Secret Cities in Japan to Discover via Bullet Train

Secret Cities in Japan to Discover via Bullet Train

Travel by rail to explore Japan's hidden gems!

Ah, Japan  the land of quirky manga series, an intrinsically rich culture, amazing architecture and delectable sushi. When it comes to this island nation in East Asia, most people recommend visiting popular cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Did you know that it’s actually bigger than Germany, Finland or Italy? That just gives you a glimpse of how many hidden gems lie within this huge country!

So if you’re planning to travel to Japan, why not consider getting off the beaten path to explore some lesser-trodden cities? Simply hop onto the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train), and conveniently travel to any of these 10 secret cities for an experience like no other. Also, the Shinkansen ride itself is an experience – think immaculately packaged bentos, comfortable reclining seats, and ample legroom as you whiz past gorgeous scenery.

*Note that we’ve taken the starting point for each train journey to be either Tokyo or Osaka.

1. Sendai

Image credit: (top) Nikm; (left) allegro Takahi; (right) yisris 

Commonly known as a cultural center, Sendai is a city located in the Miyagi Prefecture of Japan. It is home to some of the most amazing festivals, particularly the Sendai Tanabata Festival held from 6–8 August every year. During the festival, the city is decorated with colourful streamers made from paper and bamboo. Go on a food hunt among the many food carts, or enjoy a large range of interesting workshops and dance performances. There’s just so much to see and do!

Gyutan (Beef Tongue) | Image credit: Captain76

And if you’re up to try some unique Japanese delicacies, why not grab a taste of Gyutan (Japanese for “beef tongue”)? Originating from Sendai, Gyutan is a dish consisting of grilled pieces of sliced beef tongue. You can order it Ala Carte, but some people also eat it in its curry form or with side dishes like oxtail soup. Intrigued? You gotta visit Sendai to try it for yourself!

Best reached from: Tokyo
How to get there:
 Take Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Sendai (Miyagi) station.
Duration of journey: 90-110 minutes (one-way)

2. Fukuoka

Panoramic view from Fukuoka Tower in the day, and in the night | Image credit: Fukuoka Tower

Fukuoka, the largest city in Kyushu, is made up of two former towns – Fukuoka and Hakata. Even though “Fukuoka” is selected as the official name after the merge of the two towns in 1889, don’t be surprised to see the word “Hakata” all around Fukuoka city (e.g. Hakata Station, Hakata Port Tower, Hakata Bay)!

For a magnificent view of Fukuoka city and the Hakata Bay area, head up to Fukuoka Tower, the tallest seaside tower in Japan. Fun fact: The tower was featured and destroyed in the 1994 movie: ‘Godzilla vs. Space-Godzilla’!

Nagahama ramen | Image credit: Wei-te Wong 

If you’re a self-proclaimed ramen aficionado (like me), then you should definitely visit Fukuoka city for its famous mouth-watering Hakata and Nagahama ramen. With its creamy pork broth and springy noodles, these bowls of soupy goodness are literally to die for. Rejoice, ramen lovers!

Best reached from: Osaka
How to get there: Take the Sanyo Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka station to Hakata station.
Duration of journey: 145-155 minutes (one-way)

With its endless array of exciting festivals and delicious food, it’s no wonder Japan is one of the top travel destinations for many! If you’re looking for the easiest way to pay for all these interesting activities, and to get around hassle-free – don’t worry, we’ve got the solution for you: simply open a DBS Multi-Currency Account and you’ll be able to enjoy convenient cashless transactions overseas without having to pay foreign exchange fees:

Interested? We’ll show you how it works:

STEP 1: Keep a lookout for the best time to exchange your currency

Keep your eye on the exchange rates of the Japanese Yen and wait until its value drops to your preferred rate before exchanging your Singapore Dollar for the Japanese Yen.

On top of the Japanese yen, your MCA account also covers TEN other currencies: Australian Dollar, Canadian Dollar, Euro, Hong Kong Dollar, New Zealand Dollar, Norwegian Kroner, Sterling Pound, Swedish Kroner, Thai Baht and US Dollar.

