Off-the-beaten-path Japan – unusual places to visit in the Land of the Rising Sun

We’re so in love with Japan that we tend to keep a list of dozens of places to visit next time we go to Japan. Naturally, we also wanted to get inspired by some off-the-beaten-path Japan ideas. We asked fellow-travelers and here are their suggestions. Let’s go!

Mount Aso

By Jan of Leisurely Drives, follow them on Instagram!

Ever looked down into a live volcano from the very edge of its crater? Not some teeny-weeny sleepy little volcano. It erupted just 3 years ago, stands a full mile above sea level, and is one of the largest in the world. Where would you find such a gem? In Japan, of course. It is Mount Aso, in Aso Kujū National Park on the island of Kyushu.

Mind, you can’t just land up any day you like and get to experience the grandeur of this smoking giant. If you are lucky, you will be allowed to stand at the crater’s edge viewpoint on a day when the wind blows the sulfurous fumes away from you, the weather is clear and no eruption is imminent.

Once you are there the view is awesome. The crater is a multi-colored boiling cauldron spewing white and grey smoke. It keeps changing as you gaze down, a sign of the immense power lying underneath, waiting to be unleashed.

It is a very pleasant drive to Mount Aso from Fukuoka, with anticipation growing as you catch glimpses of the smoking peak. Everything is peaceful and serene – no sign of the recent eruption. Getting to the volcano viewpoint is easy as there is no climbing involved. This can be a unique and exciting day trip from Fukuoka or Kumamoto.

Off-the-beaten-path Japan, Mount Aso

Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama

By Michelle of Travel After Five. Follow her on Instagram!

There are a few different locations across Japan, but my brother and I visited the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama and had a great time! There are so many things to do when you visit the museum honoring the invention of the instant noodle. For 500 yen, you get entry to the museum itself which talks about the history of the instant ramen, cup noodle, and how it has impacted the food industry today.

You will also get entry to a short film about Momofuku Ando and how he created this invention. What is really neat is for 300 yen you get entry to the Cup Noodles Factory, where you can choose the ingredients to go into your very own instant noodle cup, that they’ll even shrink wrap for you to take home!

You can also visit the Noodles Bazaar for a quick snack, which gives you the opportunity to taste a variety of different noodles from around the world! With the chance to learn about instant noodles, grab a snack, and take home a souvenir, the Cup Noodles Museum is a great stop on your visit around Japan.

Off-the-beaten-path Japan, Cup Noodles Museum

Nishio

By Lena of Nagoya Foodie. Follow her on Facebook!

Just an hour south of Nagoya is the city of Nishio. Nishio is so far off the beaten path in Japan that you won’t find it in guide books and not even websites on Japan will mention it. But this town is the second biggest producer of Matcha green tea powder in Japan, just after Kyoto, which is why it is known at least with the locals as little Kyoto.

Because of Matcha production, Nishio is a fascinating place to visit. Here you can learn everything about Matcha from the visit to the tea fields, a tour of the factory where the tea leaves are ground into a powder to the café where you can enjoy the Matcha powder as a delicious tea with some Japanese sweets.

But Matcha isn’t the only thing you can experience in Nishio. You can’t miss a visit to Miso Park where you can tour the warehouse where Miso paste is fermented for three years and even make your own Miso soup.

From Nagoya, take the Meitetsu line for one hour and get off at Nishio Station. There are no hotels in Nishio so, I recommend it as an off-beat day trip from Nagoya.

Off-the-beaten-path Japan, Aoi Nishio Matcha Farm Experience

Koyasan

By James of Where You’re Between. Follow them on Facebook!

Hidden deep in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture, just under two hours by train from Osaka, is the small town of Koyasan. One of the most sacred towns in the country, Koyasan is the home of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. It was here that a monk named Kobo Daishi established this school of Buddhism in the 9th century.

Today, Koyasan is still an important site of pilgrimage, and this tiny mountain town is home to over 100 temples. The most important is Danjo-Garan, the first temple to be founded here by Kobo Daishi.

