Most visitors to Japan like to visit the best-known spots, or what I call the “Big 5” destinations, which are Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima. While these are all must-see places in Japan, some of the smaller cities like Kanazawa and Kawagoe are often overlooked, and usually do not make it onto a tourist’s itinerary. I recommend checking out these “Next 5” destinations, which aren’t as big or well known as the “Big 5”, but pack a punch and offer you some amazing experiences and memories of ancient Japan.
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Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture)
Kanazawa is one of Japan’s best kept secrets and a must see tourist destination famous for its rich traditional culture and well-preserved history. Located in Ishikawa Prefecture in the Chubu region of central Japan, Kanazawa, known as “Little Kyoto”, can boast one of the best preserved samurai and geisha districts in all of Japan. Must see sights include the historic Kanazawa Castle, Kenroku-en Garden (one of the most beautiful landscaped gardens in Japan), the Nagamachi Samurai District and the Chaya-gai Geisha District, as well as modern cultural attractions like the 21st Century Museum of Modern Art. Kanazawa is a place where traditional Japanese culture and beauty still remain and can be experienced for yourself.
Japanexperterna.se on Wikipedia
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Hida Takayama (Gifu Prefecture)
Hida Takayama is a beautifully preserved Edo period (1603-1868) castle town located in the stunning mountains of Gifu Prefecture near the northern Japan Alps. The small town is most famous for its historic district with well-preserved Edo period streets and architecture, which is second only to Kanazawa in Japan. The old part of town is called Sanmachi, and consists of three narrow streets lined with ancient wooden buildings. Many of these buildings are now restaurants, sake breweries, galleries, museums, and shops selling traditional crafts and local delicacies giving you a taste of the traditions and customs of old Japan.
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Kawagoe (Saitama Prefecture)
Kawagoe, which is located close to Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture, is known as “Koedo” (Little Edo) after the old name for Tokyo. It is famous for its traditional buildings and old atmosphere. The former castle town makes a great day trip from the hustle and bustle of modern day Tokyo with its historic kura warehouse lined streets and traditional shops. Kawagoe’s most famous sight is the Bell of Time (Toki no Kane) which was first built in 1624 (the current structure dates from 1894). The nostalgic feeling of the old town with its small stone-paved streets allows you to taste and see the traditional part of Japan that is getting harder to find in modern day life.
Kambayashi on Wikipedia
Kurashiki (Okayama Prefecture)
Kurashiki is a historic city located in western Okayama Prefecture. It is famous for its old merchant quarter, called the Bikan Historical Area, which contains many beautifully preserved black tiled, white-walled wooden kura warehouses dating from the 17th century. In the feudal area the warehouses were used to store rice brought by boat from the surrounding countryside, today they are museums, boutiques and cafes. The atmospheric merchant area also has a picturesque weeping willow lined canal that is filled with carp and is illuminated at night, creating a magical atmosphere. The canal and old buildings has led to many calling Kurashiki, “The Venice of Japan”.
tatushin on Wikipedia
Hakodate is an attractive port city that is the southern gateway to Hokkaido, located at its southernmost tip. It was one of the first ports in Japan to open up to international trade (like Yokohama and Kobe), and as such hosted a small foreign community, whose influence you can still see today. The city is famous for its breathtaking views, delicious fresh seafood and unique architecture. Must see attractions include Mount Hakodate (offering one of the three best night views in the world), Fort Goryokaku (Japan’s first Western style fortress), and the cool Red-brick Motomachi Historic District with its foreign influence and design.
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