Most people come to Japan and stick to the tourist trail. For more adventure and a real cultural experience, here are some tips about the lesser-known places to visit in Japan, from those who have lived in Japan for years:
24hr onsen, sometimes called “Kenkouland” (健康ランド), are very cheap and fun alternatives to staying in a hotel – and often have “Capsule” hotels, which are a must-do in Japan! They’re usually located very close to major stations – ask at the Information desk at the station, or taxi drivers should know the nearest ones. Tennoji Spa World (Osaka) is the biggest indoor Spa in the world – don’t miss it!
Kyoto and Nara are 2 must-see locations if you make it over to West Japan. Himeji castle and Hiroshima are also breathtaking. If you’re there in April/May, the cherry-blossom season is not to be missed (or even better, the Ume blossoms which start blooming in March-April are even more beautiful in my opinion!) – make sure you head to a Temple / Shrine to really witness these flowers in all their glory.
In the South, Okinawa is a hidden gem most travelers don’t make it to, but it’s well worth the trip! Crystal-clear waters for scuba / snorkeling, lazy boat trips through tropical paradise, warm weather year-round, and a laid-back attitude to life make Okinawa a really unique Japanese experience!
In the East, Fuji-san should be open to climb in Spring, but be sure to pack some warm clothes! Nikko is also apparently well worth a visit. Tokyo has to be done, but if you plan to live and work in Japan for a while, I’d definitely recommend the Kansai area instead (Osaka / Kobe / Kyoto / Nara) – much less claustrophobic, and more cultural! (not to mention Osaka people are known as having the best sense of humour in Japan).
Although they’re slightly more expensive, train trips are much more scenic than buses. Even better, motorbikes / scooters are very cheap in Japan, and as a country made up of over 75% mountains, the country roads are spectacular. Hiking is also an extremely popular pastime in Japan, and the mountain scenery is not only vast, but also more pristine than one might expect!
If you’re in Japan in the Winter season, the Ski Resorts of Nagano / Niigata prefecture offer incredible snow, with much less of the hustle and bustle like some of the more-known Ski Resorts in Hokkaido. While you’re there, don’t forget to try an “Onsen”, and see the snow-monkeys bathing in them too!
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