Where to go in Japan (and not feel overcrowded by buses and daytrippers)
by Lindsay Nelson
For those without cars, finding “hidden”, off-the-beaten-path travel spots in Japan is next to impossible–if it’s served by a train or bus and contains anything remotely interesting, it’s likely to be thronged with tourists. But with a little effort and a sense of adventure, one can still seek out undiscovered (or at least less visited) hidden gems when traveling through Japan.
- Of course, the first recommendation is Obubu’s own Wazuka, Kyoto–a little bit of paradise for the tea enthusiast! Obubu offers guided tours of this quaint tea-producing valley, and tea farmer Matsumoto-san will tell you all about how tea leaves are grown and processed. Just a short 20-minute train ride from nara, then a 30-minute bus ride (or 20-min by taxi), and you’re there! Obubu and the town of Wazuka are working together on a long-term project to make the area more friendly to foreign tea enthusiasts, but in the meantime, check in April for info about tea-picking events held in May and July!
While Izu’s east coast has plenty of charm, its connection to Tokyo by train means that it’s rarely quiet. West Izu, on the other hand, feels as though it’s thousands of miles from the big city. In Kumomi, a beautiful little seaside town with rocky cliffs jutting out of the sea and lovely views of Mt. Fuji, you’ll find fresh seafood and friendly minshuku (Japanese-style bed and breakfasts) with in-house onsen (hot springs). There is not much to do other than relax on the gravel beach and enjoy the view, which is sometimes all you need.
Admittedly this one’s hardly hidden—it’s on the Yamanote Line just a stone’s throw from Ueno, but the area between Nishi-Nippori and Nippori stations is full of a kind of old-world architectural charm that’s hard to find outside of Kyoto and Nara. There’s a quiet temple and a collection of older buildings with wooden facades, as well as a staircase leading down into a residential area that offers amazing views. Inexplicably, there’s also an authentic Swiss chalet that serves sandwiches and coffee during the day and fondue at night.
Oboke and Koboke, Shikoku.
You’ll need to take a couple of trains to get to Oboke and Koboke, but when you step out into the spectacular mountain scenery you’ll know it was worth the trip. Enjoy local onsen, cross the vine bridges, eat local “stone” tofu, and stay the night at Alex Kerr’s 300-year-old farmhouse (see Chiiori Trust), run as a volunteer project to encourage sustainable tourism.
Another one that’s right in the heart of Tokyo, but hidden all the same. Buried within Ginza-Itchome station, Kamonka’s entrance is a massive sliding stone door that opens into an elegant Chinese restaurant with high ceilings and intimate, dimly-lit corners. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped onto the set of an Indiana Jones film. And the food is delicious.
Home to the westernmost tip of Japan, just over 100 kilometers from the coast of Taiwan, Yonaguni hosts an annual migration of hundreds of hammerhead sharks and a series of bizarre underwater rock formations that have attracted scuba divers for years. And when you need to relax after a long day of diving, there’s always awamori, the ridiculously strong liquor that’s made right on the island.