We all can’t wait until the borders of Japan will open up again after a prolonged closure prompted by the spread of COVID-19. But until that time, it is fun to already start thinking about which places you would like to visit in Japan when the boarders finally open up again. Since Japan is vast and each area has different things to offer, deciding where to go is not an easy task as there are simply so many wonderful destinations to choose from.
Let us help you on your way with a selection of the best post-covid travel destinations in Japan for when the borders reopen again to have your ultimate holiday!
If you have a chance to take a trip-within-a-trip, a voyage to Japan’s southernmost prefecture cannot be skipped. With a rich history of international contacts, Okinawa’s culture and cuisine is an interesting mixture of mainland Japan, Chinese, and south-east Asian influences. The main attractions of the island group are the sandy beaches and beyond the beautiful blue ocean where divers and snorkelers can enjoy marine life to their hearts’ content. Explore the many gems of Okinawa’s largest Main Island or opt for one of the more remote and smaller islands such as Ishigaki or Miyakojima. For swimming, we recommend going between April and October for the best temperatures. Outside of the swimming season, it is best to enter the water only during a tour while wearing a wetsuit. A stay of at least 3 or 4 days is recommended to get the most out of your trip. No matter where you choose to stay, you will have an amazing and relaxing time in subtropical Okinawa.
If you want to combine a nice hike in a natural area with historical buildings, there are a few very well-preserved old post towns that you will surely love on the Nakasendo. Having been heavily used by merchants and samurai during the Edo Period, it is easy to take a trip back in time on this historical route. The most popular walk is the trail between Magome and Tsumago, which are the best-preserved post towns. The walk is around 8 km long, and at a leisurely pace it will take around 3-4 hours to complete the route. As this trail is easy to do within half a day, many travelers choose to stay overnight around the area and combine their visit to Magome and Tsumago with a vigorous hike in one of the many beauty spots in the surrounding Kiso Valley.
Your experience in northern island Hokkaido will largely depend on when you travel. Between late spring and early autumn, you will get to enjoy hiking in one of the remote National Parks and see colorful fields full of flowers in Furano and Biei. In the winter, Hokkaido turns into a real snow paradise for skiing and special activities like drift ice walking and dog sledding. There are also some really cool winter festivals like the famous Sapporo Snow Festival and the Snow Hut Festival. Some of the sea food is at its prime in winter, so visiting fresh sea food markets will be a great experience of a lifetime. Whether you come during the warmer or colder season, Hokkaido is a place where visitors come to enjoy nature at its best.
4. Shimanami Kaido
Are you a fan of cycling? Then the Shimanami Kaido should feature prominently on your travel itinerary for Japan. You can easily spend 2 days cycling the scenic route past several islands and along Honshu’s southern coast, but you can also choose to do only a part of the 70 km route and enjoy cycling for a (half) day. Rental bikes are widely available in the area, and you can choose between regular bikes, sports bikes, and electric bikes. The roads are spacious and very cyclist-friendly, and the panoramas you will be treated to are impressive. Of course, there will be plenty of spots that are worth a short stop such as Imabari Castle, the old trees at Omishima Island, the pirate museum at Innoshima Island, and the picturesque village of Onomichi.
Hiroshima can be easily combined with a ride on the Shimanami Kaido, and it is not only a popular place to visit to learn more about its tragic history. The area surrounding Hiroshima City has plenty of other points of interest that are not related to the bombing in 1945. First of all, the holy small island of Miyajima is a sight to behold because of the seemingly floating torii gate of its main shrine. You can easily spend half a day exploring the deer-friendly island and the shrine. If you liked the deer on Miyajima, you should also consider making the journey to Okunoshima, better known as ‘Rabbit Island’. On this tiny isle, friendly rabbits have roamed the place for decades and they are used to people feeding them, so it is easy to get very close to the cute animals. For a trip to a natural beauty spot, the 16 km long Sandankyo Gorge is a nice escape from the city and a great place for a hike.
