Thursday 26 January 2023

Secret Japan: where to go off-grid


The coast of Shimane Prefecture. Credit JNTO


Accelerated by the pandemic, international tourism is seeing a trend towards travellers seeking out 'hidden gem' destinations that are slightly off the beaten path and which offer authentic cultural experiences. While most tourist hotspots in Japan like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto are popular for good reason, Japan is home to an array of lesser-known destinations that are well worth exploring.

Whether you've been to Japan before and are looking for new things to do and see, or you just want to have a deeper first-time experience and explore lesser-known exciting spots, these underrated places in Japan should be on your list (before they get popular). In Japan, you'll find everything from secluded beach destinations and ancient samurai villages to almost empty national parks and Mt Fuji lookalikes – you just need to know where to look.

Akan-Mashu National Park, Hokkaido

For most Australian travellers, Hokkaido is known as a winter playground, but locals and regular visitors to Japan in the know have come to discover it's also a spectacular place to visit throughout the year.

Home to cooler, mild summers, and untouched national parks, it's an outdoor adventure playground just waiting to be explored. Akan-Mashu National Park is a perfect destination to dive deeper into Hokkaido's endless nature.

With the national park known for fishing, snowshoeing, canoeing, and soaking in hot springs, Akan-Mashu offers a full spectrum of fun activities without the crowds of nearby destinations. Don't miss Lake Kussharo's Wakoto Peninsula walk and its trail of open-air hot springs, some of which are so secluded that the only facility is a simple changing room.

Kakunodate, Akita Prefecture

Developed in the early 17th century as a city of samurai, Kakunodate is often referred to as 'Little Kyoto' and is one of Japan's most well-preserved historical pockets, located in Akita Prefecture in the northern region of Tohoku.

Kakunodate boasts authentic Edo-period architecture in two distinct areas: the samurai district and the merchant district. Around 80 samurai families once lived in the area, and you can get a glimpse of their lives through the architecture of the buildings.

For sakura seekers, a 2km stretch of over 400 cherry blossom trees line the riverbank, and just a few minutes' walk from the samurai district, you'll find what is said to be one of the most stunning cherry blossom viewing locations in all of Japan.

Kakunodate, Akita Prefecture. Credit JNTO

Mt Daisen, Tottori Prefecture

Evoking comparisons with Mt Fuji, but with far fewer visitors, Mt Daisen is one of Japan's best-kept secrets. Located in the sparsely populated Tottori Prefecture, the mountain provides fantastic hiking throughout the year and some of the best skiing on the west coast in the winter.

The mountain has many spiritual and religious connections, the area's Daisenji Temple was once a busy training site for mountain-worshipping practitioners of Shugendo and has been revered by followers of the religion for centuries.

Mt Daisen. Credit JNTO

Shimane Prefecture

As the second-least populous prefecture of Japan, Shimane Prefecture isn't as well-known as other prefectures, but it's still packed full of culture and history, pristine island beaches, and one of Japan's holiest shrines.

Shimane Prefecture is part of a region known as San'in, made up of the two prefectures of Shimane and neighbouring Tottori. The region is known as being in the "shadow of the mountains," due to its literal topography, but also for its reputation for finding itself in the shadow of other regions in Japan. With no bullet train access or major commercial centres, the Shimane Prefecture has preserved much of what gives Japan its appeal.

Locals pride themselves on preserving the old way of life and it's therefore a place to discover authentic Japanese culture and discover some of the most unspoiled countryside in Japan. The Izumo Taisha, a Shinto shrine in Izumo City, attracts pilgrims from around the country once a year during the tenth month of the old Japanese calendar.

Nagasaki Islands

Nagasaki's 594 islands, including both inhabited and uninhabited islands, are famed for their clear waters, stunning vistas, and relaxed vibe. Among the inhabited islands are Tsushima, Iki and Goto Islands that are most well-known for their uncrowded stunning beaches, outdoor land and water activities, and of course, fresh seafood.

If you want blissfully spectacular beaches, look no further than Fukue Island, the largest and most southern of the Goto Islands, located just a few hours away from Nagasaki by boat. With pristine waters and sparkling sand, Takahama Beach is a favourite among locals, boasting some of the whitest sands and bluest waters of all of Japan's beaches.

Tatsunoshima Island, Nagasaki. Credit JNTO

Or visit  

About JNTO: Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) is a government body whose aim is to promote Japan internationally as both a leisure and business travel destination. Consisting of offices around the world, JNTO is the ultimate resource for travel-related information on Japan.


Japan: Where tradition meets the future. Video by VisitJapanAU on YouTube



Book Your Travel with Wego