7 Secret Towns in Japan You Probably Didn’t Know About

7 Secret Towns in Japan You Probably Didn’t Know About

Skip Tokyo and Kyoto on your next trip to Japan. Check out these lesser known and breathtakingly gorgeous towns (and cities) instead.

When people go to Japan, they tend to only visit Tokyo and Kyoto before then. However, Japan has many other smaller towns and cities which are equally, if not more, beautiful than the major cities in Japan. So why not avoid the crowds and travel to these secret towns instead?


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Image Credits: johnlsl

The Okuhida Onsen Villages, consisting of five villages, are located in Takayama City in the Gifu Prefecture. You can get to these villages by taking a one hour bus ride from Takayama. We recommend that visitors stay at Hirayu as Hirayu is the main transportation hub for the area.

Once there, you can relax and take a soak at some of the most spectacular outdoor onsens (hot springs) in Japan. With onsens everywhere in Hirayu (even in the bus terminal), there is no excuse for you not to visit an onsen at least once. Of course, you should also admire the majestic view of the towering Japanese alps that the village has to offer.

For all hiking enthusiasts, Hirayu is also great for hiking as it is located right at the western base of the Japanese Alps. One of the most popular routes from Hirayu is the route up Shin-Hotaka. Once at Shin-Hotaka, you will be able to get an amazing view of the neighbouring peaks if the weather is good.


Image Credits: Todd Lappin

Image Credits:
Todd Lappin

The entire island-town of Naoshima is a must-see for all those interested in modern art. Located in the Seto Inland Sea, the southern part of the island was bought over by the Benesse Corporation which then installed art pieces all over the island.

Most of the museums in the island was created by the renowned Japanese architect Ando Tadao, and they incorporate the natural beauty of Naoshima. As such, visitors can expect to see underground caverns with greenery complementing the modern museums. Even abandoned buildings are repurposed and transformed to house art works. Additionally, the museums in Naoshima also are made to complement the pieces housed in them. As such, visitors can expect to look at paintings on Naoshima in a whole new dimension. If you live at the Benesse House, which is a hotel, you can even wander in the galleries after hours.


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Image Credits: Takuma Kimura

Kurashiki, named after the warehouses that line the central canal, was originally an important point along Japan’s rice distribution route. Today, Kurashiki’s many warehouses have been converted to Japanese eateries and museums. The canal system in the historic district of Kurashiki has also been preserved. The preserved canal system, along with the willow trees lining the banks of the canal and the white houses with black tiles make Kurashiki exceptionally beautiful.

Kurashiki is also home to the Ohana museum, the oldest Western art museum in Japan. The museum has major works by Picasso, Pollock and Gauguin (just to name a few artists). Visitors who are more interested in history can head over to the Ohashi house to take a glimpse into the past. A preserved townhouse from a wealthy merchant family, the Ohashi house allows visitors to take a look at how living in ancient Japan must have been like. There is also a small museum in the compound of Ohashi house with artefacts which adds dimension to the glimpse of the past that we get.


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s attygalle

Image Credits: Yoshikazu TAKADA

Kotohira is notable for the Kotohiragu shrine, one of the most popular shrines in all of Japan. Located halfway to the peak of Mount Zozu, the Kotohiragu shrine has one of the most difficult shrine approaches but that has not deterred tourists from going to Kotohiragu in droves.

Kotohira also houses the Kanamaruza theatre, the oldest operating Kabuki theatre in Japan. The Kanamazura theatre is an original building, which means that nothing is operated by electricity in the Kanamazura theatre – even lighting in the theatre is controlled by blinds and candles. As such, visitors to the theatre are able to take a look at Kabuki theatre equipment like revolving stages that have to be pushed manually by stagehands.


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Image Credits: Norio NAKAYAMA

Matsue, a city located along the banks of the Ohashi river, is a beautiful historic city that boasts one of the 12 remaining original castles in Japan. Matsue Castle, also known as the plover castle, is one of the few castles in Japan that still retains its original wooden form.

Matsue is famous for its tea ceremony culture and sweets that accompany the tea ceremony. The reason for the fame of the tea ceremony in Matsue can be traced back to the seventh Matsudaira daimyo, Matsudaira Harusato. He loved the tea ceremony and was renowned as a master at these tea ceremony. As a result of his influence, the tea ceremony culture in Matsue prospers till this day. As such, you should go to a teahouse and experience conducting the tea ceremony for yourself in Matsue if you have the chance.

While you are at Matsue, remember to drop by the Yuushien Garden. The Yuushien Garden is outstanding even by Japanese standards. With fairytale-esque flowers and waterfalls, the Yuushien Garden is right out of a storybook. Drop by during the springtime, where you can find the Chisen Peony, a peony exclusive to the Yuushien Garden.


Image Credits: Mirai Takahashi

Image Credits: Norio NAKAYAMA

Iriomote is one of the last places in Japan where travellers can get in touch with unadulterated wilderness. 90% of Iriomote’s surface is covered by mangroves and jungles, making it a nature lover’s heaven.

Visitors to Iriomote may take a cruise along the Urauchi river, taking in stunning views of the forests and mangrove swamps. For the more adventurous traveller, canoeing through the mangroves might be a more appealing option.

Snorkelling and diving are popular activities that visitors can partake in as well. The virgin corals off the southern coast of Iriomote and frequent dolphin sightings make Iriomote a hotspot for diving. Iriomote is also home to the Sand Star Beach, where visitors can observe small pieces of star shaped sand (which are actually the exoskeletons of foraminifers, unicellular protists).


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Image Credits: Teruhiro Kataoka

From onsens and skiing to golf courses and shopping malls, Karuizawa has it all.

All shopping lovers can rejoice once in Karuizawa for the Prince Shopping outlet, the largest mall in Japan, is located here. With many factory outlet stores from brands like Coach, Boss and Lacoste (just to name a few), shopaholics will be able to get their shopping fix in Karuizawa.

It is not just shopping that you can look forward to in Karuizawa. For those who appreciate nature, the Sengataki Falls is the place to visit. Although getting to the Sengataki falls requires a fairly long walk from the nearest carpark, the picturesque surroundings is more than worth the effort.

And culture lovers are not left out! With many churches and shrines to visit around Karuizawa (including a unique stone church), culture lovers will be spoilt for choice.

Think of planning your next holiday to Japan now? Then head over to check out the cheapest packages to Japan.

About Author

Yi Shao
Yi Shao

Yi Shao is constantly on the lookout for new adventures, which had led her from the mountains in Salzberg to the bustling night markets of Taiwan. While she is currently in Singapore finishing up her university education, she still seeks out the lesser known places in her hometown before she embarks on her next big adventure.


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