While there are of course valid reasons that top-rated tourist attractions draw more and more tourists, some spots are unfortunately underrated and never get an opportunity to get their spot in the limelight. Some of these hidden gems might even end up unexpectedly being the most memorable place you visited during your travels! This is why we recommend getting out of your comfort zone and taking the path less traveled with our list of the top ten most underrated spots in Japan.
- 1. Yoron Island (Kagoshima)
- 2. Mt. Aso (Kumamoto)
- 3. Takachiho (Miyazaki)
- 4. Shodoshima (Kagawa)
- 5. Iya Valley (Tokushima)
- 6. Kayabuki-no-Sato Village (Kyoto)
- 7. Sado Island (Niigata)
- 8. Tadami Line (Fukushima & Niigata)
- 9. Mt. Haguro (Yamagata)
- 10. Akan Mashu National Park (Hokkaido)
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1. Yoron Island (Kagoshima)
Yoron Island is a scenic remote island which is located approximately 600 kilometers off the southern coast of Kagoshima prefecture. It is one of the Amami Islands and officially belongs to Kagoshima prefecture, however location-wise, it is actually closer to Okinawa hence the subtropical climate.
The island is surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and home to great beaches that are perfect for swimming. Yurigahama Beach is particularly popular and is about 1.5 kilometers off the Okaneku coast and accessible by boat. This sandbar beach appears only during the spring and summer seasons when the tide is low making it a true hidden gem.
Diving and snorkeling are great options if you want to enjoy the impressive underwater world up close and the sea is teeming with marine life such as sea turtles, dolphins, and schools of brightly colored fish.
2. Mt. Aso (Kumamoto)
If you are planning a trip to the Kyushu region, don’t forget to add Mt. Aso to your itinerary! Mt. Aso is an active volcano located in Kumamoto prefecture. It has Japan’s second-largest caldera which has been formed by eruptions over the course of centuries.
Within the caldera are Aso’s symbolic five peaks that span over 1,000 meters and offer not only spectacular views but also great hiking trails. For families with small children, outdoor activities are available throughout the year such as horseback riding, hot air balloon experiences, paragliding, valley trekking, and much more.
Aso Shrine is a sacred Shinto shrine that is believed to have been founded over 2,500 years ago. It is also a perfect spot to try local specialties at small shops and cozy cafes along Aso Shrine’s charming Monzen Shopping street.
3. Takachiho (Miyazaki)
Takachiho is a scenic spot located in the northern part of Miyazaki prefecture. It is close to Mt. Aso and it is recommended that you rent a car if you want to explore both of them smoothly without being limited by local public transport.
Takachiho is home to impressive views composed of the natural beauty of peaceful gorges, rocky caves, and majestic shrines which are deeply associated with ancient Japanese mythology.
The best way to enjoy Takachiho is perhaps to take a boat tour through Takachiho Gorge. Paddling through the peaceful volcanic canyon created by the eruption of Mt. Aso will allow you to admire the stunning natural beauty that has charmed locals and travelers for centuries.
4. Shodoshima (Kagawa)
If you wish to go relax out in nature, Shodoshima is a great escape from hustle and bustle of big city life. This small island is located in the Seto inland sea and is easily accessible from the Kansai region by ferry.
It is probably best known for its large production of olive oil and citrus fruits such as oranges but makes for an enchanting visit as well. The climate in Shodoshima is typically mild throughout the year with little rainfall, so visitors can enjoy the warm sunshine, particularly between spring and fall.
Angel Road is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Shodoshima. It is a scenic sandbar that appears in the beautiful sea only during low tide near Tonosho port. You can walk across the photogenic sand pathway which connects small remote islands to the main island. Take a refreshing stroll at Shodoshima Olive Park or head to Kankakei which welcomes visitors with breathtakingly beautiful autumn colors in fall!
5. Iya Valley (Tokushima)
Nestled deep in the mountains of western Tokushima prefecture, Iya valley is a hidden gem that has preserved both the natural beauty and the traditional lifestyle of Japan for centuries.
Driving through the Iya area will allow you to take in impressive views including gorgeous gorges and vivacious valleys with vine bridges, peaceful forests, and hiking trails among the beautiful mountains.
Ochiai Village is a secluded lovely village that can be found on the slope of a giant mountain in the Oku-Iya area. It offers amazing scenery with traditional Japanese houses, lush green fields, and stone walls built back in the Edo period. One of the thatched roof farmhouses is called “Chiiori” and is used as a lodge where visitors can stay overnight if they wish to extend their visit.
