, or via a bullet train from Tokyo and transferring at Maibara Station. You can then take a local train to Mikuniminato Station, where there are hourly buses to Tojinbo. Rental cars are also a popular option in the area, though these require an international license.
For those adventurous souls who find themselves in Nara but don't feel particularly inclined to feed domesticated deer, try taking a walk on the wilder side and visit this abandoned theme park that is an unapologetic rip off of Disneyland California. Mind you, it's not exactly open to the public, with some accounts of people of being sent away by personnel guarding the area. (One may also find the need to jump over a fence just to get inside the theme park grounds.) Though definitely not for the fainthearted, the eeriness of seeing the old structures and rides look so different from their former glory is a fascinating glimpse at nature reclaiming its territory.
Nara is an area usually frequented along with popular Kansai destinations like Kyoto and Osaka, and is less than an hour train ride away from either station. There are buses that you can take to a stop nearby the park grounds, or you can opt to walk all the way, which would take around 30 minutes. Make sure there aren’t any cars or people around when you try to go inside the park.