Japan Travel: Unusual Cities You Should Never Miss In Japan

December 22, 2019

Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka — the path that everyone follows when having a trip to Japan. Those cities are basically proof of how beautiful Japan is as a country of travel destination, feeding you with a glimpse of how perfectly-blended Japan is in terms of modernity and cultural richness. But what if I tell you that there’s a lot more to the country than just the trinity? In the corners of Japan, you can find cities with breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. Within the center region of Japan, you can find Winter Wonderland and tall, high shrines you can’t possibly find elsewhere. And even a lot more. I’m here to share with you the places you need to visit in order to have a well-rounded trip to the Land of Rising Sun.

1. Aizuwakamatsu

I will start with from the top of my list. Needless to say, I’m glad to have stepped my foot on the remarkable land of Aizuwakamatsu-shi (“shi” means city). This city is probably one of the best when it comes to experiencing authentic towns of Japan. Rich in culture yet modernly fashioned, Aizu offers beautiful landscapes of residents and temples, giving you a glimpse on how it really feels like to live in Japan. The streets are quiet and peaceful, which was perfect for having a walking tour. I also got the chance to crash into a local event with stage and temporary stalls of homemade food. To this day, I don’t know exactly what the event was for and what were they celebrating, but we had a great time buying cheap and tasty miso soup and grills, also listening to a speech from a middle-aged woman about God-knows-what. It doesn’t get better than that!

Tsuruga-jo, Temple, Aizuwakamatsu, Japan
Tsuruga-jo Temple during Festival Of Lights

After that, we went to Tsuruga-jō Temple, which to my surprise was currently hosting an annual Festival of Lights! Hundreds of people gathered at dawn to light up candles in different forms and enjoy outdoor art exhibition of lights that was set up on the garden area of the temple. But the most astonishing part was, I was pretty sure that we were two of the very few foreign tourists attending the festival. It truly made me feel like I have found a hidden gem, which perhaps most travelers were not even aware of its existence.


2. Himeji

Harnessing the use of unlimited train rides I get from JR Pass, I stopped by the city of Himeji on my way to having a solo trip to Hiroshima from Osaka. And frankly, I’m glad I did. Witnessing the city, I felt like I was in a set of Japanese movies I used to watch when I was little. The vibe was simply calming and futuristic, and not to mention tons of flowers you can find on the sidewalks. Again, this is a city where you won’t find a flock of foreign tourists, so it might be a great place for you to collect one-of-a-kind Instagram pictures. You can find a lot of them in my Instagram profile.

Himeji, Castle, Japan
Himeji Castle from a distance

I went to the Himeji Castle which was bright white in color and intensely pretty from a distance. If you want to feel even more like the locals, riding a bus around Himeji will definitely do it. I could easily witness the common Japanese etiquette being practiced all throughout the city.


3. Hitachinaka

The main reason I went to Hitachinaka-shi was to visit the colorful Hitachi Seaside Park. Facing the Pacific Ocean in the city of Hitachinaka, Hitachi Seaside Park provides beautiful flowers in the well-kept large gardens. I was fully aware that only a few flowers bloom during winter season, but I went anyway. And no, sir, no regrets at all. It turned out that flowers are not the only attraction here, but also the wide span of natural sight of the ocean and forest in an area of approximately 190 hectares wide. Walking all the way around the whole park will take at least half a day, but you won’t really feel the fatigue since it is fundamentally enjoyable. I was also thrilled to have witnessed the stretch of Pacific Ocean from this part of the world. After a long stroll around the park, it’s best to rest your feet in a short bus ride around the city, and you will be amazed by how homey and peaceful the city is.

Hitachinaka, Hitachi Seaside Park, Japan
Melting snow in Hitachi Seaside Park

4. Iiyama

Niigata is perhaps the number one go-to ski resort for tourists, but for you who craves for something different, the Nagano prefecture is an obvious choice. The city of Iiyama spans on the mountainous northern region of Nagano, in Kijimadaira village. The area is known for severe winters with heavy snowfall, but staying there during the winter is something I would highly recommend. The beautiful view of thick snow covering covering houses and mountain tops are something you should never miss.

Though I didn’t stay at a ski resort, I stayed in an Onsen for a short stay-cation instead. I came across the spectacular Maguse Onsen when I was planning for my Japan trip months before departure, and it easily occupied the top position of my list. This Onsen is so remote, that buses rarely cover the area. We arrived at 9 PM local time in Iiyama Station, and we had no choice but to spend more money to ride a taxi (it was 10km away from the station!). Though needing a huge amount of effort to get there, staying at the Maguse Onsen was the best decision I have made during the trip.

Outdoor Onsen, Maguse, Japan, Onsen
Dipping in the Outdoor Onsen for Maguse

Moreover, we were the only ones staying there at that moment, so we could have the magical outdoor Onsen with magnificent view all for ourselves. Imagine dipping in a private outdoor Onsen at -9oC, with moderate snowfall and a view of vast mountains and hills! Winter Wonderland! The room we were staying in can fit up to 4 people. Facilities included are traditional beds, sets of Kimono, a private kitchen, and much to our surprise, a Kotatsu! Waking up in the morning, we were fed with another view of snowfall right outside our window, where we spent 2 hours straight laying on the bed, sheets tucked up to our necks, feet tucked inside the Kotatsu, sipping hot green tea while admiring the view.


5. Itsukushima

24 kilometers away from Hiroshima-shi, you will find another hidden gem in a form of an island. The Itsukushima island is known for the floating torii, located in the area of Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To get there, you need to ride a ferry, which is also covered by the JR Pass! Riding a ferry during cold winter days was not something I would say as pleasant, but I believe anyone can survive a short 10 minute ride one way. Event thought the coast level was low when I got there, I was still taken aback by the sight of the floating torii, along with hundreds of deer living and playing along the coastline. Along the way towards the shrine, you will find food stalls which I strongly urge you to try. And the souvenirs being sold there are very reasonably priced, so it won’t hurt to grab one or two to bring back home. A lot more to explore on the island besides the shrine itself if you do have the time; mostly are temples and pagodas.

Itsukushima, Torii, Shrine, Japan
Floating torii of Itsukushima

Every time I travel to a new country, I’m always on the lookout for the unusual places to visit and constantly seek for hidden gems all throughout the country. I hope this article gives you a sight of how beautiful Japan is, even much more for the cities that has currently been untouched by the wave of travellers visiting the country.