At either end of the town are two incredible sights. The entrance to Koyasan is marked by the phenomenal 25-meter tall vermillion Daimon Gate, which originally dates from the 11th century. At the opposite end of the town is the Okunoin cemetery. Surrounded by thick forests, Okunoin cemetery is a breathtakingly beautiful and atmospheric place.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Okunoin cemetery is the final resting place of over 200,000 people, including Kobo Daishi. Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum is still tended to daily by monks, who leave offerings and meals beside his tomb each day.

Off-the-beaten-path Japan, Koyasan Jizu statues

Kyu-Shiba-rikyu Gardens in Tokyo

By Shannon of Dessert Highway. Follow her on Instagram!

When I lived in Tokyo, I loved exploring the city’s many parks and gardens, but I somehow missed Kyu-Shiba-rikyu. It was really quiet when I finally visited on a sunny Friday afternoon, so it seems that I’m not the only one who didn’t realize that this beautiful garden was right next to Hamamatsuchō station. 

Kyu-Shiba-rikyu was once the garden of a feudal lord and it is one of the few gardens of its kind that has survived in Tokyo. The garden encircles a large freshwater pond which is home to ducks, koi carp and turtles. I loved photographing the reflections of nearby skyscrapers in the still water and crossing the stone bridges to get to the two small islands. 

I visited in February when the plum blossom was in bloom, but depending on when you visit you will be able to admire different flowers and foliage: cherry blossom in spring, hydrangeas in summer and Japanese maple in autumn. 

Admission is 150 yen or 400 yen for a combined ticket with nearby Hama-rikyu gardens. The closest train stations are Hamamatsuchō and Daimon. Don’t miss this hidden gem of a garden if you’re in the area!

Off-the-beaten-path Japan, Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden in Tokyo

Naoshima

By Erika of Erika’s Travelventures. Follow her on Facebook!

Naoshima is one of the many Seto Inland Sea islands, which are scattered off the coast of Honshu between Osaka and Hiroshima. Naoshima is the perfect off-the-beaten-path Japan destination because it combines modern Japan with the traditional. It’s the perfect destination for travelers who love art, culture, beaches, and relaxation.

Years ago, the Seto Inland Sea islands were all suffering from declining populations. To address this issue, the islands attracted Japanese and international artists to showcase their artwork and build museums here. You can experience slow, rural life in Japan as it has been lived for decades while exploring the many artworks and museums that Naoshima is famous for.

When you visit Naoshima, you can see many different art installations and statues scattered throughout the island. The most famous one is the polka-dotted pumpkin by Japanese artist legend Yayoi Kusama. Famous museums on Naoshima include the Chichu Art Museum and Benesse House, and the Lee Ufan Museum. Many of Naoshima’s abandoned residential buildings and offices were transformed into art spaces and museums too. Need a break from viewing art? Go on a stroll through the local villages or take a dip at the local beach!

Off-the-beaten-path Japan, Naoshima

Tomioka Silk Mill

By Chris W. from CTB Global®. Follow Chris Travel Blog on Facebook!

The Tomioka Silk Mill is for sure one place in Japan that is off the beaten track. It dates to the late 19th century when during the Meiji Restoration Japan started to modernize its industry. This included the textile industry from which the Tomioka Silk Mill is one of the bigger and operated until 1987! Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the category industrial heritage since 2004 and worth visiting.

The whole process from silkworm cocoons to fine silk is explained in the museum. Make sure to start there to understand what you see later in the factory. Most of the buildings are open to visit and restored to Japanese perfection. The machines look new and are even covered with plastic to keep them in the original state. If you’re into industrial revolution heritage the Tomioka Silk Mill is a must add to any Japan itinerary.


As the Tomioka Silk Mill is a bit off the beaten track in Japan it’s best to go by rental car. It’s a 2-hour drive from Tokyo over the highway. The reason a car is easiest is that you can also explore a bit of the countryside around Tomioka town. Trains run efficiently as well but also take 2 hours and you’ll need to change twice.

Off-the-beaten-path Japan, Tomioka Silk Mill

Do you have an idea for cool places to visit in off-the-beaten-path Japan? Do let us know and let’s get off the track to explore this endlessly fascinating country!

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