Japan Travel Awards 2022: Remarkable Diverse and Inclusive Destinations

Places to visit in Japan
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There are so many amazing places in Japan that are hidden or off the beaten path that not too many people know about. It can be hard for these kinds of places to get their name out there and to get publicity as they are often disconnected and far from the bigger tourist areas of Japan. However they are often some of the coolest and most unique places that show people the real Japan and everything it has to offer. 

You might wonder how these kinds of places get their name out there to both the people of Japan and those living in other countries. Well, the Japan Travel Awards is a great way for them to do this! Let’s dive into what the Japan Travel Awards are, this year’s awards and winners, and all the amazing places and initiatives introduced that you should check out when you are in Japan! 

What are the Japan Travel Awards? 

According to their website, “The Japan Travel Awards are an award initiative dedicated to acknowledging and celebrating remarkable destinations in Japan that demonstrate efforts in promoting diversity, inclusiveness, and transformational experiences through the prism of tourism.” (Japan Travel Awards)

Operated by Shiitake Creative Inc., Japan Travel Awards does a spectacular job of spreading awareness of a number of Japan’s lesser known yet wonderful destinations and initiatives.

The award selection process is done by a group of judges who are well versed in each category. The initial stage of the judging process included an on site inspection as well as intensive judging conducted by the core judging panel. 

As a media partner of the Japan Travel Awards, we feel so lucky to have been able to be a part of the awards this year. It was truly inspiring to see all the different remarkable places throughout Japan and even have the opportunity to select our own winner for one of the Media Popularity Awards. We would like to say congratulations to all of the entries that made it to the finals, and of course to the winners of each award category! Now let’s get into the winners of each category and learn more about each destination. 

2022 Award Categories and Winners

There were so many amazing entries into the awards this year and therefore they had to narrow the finalists down to a total of 28 who were judged in 6 different categories as well as the grand prix, a place that has the full package plus a little extra. 

Here are this years finalists: 2022 Japan Travel Awards Finalists

Grand Prix 

In the words of the Japan Travel Awards, “The grand winner has the full package and a bit of extra more. Selected from among all the category winners based on the overall superb travel experience and a creative and progressive approach toward promoting and understanding of diversity and inclusiveness.”. (Japan Travel Awards)

Winner: Fukushima Barrier-Free Tour Center 

Congratulations to the Grand Prix winner Fukushima Barrier-Free Tour Center! They had all the points that the judges were looking for that include the passion to change society, courage to think outside the box, determination to face challenges in order for change, as well as the willingness to continually improve. Based in Fukushima prefecture, Fukushima Barrier-Free Tour Center provides barrier free tourist information to ease the concerns of physically challenged people when traveling, and they also offer great multilingual support. They are a great model tour center and other tour centers should be moving in this direction in the future.

The judges could sense that they have the will to inclusively make the world a better place, and that all tourism organizations could learn a thing or two from them and should follow in their footsteps. They also thought that all the information on their website is amazing and very accessible and that with the consideration they have taken towards the importance of senior tourism in Japan, this sort of initiative deserves much greater awareness. We hope you have the chance to visit Fukushima and the Fukushima Barrier-Free Tour Center!  

Most Accessible

The Most Accessible award is, “Awarded to travel destinations that have demonstrated a deep understanding of the needs of disabled travelers and such that are offering tourism activities and experiences that actively welcome travelers regardless of physical limitations, disabilities, or age.”. 

Winner: Fukushima Barrier-Free Tour Center 

Fukushima Barrier Free-Tour Center was also awarded with the Most Accessible award because currently there are few places that actually have information about accessible tourism. In addition to their great efforts to get more information out there, they provide services that alleviate the concerns of people in need, contribute to the revitalization of the entire region, as well as even employ people with disabilities. If you or anyone you know may want more information about accessible tourism, their site is a great place to start! 

Media Popularity: Accessible Japan Winner: Fukushima Barrier-Free Tour Center

On top of the Grand Prix and Most Accessible awards, Accessible Japan also selected the Fukushima Barrier-Free Tour Center as their Media Popularity Award winner! They thought that the facility and service was extremely inclusive and positive. In this year’s awards, Fukushima Barrier-Free Tour Center was truly a fan favorite, winning three awards in total. We hope you have a chance to visit Fukushima someday! 

Best LGBTQ+ Friendly

The Best LGBTQ+ Friendly award is, “Awarded to travel destinations that have demonstrated a deep understanding of the LGBTQ+ community and such that actively promote content that appeals to LGBTQ+ travelers.”. 

