The top cultural, natural, and escape destinations in Japan.
This has been a terrifying year, and everyone is seeking for a way out. These are the top six travel spots in Japan that our readers choose for 2021 (after travel is safe again).
Each site emphasizes a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life for an opportunity to think and reconnect with nature, or even experience the heart of rural and small-town Japan.
1) Tsushima, Nagasaki
An island has a rich history, as well as animals and white sand beaches.
Tsushima, located at the crossroads of Korea and Japan, has a fascinating history.
The Eboshidake Observatory, located in the northern section of the island, provides 360-degree views of the region. On a clear day, you might even be able to glimpse Aso Bay. Try to go early in the morning, as this is a popular tourist attraction that comes after Watazumi Shrine.
Spend the day at Miuda Swimming Beach for a more relaxed island experience. This beach, rated as one of Japan’s best, offers the ideal combination of ocean and mountain vistas. For a nominal cost, you can even camp.
The Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center is located in the south of the island, where you may see the Tsushima leopard cat and other uncommon species. Kaneda Castle Ruins, one of Japan’s top castles, and Banshoin Temple, one of the country’s largest gravesites, are both located in the southern section of the island.
Don’t miss: The Watazumi Shrine Traditional Festival, held in August, is one of the island’s most important festivals. To witness a more traditional aspect of Japan, watch traditional maiden shrine dances.
When to visit: The best time to visit is between September and December, when the weather is clearer and more suited to outdoor activities.
2) Kagawa, Shikoku
NATURE, ART, AND SPIRITUALITY COME TOGETHER IN THIS DESTINATION.
The end of one adventure marks the beginning of another. Despite being the final leg of the Shikoku 88 pilgrimage, Shikoku’s smallest region has a lot to offer.
Kotohira-gu (Konpira-san), one of Kagawa’s most famous sights, is reached by ascending 1,368 stone steps on Mount Zouzu. Because this is one of the more difficult climbs in Japan, you may wish to use a trekking stick to help you along the way. However, once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the ocean.
Take a ferry from Takamatsu to one of the many islands known for their art museums for a less intense experience. Bike from one museum to the next to get your cultural fix and perhaps a less severe workout.
Take a day trip to Angel Road if you prefer nature and consider yourself a romantic. Crossing the half-kilometer beach that joins Shodoshima is all about time.
Not to be missed: Sanuki Mannou Park hosts one of the largest evening illumination shows in the prefecture every December.
When to go: Angel Road is best visited in the spring and summer when the days are longer and the weather is clearer.
3) Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture
TRY AN EGG SAID TO GIVE MORE LIFE AND SOOTHE YOUR SOUL IN HAKONE’S VOLCANIC HOT SPRINGS.
Hakone has much to do for anyone seeking for a busy weekend getaway, with attractions such as a volcanic valley, a pirate ship excursion, and a few museums.
The volcanic valley of Owakudani is one of Hakone’s most popular tourist attractions. The terrain, which was formed by a volcanic eruption over 3000 years ago, appears like something out of a science fiction film. Imagine clouds of steam rising from boiling pools, yellow-orange boulders strewn everywhere, and the pungent odor of rotting eggs. Don’t forget to sample the black eggs available at souvenir shops; it’s reported that eating one can extend your life by seven years.
Lake Ashinoko is another famous tourist site because it provides a unique perspective of Mount Fuji. Take a ride on one of the big pirate ships that cruise along the lake to get the greatest perspective. However, be aware of the wind gusts on the higher decks.
If staying in a traditional Japanese inn or ryokan is out of your price range, end your trip by visiting one of the nearby hot springs or onsen. For day trips, the majority of these facilities have reasonable entrance rates. Nothing beats a long bath in an onsen to relieve the aches and pains that come with a busy schedule.
Don’t miss: Every November 3rd, watch the Hakone Yumoto Daimyo Gyoretsu, a traditional feudal lord march that transports you back in time.
When to go: The ideal time to see Mount Fuji is in the winter, either very early or very late in the day, because visibility is fickle and cloud coverage is difficult to forecast.
4) Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa Prefecture
EXPLORE THE TROPICAL JUNGLES THAT AWAIT YOU ON A JOURNEY ACROSS THE DEEP BLUE OCEAN.
The Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa are a hidden haven away from the stresses of city life, with white sand beaches and brilliant turquoise waters.
The major island, Ishigaki, acts as a gateway to the other islands in the region. The mangrove-lined Miyara River, where you can go kayaking, and the Tamatorizaki Observation Point, which overlooks the harbor and provides you a beautiful perspective of the island, are also popular attractions on the island.
Taketomi Island is a small island off the coast of Ishigaki where you may view a well-preserved Ryukyu Village and learn about Okinawan history.
Visitors to Hateruma Island, Japan’s southernmost point, should try their luck at stargazing. The deserted island is said to boast the most breathtaking night sky views.
Don’t miss the November Ishigaki Island Festival, which takes place over two days. Live performances, a fireworks show, and traditional Japanese festival dishes are all on the menu!
When to go: Between March and May, or late September to early December, is the best time to visit Okinawa. You’ll be able to dodge the rainy season and typhoons this way.
5) Boso Peninsula, Chiba Prefecture
PLAN YOUR ADVENTURE IN CHIBA, FROM LUSH MOUNTAINS TO PRISTINE SHORELINES.
With a natural refuge just outside of Tokyo, you can get away from the crowds and simply lose yourself in nature. Boso is a nature lover’s paradise, easily accessible by train and ferry.
Natural beauties like Kameiwa Cave should be enough to tempt you to travel a few hours outside of Tokyo. If you get up early enough, you can be treated to one of the most stunning morning sights. It’s a dream come true to see the early light fill the cave and spotlight the cascading water.
Make your way up Nokogiriyama (Sawtooth Mountain) to visit the country’s largest Buddha if you’re up for a little more of a challenge. Did we mention this Buddha is carved totally into the mountainside? You could come across a few wailing monkeys, but that’s all part of the fun.
Catch a wave at Ichinomiya Beach if you’re a beach bum. This beach, which was supposed to hold the first Olympic surfing competition location for the 2020 games, is now a terrific place to hang out and relax.
Getting up early to get breathtaking views of Kameiwa Cave, especially during the autumn season, is a must.
When to go: For the best hiking weather, go in the spring or fall, and for surfing, go in the summer.
6) Okutama, Tokyo Prefecture
AN ESCAPE FROM BUSY CITY STREETS RIGHT AT TOKYO’S DOORSTEP.
As awesome as central Tokyo is, it’s a bit busy, to say the least. Thankfully, the great outdoors is closer than you think. Located in Western Tokyo, the small town of Okutama is well-known among city folk as a rustic retreat perfect for day trips and weekend getaways.
Sweeping forests and mountains envelop the region. Whether viewed in autumn when the trees turn to vibrant hues or during the cool mornings when fog blankets the hills, the scenery is breathtaking. Hikers can discover the “three mountains of Okutama,” Mt. Otake, Mt. Mito and Mt. Gozenyama, or try a more challenging trek up Mt. Kumotori for a rewarding view of Mt. Fuji.
Anglers can try their hand at catching cherry salmon and trout on Lake Okutama, a reservoir that supplies 20 percent of Tokyo’s drinking water. If the fish aren’t biting, take a stroll over the lake using its pedestrian bridge made of floating drums. Upstream from the Tamagawa River, you’ll find the Hatonosu Valley, a spectacular canyon and trail with beautiful foliage and crystal-clear water.
Of course, you’re more than welcome to lounge about, as well. There are many ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) found in Okutama. Some of which are centuries old. You can soak in a serene onsen (hot spring) or try a bowl of spicy wasabi udon, a local specialty.
Don’t miss: Besides having several mountains for outstanding hiking, Okutama is also great for canyoning. With a guide, it makes for a safe but thrilling adventure. Okutama is also home to the annual Okutama Noryo Firework Festival every summer. If you’re able, take the four-hour hike up Mount Atago for an unrivaled view of the fireworks over the forests.
When to go: There is no best season for visiting Okutama. However, spring is considered the most popular and most expensive time to visit. Summer is fairly slow due to the heat, while winter is slow due to the cold. The best time for hiking is between October and November, thanks to the weather and spectacular koyo (autumn views).