11 Hidden Gems in Japan That Are Worth Discovering

11 Underrated Destinations in Japan That Are Worth Discovering

This is your excuse to take advantage of Japan’s borders reopening!

For many travellers, Japan has been regarded as one of the top destinations that are worth a return trip or two. Although cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka have gained traction for years, there are actually many underrated gems that are worth exploring. If the idea of a road less travelled sounds intriguing to you, here are 11 underrated places to visit in Japan to add to your next itinerary. 

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Also read: Traditional Towns & Villages in Japan That You Absolutely Have to Visit

Must-visit hidden gems in Japan

1. Yoron Island, Kagoshima

Yoron Island is a tropical paradise in Kagoshima. It’s located on the city’s southernmost point and is truly one of the most underrated places to visit in Japan. Despite its small size and population, the island actually has numerous spots you can check out. 

On your first visit, make a stop at Ooganeku Beach. It’s both the island’s largest beach and top tourist attraction. In the summer, you’ll come across many swimmers along the coasts or beachgoers going for a sandy stroll. Better yet, if you’ve got a book you’ve been meaning to finish on your trip, Ooganeku Beach is peaceful enough for a quick beach read

For travellers who plan to visit from April to October, you’ll be able to witness Yurigahama — especially when the tides are low. The sandbar is located 1.5 metres away from the beach, but it doesn’t appear in one specific area. Instead, it will pop up in random places throughout the day, which makes it a fun treasure hunt. 

On the other hand, if you want to immerse yourself in the island’s rich heritage, you can stop by Yoron Folk Village. Here, you’ll learn what life used to be like on the island and tour the restored traditional houses. Likewise, Yunnu Taikenkan is a tourism centre that allows you to partake in a number of activities like landmark expeditions and fishing. 

2. Yakushima, Kagoshima

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Image credit: Takeshi Kuboki

While Yoron Island is a glittering tropical getaway, Yakushima is quite the opposite. The subtropical jungle island is characterised by overgrown trails and cedar tree forests that are 7,000 years old. Many tourists and nature enthusiasts alike usually come here to see the trees up close and go on a hike. When the mist rises throughout the forest at certain times of the day, it creates a hauntingly beautiful environment worthy of fantasy novels. 

3. Shodoshima, Kagawa

For those who miss travelling to the Mediterranean region, Shodoshima in Kagawa might just be the perfect solution for you! It’s located in the Seto Inland Sea and is primarily known for olive production among natives. Regardless, many tourists have found this hidden gem in Japan beautiful for its natural beauty and warm climate. 

Image credit: 663highland

Angel Road is a sandbar near Tonosho Port and is arguably Shodoshima’s most famous destination. When the tides are low, you’ll be able to see it and walk to the small islands that are connected to the main island. Afterwards, take a stroll through Shodoshima Olive Park and admire the surreal canyons of Kankakei Gorge

4. Iya Valley, Tokushima

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Image credit: Christian Kaden

Iya Valley is another one of many hidden gems of Japan that has some of the most stunning landscapes in the country. The mountainous valley located in Tokushima, Shikoku Island and a simple drive around the area will grant you views of deep gorges, peaceful forests, and hiking trails. In order to cross the gorges, you have to cross three vine bridges that are maintained to this day. 

Image credit: KimonBerlin

If you’ve fallen in love with Iya Valley after your hike, an overnight stay should definitely be on your agenda. In Ochiai Village, you can stay in thatched-roof farmhouses called chiiori. Each of these is cosy with a live fireplace, and you’ll be able to see the entire valley from your window.  

Also read: Shikoku: Japan’s Smallest Main Island That Has a World of Natural Wonders to Discover

5. Kii Mountain Range, Wakayama

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Image credit: Nolan Di Meo

Similarly, the Kii Mountain Range in Wakayama is one of the best hidden gems in Japan you should not miss out on. Historically, this is the site of Shinto and Buddhism pilgrimages. Travellers who come here will find a lot of temples and shrines in the region, as well as rich wildlife and natural scenery. 

Image credit: Tzepang Ngaa

Nachi Falls, in particular, is the most famous attraction in Wakayama. Standing at 133 metres, it’s Japan’s tallest waterfall and quite the sight to behold from the observation deck. Once you see it in person, you’ll never forget the sound of the rushing water filling your ears. 

Although the observation deck at the base of the falls is worth visiting, there’s an admission fee of ¥300 (S$2.88). For those who want the same views without the price, we recommend visiting Seigantoji Temple instead. The Sanjūdō Pagoda is right in front of Nachi Falls, and it’s the perfect backdrop for travel pictures. 

6. Hirosaki, Aomori

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Image credit: annintofu

Seeing the cherry blossoms bloom is possibly the most memorable event you can witness on a trip to Japan. In the spring, many travellers flock to numerous parks and gardens like Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and Ueno Park. But let me introduce you to one of many underrated places in Japan to catch the sakura in action. 

Image credit: WANG Tianfang

Hirosaki Castle in Aomori is a true sight to behold. During the months of April and May, you’ll get to see 2,600 cherry blossom trees in their prime. In fact, many people flock to Hirosaki solely for the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival. Visitors can expect petal-covered castle moats, and the trees being illuminated at night. 