Winner: W Osaka

Based in Osaka prefecture, W Osaka is a lifestyle hotel where every guest is able to enjoy their stay in Osaka to the fullest in the way that they want to. They have a welcoming barrier free atmosphere where anyone can be themselves without having to worry. Although the hotel is located in Shinsaibashi, right in the center of the big bustling city of Osaka, if they don’t want to, guests don’t have to leave the hotel to enjoy themselves. W Osaka was selected as the winner in this category because they provide people in the LGBTQ+ community with what they actually want. Through their “Queer Me Out” project to improve the overall service, all the judges recognized this hotel for its efforts to make all guests feel safe and able to enjoy and be themselves.

Best Sustainable (Two Winners)

The Best Sustainable award is, “Awarded to destinations committed to meeting the global SDGs and such that have demonstrated creative and innovative business models to approach their realization.”.  

Winners: Hotel Why / Nishiawa Region

Hotel Why

Photo: Transit General Office Inc. SATOSHI MATSUO

Based in Tokushima Prefecture, Hotel Why is situated right next to the only garbage station in Kamikatsu Town, and is Japan’s first “Zero Waste” program hotel. While lodging at the hotel, visitors will have the chance to rethink how they deal with garbage in their daily lives and hopefully make changes that will have a positive impact on the environment. Hotel Why is amazing in the way that they work with the community to make new products and use the wood for agriculture among other things. It’s amazing that the hotel gives each of its guests a valuable travel experience and a chance to think about their own daily lives. 

Nishiawa Region

The Nishiawa Region that is also in Tokushima prefecture is a pretty off the beaten path area that not many tourists make it to. The area is known as a “triple certified area” meaning they are a tourism zone, a scenic area of agriculture and food, and a world agricultural heritage site where the people and the surrounding nature coexist. In this area the sacred original land and the people share a deep bond that is etched into their hearts and minds. They were one of the winners of this award because they have been successful in working closely with many different businesses in the area to integrate their sustainable activities in which they can make the best use of their regional characteristics. 

Best Hospitality

The Best Hospitality award is, “Awarded to destinations that have demonstrated exceptional tourist-friendly hospitality and services. This includes the presence of multilingual information, flexibility in customer service, and creative thinking.”. 

Winner: Fufu Kawaguchiko

Fufu Kawaguchiko is an outstanding private forest resort in Yamanashi prefecture. You have the luxury of having the beautiful view of the nearby Mt. Fuji from your living room, your room’s personal open air bath, and even from the restaurant. There are also loads of fun activities to do around Lake Kawaguchi which is in the vicinity. Fufu Kawaguchiko won this award because their service and hospitality is amazing but not to the point that it is over the top or too much. Their exceptionally accessible facilities and rooms as well as their willingness to accommodate all visitors may just be the new global hospitality standard. 

Best Family Friendly

The Best Family Friendly award is, “Awarded to destinations that use creative and innovative approach to welcome and please families of various backgrounds and needs.”. 

Winner: Happy Raft

Happy Raft is a company that will give you the ultimate outdoor experience in the not so touristy mountains of Kochi prefecture. They have a number of activities that include rafting on the Yoshino River, which is known to be of world-class quality, and family tours for anyone age 3 and up. Most of the staff are bilingual and it is a lot of fun to get to know the guides who have traveled all over Japan and the world. They also have accommodations that are suited for all different types of families as well as amazing freshly baked bagels. This is an all around fun and exciting experience for any family who is looking to spend some time outdoors. 

Best Luxury

The Best Luxury award is, “Awarded to destinations that offer exclusive transformational travel experiences and unparalleled flexibility in welcoming travelers seeking throughout body and mind rejuvenation.”. 

Establishment/Service Winner: Hoshinoya Okinawa 

You can’t beat Hoshinoya Okinawa when it comes to luxury facilities and service. Located in Okinawa prefecture, this spectacular resort is a place where you can fully enjoy doing nothing. Although if you are more of an active person, there are plenty of things to do as well such as learning Ryukyu karate, Ryukyu dance, Uta Sanshin, and Yomitan textiles from Okinawan masters. You can also enjoy the luxury of other fun activities such as horseback riding, snorkeling, and diving on the beach that can be hard to find anywhere else in Japan. The facilities and overall experience are what any traveler is looking for, that truly unimaginable luxury experience! 

Experience Winner: Iwami Kagura Private Performance

Iwami Kagura from Shimane prefecture brings you a unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Kagura is a Shinto ritual where dancers worship the gods while dancing to music. The purpose of kagura was to invite the gods and perform an event for the repose of souls accompanied by dance elements.This group will actually come to your event and give you your own private Kagura performance. Their members range from ages in their teens all the way up to their 80’s! You can request to have a traveling Kagura performance in which they will come and perform just for you. Their effort to preserve and keep traditional performing arts alive as a community as well as spread awareness and enjoyment is an amazing experience you won’t be able to find anywhere else. 

