The best destinations in Japan include serene traditional streets and ancient temples in places like Kyoto. In Tokyo, iconic “must-see” attractions such as the Tokyo Tower or the “exhilarating” experience of cruising in go-karts are hard to miss.
However, while these activities offer a glimpse into the culture and are undoubtedly enjoyable for some, they only tell part of the story. Japan’s frequently recommended destinations have earned their reputation for good reasons. Yet, they can often be swamped with tourists. These sites sometimes cater so heavily to foreign visitors that they risk becoming mere reflections of travelers’ preconceptions rather than showcasing the authentic essence of Japan.
Thankfully, for those eager to dig a bit deeper, Japan is peppered with innumerable hidden gems. These lesser-known spots can satisfy your wanderlust, providing experiences that echo the allure of the more renowned locales without the crowds.
Trade Kyoto for Kanazawa
Kyoto is undeniably one of Japan’s top tourist magnets. However, the reality of its overcrowded streets can shatter the dreams of visitors hoping for a tranquil cultural experience. Moreover, the traditional charm of Kyoto is predominantly confined to the streets of Gion. While Gion offers a glimpse into the past, it often feels like a repetitive tableau, with everyone aiming to capture the same photograph. The geisha, iconic symbols of Kyoto, are constantly swarmed, their daily lives interrupted by photos without consent.
Instead of battling the crowds in Kyoto, consider Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. Historically, Kanazawa has rivaled Kyoto enough to earn the nickname “Little Kyoto.” It remained relatively secret from the tourism onslaught thanks to the city’s less direct accessibility by the Shinkansen bullet train until recent years.
The Higashi Chaya District in Kanazawa mirrors Kyoto’s Gion in many ways, with beautifully preserved wooden buildings lining the streets, and geisha are rooted in the city’s cultural heritage. Kenrokuen is one of Japan’s most splendid gardens, often contrasting Kyoto’s Kinkakuji or Ryoanji’s beauty and serenity. The city also boasts districts dedicated to crafts such as gold leafing—including gold leaf ice cream!
Kanazawa, Ishikawa - Map
Nearest Station: Kanazawa
Himeji Castle Over Osaka Castle
Those who want to see a castle that has stood since the days of samurai should skip Osaka Castle. Although the site’s history stretches back centuries, the current tower is not the original structure but a concrete reconstruction that houses a modern museum.
One must travel beyond Osaka to Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture for a genuine glimpse into Japan’s architectural past. This majestic structure is a testament to Japan’s architectural resilience and historical richness. It has weathered the turbulent Warring States Period and emerged unscathed from the ravages of World War II bombings and the devastating Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.
Recognized as a national treasure and a World Heritage site, Himeji Castle’s main tower captivates visitors with its stunning beauty, intricate early 17th-century architectural designs, and innovative defensive features.
68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo - Map
Nearest Station: Himeji
Asakusa’s Crowded, Nezu is Hidden
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