STEP 2: Transfer funds into your MCA to secure your desired rates

Don’t forget to transfer funds into your MCA so as to lock in your desired rates! Your exchange rate will be locked in at the time of Funds Transfer, and will not be subject to any future fluctuating market rates.

STEP 3: Whip out your DBS Visa Debit Card and you’re ready to go!

If you’re a new DBS/POSB customer, every new MCA account comes bundled with a complementary DBS Visa Debit Card. With this card, you will be able to make cashless transactions in Japan on the go – all while knowing that you scored a fantastic exchange rate. Sounds great? That’s because it is!

APPLY FOR YOUR DBS MULTI-CURRENCY ACCOUNT NOW!

3. Okayama

Image credit: SteFou!

Nestled between Osaka and Hiroshima, the city of Okayama is an underrated gem with plenty to discover. Its most famous attraction, the Korakuen Garden, is known as one of the three most scenic gardens in Japan. With scenic teahouses and miniature maple forests, the garden is perfect for a tranquil and relaxing walk amidst lush greenery.

Image credit: Wei-Te Wong

And if you’re at the Korakuen Garden, don’t forget to stop by the neighbouring Okayama Castle! Reconstructed in 1966, the striking Okayama Castle stands out from the majority of the Japanese castles due to its unique black exterior, and is thus nicknamed the “Crow Castle”.

Coupled with an array of interesting museums and quaint cafés, Okayama is a small and picturesque city perfect for a short one-day trip.

Best reached from: Osaka
How to get there: Take the Sanyo Shinkansen at Shin-Osaka station to Okayama station.
Duration of journey: ~45 minutes (one-way)

4. Aomori

Image credit: (left) Misawa Airbase; (right) 663highland

As the capital of the Aomori Prefecture, Aomori city used to be the main departure port for ferries travelling to Hokkaido. Now, it’s best known for its spectacular Nebuta Matsuri summer festival. Held once a year, the festival involves a stunning parade of colourful lantern floats, accompanied by large taiko drums and dancers. Featuring gods, historical and mythical figures from Japanese culture, these floats take up to one year to construct.

There is even a museum specially dedicated to the festival! By featuring the sights of the festival, the Wa Rasse museum tries to recreate the spirit of the festival and offers an opportunity to experience Nebuta Matsuri. So for those who are unable to attend the festival, you can still get your dose of fun at the museum!

Image credit: Tohoku & Tokyo

When in Aomori, don’t forget to visit the Furukuwa Fish Market! Also known as the Aomori Gyosai Centre, the fish market offers a large variety of local seasonal seafood and vegetables.

And here’s the best part about the market: Visitors can create their own special seafood donburi (rice bowl) from the selection of seasonal seafood in the market. So if you’re a seafood lover, this is definitely the place to be!

Best reached from: Tokyo
How to get there: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Shin-Aomori station, before transferring to a Local or Limited Express Train to Aomori station.
Duration of journey: 210 minutes + 5 minutes (one-way)

5. Nagano

Image credit: Mig Gilbert

As the capital city of the Nagano Prefecture, Nagano is perhaps best known for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics Games. Here you can also find the Zenkoji temple, one of the most popular temples in Japan.

Image credit: sayot

If you have a bit more time to spare, head up to the Togakushi Shrine situated northwest of Nagano’s city centre. Consisting of a lower shrine, middle shrine and an upper shrine, the Togakushi Shrine is dedicated to Japanese mythological gods. For ninja lovers, don’t forget to drop by the neighbouring Togakure Ninpo Museum to check out the tools and weapons used by ninjas in the past. There is even a Kids Ninja Village for those who have always dreamt of becoming ninjas!

Best reached from: Tokyo
How to get there: Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Nagano station.
Duration of journey: 80-105 minutes (one-way)

Already practicing your ninja moves? Well, here’s some bad news: carrying huge sums of cash might just slow you down! Instead of lugging your Japanese notes and coins around, why not check out the DBS Multi-Currency Account (MCA)?

