Japan has no shortage of famous spots to check out when visiting, from the Tokyo Skytree to Nishiki Market in Kyoto. But the downside of sticking to the popular tourist spots is the huge crowds visitors compete with for the experience, especially during peak tourist seasons, one of the busiest of which tends to be around March and April time, when the beautiful cotton candy pink sakura trees blossom. Fortunately, no matter what time of the year travelers visit the Land of the Rising Sun, there are a lot of hidden gems and unforgettable experiences in Japan off the beaten path. Out of them all, consider these top fourteen for that dream Japan trip!
UPDATE: 2023/04/04 21:20 EST BY ROBYNNE TRUEMAN
Discover even more Japan hidden gems
The list of Japan’s hidden gems is long, and to provide readers with more options for getting off the beaten path on their next adventure, this article has been updated to include more ideas for where to go and what to see.
14 Tour The Ghibli Museum
Studio Ghibli Museum, Japan
Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation company based in Tokyo. Co-founder and storyteller Hayao Miyazaki has famously directed Studio Ghibli films, including Castle in the Sky (1986) and My Neighbor Totoro (1988). Fans of these films cannot miss out on the experience of touring the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo when visiting Japan. This incredible maze-like building is located in Mitaka, suburban Tokyo, and showcases the work done on the Ghibli films, so it’s one of the many must-visits for fans of the Ghibli movies.
13 Visit Yakushima Island
Yakushima National Park, Kyushu, Japan
Easily one of the most beautiful places in Japan, Yakushima Island flies under the radar for most travelers. This gorgeous Japan hidden gem is a nature spot thhat is located in Kagoshima Prefecture, off the southern coast of Kyushu. The island has a subtropical climate and is home to stunning Yakusugi cedar trees that are more than 1,000 years old. As such, it’s a beautiful place that nature lovers will adore visiting when seeking somewhere scenic and quiet in Japan.
12 Explore Farm Tomita
Beautiful flower field in Japan
Travelers touring the northern part of Japan can visit the island of Hokkaido, where they’ll find many things to do that could fill an entire week. However, they will particularly fall in love with the beauty of what may be one of the most scenic Hokkaido hidden gems – Farm Tomita. This farm is in Nakafurano, and is one of many in this part of the country that attracts attention by planting expansive fields of lavender, tulips, and other colorful flowers to create incredible visuals.
11 Explore Takayama
Bride in Takayama in Cherry Blossom Season
Takayama is absolutely worth visiting but often gets overlooked by those on a trip to Japan because of its remote location. This charming mountain town is approximately 4.5 hours from Tokyo by train via Toyama. The journey there is scenic, and the town itself is surrounded by mountains. In the morning, travelers can walk alongside the river and shop at the Miyagawa Morning Market. Also, Takayama offers plenty of things to do, including the opportunity to stay in a traditional Ryokan.
10 See Shirogane Blue Pond
The Blue Pond, Japan
Another hidden gem in Hokkaido is Shirogane Blue Pond, which many travelers may skip over if they stick to Sapporo or don’t make their way north to Hokkaido at all. The stunning blue pond is man-made and is just 2.5 hours by car from the city of Sapporo. The pond is beautiful any time of the year, but it looks especially magical in the fall (October to November) when the leaves on the surrounding trees change color and in the winter (December to February) when snowfall enhances the glacial hue of the water.
9 Visit Okinawa World
Cave in Okinawa, Japan
Many people visit Tokyo Disney or Osaka Universal Studios while in Japan, but few even know about the magic of Okinawa World. Located in Nanjo, this theme park focuses on the experience of Okinawan culture and first opened in 1996. The highlight of the park is Gyokusendo, a limestone cave that is said to be the most beautiful of its kind in East Asia.
8 Visit Zao Fox Village
Zao Fox Village, Japan
The Zao Fox Village is an underrated attraction in Japan that is located in Miyagi Prefecture. This unique wildlife sanctuary is similar to Nara Deer Park in that visitors can get close enough to the foxes to feed them and even pet them. There are more than 100 foxes in the village where they live, free-range. Foxes are treasured in Japan because they are thought to be messengers of the Shinto deity, Inari Okami.
7 View Kumano Nachi Taisha
Nachi Falls, Japan
There are many Shinto shrines to visit in Japan, especially near Kyoto and Nara. However, few people make the journey to Wakayama Prefecture on their first visit to the country to see the incredible beauty of Kumano Nachi Taisha, one of the hidden gems in Japan. The backdrop of this shrine is the tallest waterfall in Japan (Nachi Falls), making it well worth the trek to see.
6 See The Japanese Alps
The Alps don’t just exist in Europe. The Japanese Alps are a series of mountain ranges on the island of Honshu that are one of the hidden gems of Japan. They cross several prefectures, including Toyama Prefecture, Yamanashi Prefecture, Nagano Prefecture, Gifu Prefecture, and Shizuoka Prefecture. The city of Nagano (which offers plenty of things to do and see) is often referred to as the “Gateway to the Japanese Alps” and is the perfect spot to base oneself when exploring this lesser-traveled region of the country. For spectacular views of the mountains, go hiking Kamikochi for a day! Indeed, visitors will not regret checking out this breathtaking hidden gem Japan has to offer its discerning alps lovers.
5 Hike The Kumano Kodo Trail
Kumano Kodo, Japan
The Kumano Kodo is a trail that was formerly a network of routes that people from all social classes used to make the pilgrimage to Kumano. Today, walking the Kumano Kodo trail means experiencing the spiritual beauty of Japan’s countryside just as it has been appreciated and revered for over 1000 years by people trekking the same path. This spot is one of those hidden places to visit in Japan that remains a little less known by the masses, which is part of its allure. There are multiple trekking routes to explore, including day hikes and multi-day routes with spots to stay for the night along the way. This experience truly takes travelers off the beaten path to a part of Japan that feels like it is virtually undiscovered by tourists.
4 Visit Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Snow monkeys enjoying the hot water
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is a little bit out of the way for travelers staying primarily in Tokyo or Kyoto, but it’s worth making the train journey out ot visit. The gorgeous spot with wildlife is one of the many hidden gems Japan has to offer. While most people are familiar with the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama in Kyoto, this monkey park near Nagano is a completely different experience.
Tip: Visit during the winter months (December to February) to see the monkeys bathing in the hot onsen waters to escape the cold of the snow.
3 Tour Shirakawa-go
Shirakawa-go is a charming village on the main island of Honshu that is possible to visit on a day trip from Takayama. It’s known for its quaint gassho-zukuri style farmhouses with their unique roofs made of Pampa grass. Spend a day touring the area, taking photos, and appreciating the historical design of this hidden gem in Japan.
2 Walk Across Kintai Bridge
Kintai Bridge in Iwakuni
This historic bridge with multiple arches is an iconic site in the city of Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Although Iwakuni doesn’t often make first-time visitors to Japan itineraries, it’s a highly underrated area of the country to see, with lots of hidden gems in Japan to discover. Kintai Bridge is one of its many attractions. It’s a pedestrian bridge that was originally built in 1673 and features five beautiful arches that span the width of the Nishiki River.
1 Ride The Hydrangea Train
The Hydrangea Train is one of the hidden gems of Japan, located in Odawara, that doesn’t get enough attention from visitors. This train isn’t just a way to travel from place to place – it’s a scenic railway that offers stunning views of Japan’s nature. The train tracks are lined with more than 10,000 hydrangeas, transporting passengers along a gorgeous route to an altitude of 750 meters.