Photo:クマキチ on Pakutaso

Top 5 Roads Less Traveled in Japan

Do you love Japan, but are tired of only seeing the most popular tourist destinations? It’s understandable – such limited travel options get stifling after a while. That’s why we’ve compiled a quick list of five “roads less traveled” to introduce you to some hidden gems that can give you an authentic taste of Japan. Since these cities aren't what the typical tourist thinks to drop in on, you also won’t have to suffer through the crushing crowds, and can instead enjoy a more relaxed, authentic taste of Japanese beauty and culture.

5. Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture

Photo by 663highland on Wikimedia Commons.

Though not as well-known as, say, Kyoto, Kanazawa is steeped in centuries of tradition that can be seen in its famous geisha district, old samurai houses, temples, and its labyrinthine roads. Though few genuine samurai houses remain, the geisha district still has plenty to offer for anyone interested in Japanese culture, and you can even visit a Ninja Temple (Myōryūji Temple), complete with hidden doors and secret passageways.

For beautiful scenery, Kenroku-en is a must-see. This was once a private garden owned by the Maeda Clan, the feudal lords who ruled the area centuries ago. It is built outside of Kanazawa Castle and is considered one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, featuring many pools, bridges, old stone lanterns, teahouses, and other traditional structures.

4. Gifu, Gifu Prefecture

Though little heard of outside of Japan, Gifu was once the capital and center of Japanese culture and politics. For any with an interest in Japanese history or the Warring Times (known as Sengoku in Japanese), Gifu is a must-visit. There’s cormorant fishing on the Nagara River, where you use birds to do the fishing for you, or the majestic Gifu Castle atop Mount Kinkazan. There, you can ride to the top of the mountain via ropeway, or if you’re more daring, by hiking up the trail (be warned – it’s a 2-3 hour hike!).

3. Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture

If you’ve had your fill of history and traditional buildings, Matsumoto is an excellent next stop. The city itself is most well-known for its “Crow Castle” – a historic castle with black-painted walls – but its true attraction lies in its surrounding picturesque alpine area. Whether you choose to stay and enjoy Matsumoto City Alps Park along with the city’s other historical offerings, go west towards Mount Norikura (the third tallest volcano in Japan) and its corresponding highlands, or north towards Kamikochi and its awe-inspiring natural scenery and wildlife, you can enjoy a wide range of mountain activities, from hiking in the summertime to skiing in the wintertime.

2. Yoshino, Nara Prefecture

Photo by Nankou Oronain (as365n2) on Wikimedia Commons.

Yoshino is mainly known for Yoshino Mountain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site covered in thousands of cherry blossom trees that turn the town pink during the spring. Yoshino is also home to many different temples and shrines, including Chikurinin Gumpoen, a temple with a resplendent garden, quiet and seemingly far away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world. While here, you might also want to sample some of the unique cuisine that Yoshino (and Nara in general) has to offer, such as a type of sushi wrapped in a persimmon leaf called kakinohazushi, or an almost gelatin-like sweet made from arrowroot called kuzumochi.

1. Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture

While Matsuyama seems a rather unassuming locale at first, it has plenty to offer in terms of local charm and a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere. You can soak away your worries in Dogo Onsen, a Japanese public bath, or try some of the local craft beers and rice wines at a brewery. If you’re hoping for an even more authentic local experience, take a ferry to Gogoshima, a small island off the coast of Matsuyama. There, you can stroll along the scenic beaches, rent a bike and explore the island, or if you’re there on a weekend or holiday, grab a bite at a little café called Shimano-te-Buru.

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