With the DBS MCA, you can get around Japan with just a DBS Visa Debit Card. Plus, you won’t have to pay foreign exchange fees on your purchases abroad! Doesn’t that sound great? Read on to find out more!

6. Akita

Image credit: (left) Yuichi Shiraishi; (right) Hildgrim 

Located up north in the Tohoku region of Japan, Akita city is the capital of Akita Prefecture. This bustling city is best known for its Kanto Festival, a harvest festival meant to pray for rice harvests and scare away devils before the harvest. During the festival, performers would balance long bamboo poles on their hands, shoulders, waists or foreheads. Paper lanterns, each representing a grain of rice, will be attached to the end of these bamboo poles.

Image credit: Daniel Betts

If you’re looking for a more serene experience, then head down to Senshu park! An oasis in the centre of the Akita city, the park is also home to the ruins of the Kubota castle. Don’t forget to head up to the top floor for a great panoramic view of the entire city.

Best reached from: Tokyo
How to get there: Take the Akita Shinkansen (extension of Tohoku Shinkansen) from Tokyo station to Akita station.
Duration of journey: ~220 minutes (one-way)

7. Kitakami

japan secret cities

Image credit: 8-Forest

Located in the Iwate Prefecture, the city of Kitakami is famous for its cherry blossoms. With more than 10,000 cherry trees planted in Tenshochi Park, this city is considered as one of three best cherry blossom spots in Japan. Just look at how dreamy and delicate these flowers are!

Feel free to take a relaxing stroll in the park or along the Kitakami river right beside, or just sit down and have a sumptuous picnic with your loved ones under the pastel pink florets. Trust me, you’ll have a fabulous time here!  

Best reached from: Tokyo
How to get there: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Kitakami station.
Duration of journey: ~170 minutes (one-way)

8. Niigata

Image credit: DAI-nk

Situated along the coast of Japan, Niigata city is famous for its rice, sake and seafood. Other than visiting Bandai Bridge (the iconic landmark of the city), you should also head to the Old Saito Residence! Originally built as a summer villa for the wealthy Saito family, this gorgeous residence consists of a wooden main house, a teahouse and an exceptional Japanese garden.

Ponshukan at Niigata Station | Image credit: Richard, enjoy my life!

Also known as the “sake prefecture”, the prefecture of Niigata is renowned for producing some of the finest sake (Japanese rice wine) in the world. When in Niigata city, be sure to check out Ponshukan at Niigata station. Consisting of rows and rows of sake vending machines, Ponshukan offers almost 100 types of sake for you to savour. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to embark on an extraordinary sake-tasting adventure!

Best reached from: Tokyo
How to get there: Take the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo station and get off at Niigata station.
Duration of journey: ~100 minutes (one-way)

All ready to get drunk on sake? Maybe it’s better to leave your bulky wads of cash at home then! Instead, open a DBS Multi-Currency Account (MCA) so that you can store a limitless amount of Japanese Yen for your awesome Japanese adventure. All you have to do is whip out your linked DBS Visa Debit Card and just pay on the go!

APPLY FOR YOUR DBS MULTI-CURRENCY ACCOUNT NOW!

9. Kagoshima

japan secret cities

Image credit: STA3816

Lying at the southern end of Japan, Kagoshima is said to be the friendliest Japanese city. Known as the “Naples of the East”, this city is famous for its warm climate, clear blue seas and its proximity to Sakurajima, one of the most active volcanoes in Japan.

For an incredible view of Sakurajima and the rest of the city, it is recommended to climb up Mount Shiroyama. If you don’t have time in the day, don’t worry, the night view from the Shiroyama observatory is equally captivating!

Image credit: Yuichi Kosio

From tonkotsu (stew made with pork and miso) to kurobuta tonkatsu (breaded and fried black pork cutlet), this sunny city is full of delicious food that is sure to keep your tummy happy. But for the adventurous, you might want to try torisashi (raw chicken) for an authentic Kagoshima experience.