6. Kayabuki-no-Sato Village (Kyoto)
From JR Kyoto station, it is about a 2-hour train and bus ride to Kayabuki-no-Sato village. This beautiful mountain village is best known for the stunning landscape created by hundred-year-old traditional Japanese thatched-roof houses. Many of them are still used as residences by locals or for tourism purposes.
One such repurposed house has been made into a small museum called “Miyama Folklore Museum”, which displays daily items and tools that have been used and preserved for hundreds of years. You can also stay at some of them, which allows you to experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle by trying local meals or by interacting with local people.
The village itself is relatively small and easy to walk around, however, Miyama is beautiful and worth a visit any time of the year. We recommend spring however because this is when you can expect mild temperatures and lovely cherry blossoms in full bloom scattered across the peaceful village!
7. Sado Island (Niigata)
Sado is a historic island which is located about 30 kilometers off the coast of Niigata prefecture. This small island is widely famous for the gold and silver mines which served as a key source of funding for Japan’s government during the Edo period.
Today, it offers a wide range of experiences and activity options that can be enjoyed by all ages. Head to Sado Gold Mine and explore the ancient mine shafts while learning about the history and legacy of the mines and what the local people of the island experienced during the Japanese gold rush.
Toki Forest Park is where you can expect to see Japanese crested ibises is on the list of endangered species, but are in great number only here. Futatsugame Beach is a perfect spot for playing in the ocean during the summer season as well.
8. Tadami Line (Fukushima & Niigata)
Tadami Line is a scenic railway that lies between Fukushima and Niigata prefecture. The secluded railway is approximately 135.2 kilometers and stretches through mountainous areas from Aizu Wakamatsu City in Fukushima to Uonuma City in Niigata.
Along the way, it offers stunning sceneries of lush green mountains and beautiful gorges, which attracts many photographers all year round. Fall is said to be the best time of the year when the mountains are particularly lovely with colorful autumn leaves.
However, some parts of the railway are still under restoration due to the damage caused by a devastating rainfall in 2011, and the entire railway is expected to return to full operation by the end of 2022.
9. Mt. Haguro (Yamagata)
Mt. Haguro is a sacred natural attraction in Yamagata prefecture. This mountain has been respected and visited by Japanese people from ancient times as a center of Shugendo worship and historically has been a major pilgrimage site.
The 414-meter peak is home to historic shrines and buildings, including Hagurosan Five-story Pagoda which is officially designated as a National treasure. At the top of the mountain is Dewa Sanzan Shrine which incorporates two other shrines for the other two holy mountains of Mt. Yudono and Mt. Gassan nearby.
It is also a popular hiking spot that is easy to tackle even for beginners. The most popular hiking trail from the base of Mt. Haguro to the summit is approximately 1.7 kilometers and takes about 1.5 hours to complete.
Note that you need to walk up over 2,400 stone steps, and avoid the winter season if possible as the stone steps often get iced over with snow and can be very slippery. Hiking through the peaceful forests will help you relax while taking in the sacred atmosphere that has been preserved for centuries.
10. Akan Mashu National Park (Hokkaido)
Akan Mashu National Park is a beautiful national park located in the eastern part of Hokkaido. The park encompasses about 90,000 hectares of forests, wetlands, and Japan’s largest caldera landform which is home to three scenic lakes formed by volcanic activities.
Each of the lakes has unique charms and characters and you can choose the best destination depending on how you want to enjoy your time there. Lake Mashu is widely famous for its exceptionally beautiful water which can be enjoyed from observatories.
Head to Lake Kussharo which has great hot springs, or visit Lake Akan which is famous for being home to a legion of tiny moss balls called “Marimo”.
“Akan Ainu Kotan” is a great spot to experience the unique Ainu culture which has been passed down by indigenous people for generations. There are other outdoor activity options, including hiking, fishing, BBQ, camping, wildlife encounters, and much more to explore!
For many people, the best part of traveling is discovering new experiences and adventures. Visiting underrated spots that we introduced above might give you a great opportunity to uncover hidden charms of Japan that otherwise you would never have had a chance to explore!
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Japan Wonder Travel is a travel agency offering guided tours in Japan.
From private walking tours to fun group walking tours, we will organize the best tours for you! If you want to explore Japan to learn more histories and backstories of the area, our knowledgeable and friendly guide will happily take you to the best spots! Also, we can provide you with any assistance for your upcoming trip to Japan, so please feel free to contact us if you have any questions/need some help!
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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with traveling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.
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