6. Southern Kyushu
While not on the ‘Golden Route’, Kyushu is a very interesting area with plenty of local culture and folklore to offer besides its natural beauty. The only reason that this part of Japan is not often on first-time visitors’ itineraries is that you need at least a week or so to get the most out of your visit. You can easily spend 10 days on the island and still only see the highlights. If you don’t want to be on the road too much while there, it could be a good idea to stick to one region. The south of Kyushu has many wonderful highlights such as the Takachiho Gorge and Aoshima in Miyazaki, Kagoshima with the Sakurajima volcano, Yakushima with its mysterious misty forests, Mt Aso with the famous grassy plains and perfectly shaped cone, picture-perfect Kurokawa Onsen, and Beppu with its famous hot springs.
Those who love modern art should go to Naoshima, which is also known as Japan’s art island. Interesting works of contemporary art are spread all over the small island, many of which are outdoor. Museum buildings themselves are also of interesting designs and worth a closer look. If you want to enjoy the island after all the crowds have gone as well, you can opt to stay at the island in the accommodation offered at the Benesse House Museum. A great combination with Naoshima is a visit to the traditional canal town of Okayama that boasts an elegant historical center (Kurashiki Bikan) and tours on a gondola to admire the town from a different vantage point.
Of course, Japan’s most beautiful city can’t be absent from a list of best travel destinations in Japan. Kyoto has blown many a visitor away with its charming winding streets, traditional cityscapes, and magnificent temples and shrines. Once you get there, you will understand why it is one of those destinations that often show up on people’s bucket lists. Don’t forget to book yourself a traditional kaiseki dinner while there, as this will be one of the most unforgettable food experiences in your life. If you plan a few days in the former capital city, you can also choose to go a bit off the beaten path and discover Kyoto Prefecture and its many hidden attractions that not many tourists visit (yet).
9. Kumano Kodo
If you’re a hiker and you also like a dash of spirituality to your trekking, the Kumano Kodo will be right up your alley. Situated on the Kii peninsula in the forest-rich prefecture of Wakayama, you will be treated to some great forest-bathing, gorgeous sweeping vistas, and beautiful old structures. The passages have been used for more than 1000 years as religious pilgrimage trails, which is easy to imagine when you walk there. There are easier and harder trails, and you can combine them to last anywhere from one day to multiple day hikes.
Just like Kyoto, metropolis Tokyo simply cannot be skipped on a trip to Japan. Tokyo is the place where you can dive into Japan’s interesting subcultures, dine in some of the finest establishments in the world, shop till you drop, feel the hustle and bustle of the most populous city in the world, and get side-tracked in off the beaten path neighborhoods. But also for the more traditional and authentic face of Japan, you don’t need to leave Tokyo . As you can see, you will need more than a day to enjoy all that Tokyo has to offer and we are sure that your stay in this vibrant city will impress and delight you. Don’t know where to start? Booking a private guide for a day is a great way to get up to speed and receive precious insider tips for the rest of your time in the city.
Private Tours in Japan
One thing that should definitely be on your to-do list when you are traveling to Japan, is a private tour with a fun local guide. Whether you choose to do a tour in Tokyo , Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, or elsewhere, you are guaranteed to have one of the best days of your trip on your tour day. Private guides don’t just take away all the stress of having to find your own way in an unfamiliar city where you don’t speak the language, they also know all the best places whether they are must-see highlights or more hidden spots that are popular with the locals. Of course, you will also learn a lot more about the city and its history, and get the opportunity to ask any question you’d like about Japanese culture, history, daily life in Japan or anything else. And, your local guide would be happy to give you tips on the best local restaurants to visit in their city. In conclusion, don’t forget to choose the tour that fits your interests and make a reservation before you go!
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Stefanie Akkerman moved from the Netherlands to Japan in 2013 with her Japanese husband and son. She jumped into the niche of Dutch tour guiding in Tokyo and Kamakura in 2015 and occasionally writes articles about all the great sights and activities Japan has to offer. She loves (Japanese) food, and to work that all off she goes diving, snorkeling, cycling, or hiking.
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