Best reached from: Osaka
How to get there: Take the Sakura Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka station to Kagoshima-Chuo station.
Duration of journey: ~240 minutes (one-way)

10. Kanazawa

japan secret cities

Kenrokuen | Image credit: bryan…

Sometimes called “Little Kyoto”, Kanazawa allows you to enjoy all the rustic charms of an ancient city without the tourist crowds. Boasting a variety of restored districts and historic residences, the city of Kanazawa is recognised as part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Crafts and Folk Art.

The one attraction that you shouldn’t miss when you’re in Kanazawa is the Kenrokuen Garden. Like the Korakuen Garden in Okayama, the Kenrokuen Garden is also known as one of the three best gardens in Japan. However, it is also often considered the most beautiful of them all!

japan secret cities

Kazuemachi | Image credit: Fabian Reus

If you want to learn more about the geisha culture, you could also head to any of the three preserved chaya (teahouses where guests are entertained by geishas) districts in the Kanazawa city – Higashi Chayagi, Nishi Chayagi, and Kazuemachi. Take a stroll along the endless rows of historical houses, and you’ll find yourself deeply immersed in the art and culture of Japan.

Best reached from: Tokyo
How to get there: Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Kanazawa station.
Duration of journey: ~155 minutes (one-way)

From modernistic Fukuoka to stunning Kitakami, Japan offers so much more beyond the usual sights. Say goodbye to Tokyo and Osaka, this is your opportunity to traverse across some lesser-trodden cities for to discover some hidden gems and hidden hideouts!

All ready to embark on your dream Japanese vacation? Step up your travelling game and travel smarter, savvier and safer with the DBS Multi-Currency Account:

When in Japan, simply pull out your linked DBS Visa Debit Card to pay for your transactions. Not only will you avoid paying foreign exchange conversion fees, you’ll also save yourself the hassle of handling cash! With the MCA, you’ll be able to exchange foreign currency for your trip – whenever, wherever!

Here’s a recap of how it works:

STEP 1: Monitor the exchange rates

Keep your eye on the exchange rates of the Japanese Yen (or 10* other currencies) and wait until its value drops to your preferred rate before exchanging your Singapore Dollar for the Japanese Yen.

*Australian Dollar, Canadian Dollar, Euro, Hong Kong Dollar, New Zealand Dollar, Norwegian Kroner, Sterling Pound, Swedish Kroner, Thai Baht and US Dollar.

STEP 2: Lock in your desired rates by transferring funds into your MCA

When you transfer funds into your MCA, the exchange rate will be locked at your preferred rate – and won’t be subject to any future fluctuating rates. Swell, huh!

STEP 3: Whip out your DBS Visa Debit Card and you’re ready to go!

When in Japan, all you have to do is pull out your DBS Visa Debit Card and you’ll be able to make cashless transactions on the go! A complimentary DBS Visa Debit Card will be given with the opening of a MCA account to any new DBS/POSB customer. Can anything be more convenient than this? I bet not!  

Well, what are you waiting for? Do yourself a favour and open a DBS Multi-Currency Account today! Not only will you get to make the most bang for your buck by exchanging at your desired rate, you’ll also save yourself from the trouble of queuing up at the money changer. Sounds perfect? Apply first, thank us later!

APPLY FOR YOUR DBS MULTI-CURRENCY ACCOUNT NOW!

**Disclaimer: Deposit Insurance Scheme— Singapore dollar deposits of non-bank depositors and monies and deposits denominated in Singapore dollars under the Supplementary Retirement Scheme are insured by the Singapore Deposit Insurance Corporation, for up to S$50,000 in aggregate per depositor per Scheme member by law.


Brought to you by DBS.

About Author

Ziyue Guo
Ziyue Guo

Ziyue has her heart set on exploring the world. She is enthralled by the beauty of people and nature, and is always looking forward to her next adventure. She adores fat bunnies and can never resist anything with matcha. When she’s not busy stuffing her face with cakes, Ziyue enjoys snuggling up with a cup of hot tea and a good book on a rainy day.

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