Special Recognitions

These next awards are as follows, “The following awards are curated by our judges and cannot be self-nominated for. They are awarded to places that have inspired us to think and rethink life and travel.”. 

Best Community

The Best Community Award is, “Awarded to a local community, a group of representatives or a team that has demonstrated outstanding efforts to promote the destination or area they represent.”. 

Winner: Niyodo Penguins

Based in Kochi prefecture, Niyodo Penguins runs several Airbnb accommodations along the Niyodo River. In your choice of their beautifully renovated old houses overlooking the Niyodo River, you have the chance to relax and enjoy the luxury that only this place can offer as you socialize with and get to know the owners and their friends. Niyodo Penguins won the Best Community award because their community is based on more of a natural gathering between locals and those who have moved there, and therefore guests are also welcomed with this same warm sense of what feels like family. This is exactly how tourism should be in the future. 

Most Unexpected Discovery (Two Winners)

The Most Unexpected Discovery Award is, “Awarded to a destination that struck as utterly different from what we expected or were ready for.”. 

Winners: Wasou Kajiura / Jiyucho

Wasou Kajiura

Wasou Kajiura is based in Nagoya in Aichi prefecture and is a kimono company that gives you the experience of wearing the kimono you want to wear in the way that you want to wear it. They were chosen as the winner of this award because of their genius concept of combining gender fluidity with Japanese tradition, making for an experience anyone can partake in and appreciate. 

Jiyucho

Jiyucho, a small and slightly mysterious shop in Tokyo, brings you another very unique concept where you have the chance to send a letter to your future self that you will read in a year. This gives you a chance to sit down and reflect on yourself and your own reality head on. This shop is a place that reminds you to pause for a moment and be honest with ourselves in this nonstop reality we live in. Jiyucho was chosen because it is a completely barrier-free space. Regardless of your language, culture, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or other anything else, this place gives everyone access to a very luxurious time in this day and age. It gives us time to reflect. 

Media Popularity Awards

The Media Popularity Awards are, “Awarded by our media partners to a destination that truly stood out to them.”. 

Wanderlust Winner: Niyodo Penguins

Wanderlust selected Niyodo Penguins, making this their second selection in the Special Recognitions categories! This selection was made by Wanderlust because Niyodo Penguins is based in an area that they didn’t know too much about and as a community, they are doing an amazing job in terms of their sustainability initiative. 

Our Pick For the 2022 Media Popularity Award

Japan Wonder Travel Winner: ASO BOY! 

For our pick in the 2022 Japan Travel Awards, we selected JR Kyushu ASO BOY!, which is a train that runs through Japan’s southern island Kyushu from Beppu in Oita prefecture, to Aso, and then all the way to Kumamoto! This train isn’t your average JR train and is nothing like we had ever seen before. The theme of the train is based around the mascot “Kuro” who is a cute dog whose image you will see on and in the train.The interior of the train is equipped with fun things for people of all ages. They have decorated and comfortable seats of all different designs and patterns, a lounge, a panorama section, a Kuro Cafe, and loads of different activity areas that will keep kids entertained and enjoying themselves the whole ride. 

Not only is the interior of the train fun and enjoyable for everyone, but the scenery along the way is spectacular as well. Kyushu is known for its beautiful nature and no better way to see it than taking a scenic train ride through peaceful parts of Japan that are off the beaten path. The train also stops at Nakadake which is an active volcano vent! If you are traveling as a family and have some young ones with you, this train ride through the mountainous Kyushu area is a great option for a nice scenic getaway! 

2023 Japan Travel Awards

This year’s Japan Travel Awards are over, but the pre entry for the 2023 Awards is already open! Have a look at their website for more information on how to enter. 

If you know of anyone in Japan who may be interested in entering in 2023 or know of a place that may want to enter, please feel free to pass this information on to them. The Japan Travel Awards take all entries into consideration when they are going through the judging process for the finalists and welcome anyone who would like to enter. 

Here is more information about the awards: Japan Travel Awards

It was truly an honor to be a part of the 2022 Japan Travel Awards and have the opportunity to learn more about each of the diverse and inclusive destinations and initiatives all over Japan. There are so many unexplored yet spectacular places in Japan that should get the recognition that they deserve. We hope to have the chance to be a part of the Japan Travel Awards in the future and look forward to all of the amazing entries and candidates in the awards for years to come! 

If you are in Japan now or ever have the chance to come visit Japan, we highly recommend checking out and exploring some of these places. We hope that the Japan Travel Awards helps to spread awareness of these places and that they can each attract more international tourists as a result of the awards’ influence. 

Again here is a list of the finalists if you want more information about each place/initiative or would like to visit at some point: 2022 Japan Travel Awards Finalists 

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Happy traveling!

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