Afterwards, head to Hirosaki Apple Park for a taste of Aomori apples. Although apple-picking season happens from July to November, you can still visit ahead of time. There are around 1,300 apples in the park, and each visitor is allowed to pick 3 apples for a price of ¥200 (S$1.92). 

Also read: 32 Things to See and Do in Japan for First-Time Travellers

7. Hakodate, Hokkaido

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Hokkaido in Japan is ultimately one of Japan’s best destinations. Specifically, many travellers find their way up north to Sapporo for skiing, beer, and ramen. However, let us introduce you to Hakodate, a hidden gem in Japan that is just as wonderful to explore. This southern city is best known for seafood, hot springs, and historic sites. 

To fully immerse yourself in the authentic Hakodate experience, you have to move to higher ground. During the day, head to the observation decks of Goryōkaku Tower and admire the aerial views of the star-shaped fort of Goryokaku below. Next, head to Bay Area to soak in the sights of the red-bricked harbour and indulge in bite-sized cheesecake. 

Image credit: Janne Moren

When it’s nighttime, take a cable car to the top of Mt. Hakodate. From your vantage point, you’ll be able to see the whole city and the tail of the island light up. The resulting panoramic night views will be possibly the best you’ve ever seen in your lifetime. 

8. Akan Mashu National Park, Hokkaido

Besides Hakodate, you have to visit Akan Mashu National Park. The national park is located in the east of Hokkaido and is home to forests, wetlands, and three lakes that were formed as a result of Japan’s largest caldera landform. Each of these lakes has its own unique strengths, so it’s best to experience all three in one go! 

Image credit: Kpravin2

Lake Mashu is best known for its clear, stunning waters while Lake Kussharo has great hot springs to help you warm up this winter. On the other hand, Lake Akan is home to one of the cutest things on the planet: marimo, which are basically tiny moss balls.

Also read: 12 Hot Spring Towns in Japan to Relax & Unwind on Vacation

9. Onomichi, Hiroshima

japan hidden gems - onomichi

Image credit: 663highland

Onomichi is a quaint little town in Hiroshima. As one of the best hidden gems of Japan, you might just fall in love with the sloping landscapes and the peaceful environment. Temple Walk is arguably the most famous tourist highlight here. It is a designated walking route in the downtown area that connects 25 temples and its nearby attractions. The total walking distance is about two kilometres and may take at least an hour to reach the other side. 

In addition to temple pagodas, tourists are led through the residential lanes of the city. You’ll stop by many small shops, schools, and numerous attractions that pay homage to Onomichi’s artistic achievements. These include the Motion Picture Museum and Bungakuno-Komichi in Senkoji Park

Also read: 10 Must-See Temples and Shrines in Japan

10. Nagasaki

Nagasaki in Kyushu is the perfect city to explore Japan’s rich history and foreign influences. During World War II, it was the second city besides Hiroshima to be destroyed by nuclear bombs. Today, there are numerous landmarks that commemorate this event such as Nagasaki Peace Park, Atomic Bomb Dome, and Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims

Image credit: Junpei Abe

Other than its historic ties to World War II, Nagasaki is also recognised for its foreign influences. The city is truly an amalgamation of Dutch, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures — you may see it reflected in places like Dejima and Shinchi or in local delicacies like kasutera cake. 

11. Ibaraki

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Image credit: t.kunikuni

Last but not least, there is Ibaraki. This hidden gem in Japan is a prefecture northeast of Tokyo, and it’s famous for one of the loveliest flower fields in the world. In Hitachinaka Kaihin Park, you’ll be able to witness two kinds of flowers: baby blue eye flowers in spring and cosmos flowers in autumn. 

Image credit: Shino

Another underrated attraction in Ibaraki would be Japan’s biggest Buddha statue, Ushiku Daibutsu. The landmark is 120 metres tall and is surrounded by a wide park with over 100 cherry trees that bloom only in April. 

Also read: 10 Must-Visit Prefectures in Japan That Are Waiting for You to Discover Them 

Bonus: Tadami Line

Image credit: Torsakarin via Canva Pro

The Tadami Line is a scenic railway line that runs across Aizu in Fukushima. The 135-kilometre route is perfect for those who want a chance to explore Japan’s beautiful countryside at a leisurely pace. Some of the best sightseeing spots along the route are Tsurugajo Castle in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Enzoji Temple in Yanaizu, and the town of Kaneyama

Also read: ​​12 Most Interesting Train Stations You Can Find in Japan

As you can see, there are so many hidden gems in Japan that are worth exploring! No matter which destination you choose, the adventure will enrich even the most experienced travellers. 

Featured image credit: Nolan Di Meo | Unsplash

About Author

Natasha Effendy
Natasha Effendy

Natasha is a wordsmith and digital content creator who's been trying to write her way into the adventure of a lifetime. If she's not writing, you'd definitely catch her nursing her addiction to romance and fantasy novels with a cup of tea.