12 places you should visit in Japan that aren't Tokyo

Koichi Kamoshida / StaffJigokudani Monkey Park is located in Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, Japan.
  • Although Tokyo is a fascinating place to visit, Japan offers many other interesting towns and cities.
  • Japan has a lot to offer in terms of activities and environments since it’s made up of so many islands.
  • Other good Japan destinations include Kyoto, Osaka, Naoshima, Hakone, and Kamakura.

When planning a trip to Japan, it’s hard not to think of Tokyo. The enormous metropolis has the perfect balance of modern skyscrapers and traditional offerings to make any avid traveller put it on their bucket list. And while Tokyo is a city that everyone should try to visit at least once, it’s not the only place in Japan worth checking out.

Japan is made up of four main islands(and hundreds of smaller ones) all containing several prefectures that have multiple cities, all of which are worth a visit.

Here is a list of places in Japan, other than Tokyo, that are worth a spot on your itinerary.


Kyoto offers classic architecture and serene gardens.

Riccardo Chiarini/ShutterstockThe gardens in Kyoto are sights worth seeing.

The antithesis to the ultra-modern metropolis that is Tokyo, Kyoto is the place to go for a taste of traditional Japan. Filled with classic architecture and ornate Buddhist temples, Japanese gardens, and tea houses it’s a must-see during your travels through Japan.

While there make sure to check out the Kinkaku-Ji “Golden Pavilion,”Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shinto shrine, and the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.


You’ll find plenty of beautiful temples at Mt. Koya.

Sabino Parente/ShutterstockIn 2004, Koya was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mt. Koya is not easy to get to. Depending on your point of origin, you’ll likely have to take a bullet train, a local train that stops at every town, and finally a funicular to get to the top.

But this is all part of the fun. The entire journey takes you through the gorgeous, lush, landscape of the Japanese countryside and offers some insight into how locals live outside of the big cities you’ll likely spend most of your time in.

Picturesque scenery aside, the destination, Mt.Koya is definitely worth the journey. As the center of Shingon Buddhism, it offers plenty of beautiful temples, as well as a unique and peaceful cemetery.

Stay the night at one of the temples, enjoy a traditional Buddhist meal, and attend morning prayers to get a truly unique experience.


Nara is home to hundreds of deer.

Jirka Matousek/FlickrYou’ll even get the chance to feed deer in Nara, Japan.

If you’re a big animal lover, Nara is the place for you. Not only is it filled with important temples and shrines housing Buddhist art, but it is also home to hundreds of deer.

The mostly tame deer are a huge draw for tourists and they’re so used to humans that some have learned to bow when fed. Aside from the cute deer, make sure to check out the Daibutsu (Great Buddha), a giant effigy first cast in 1252, and the Nara National Museum.


Osaka is the third-largest city in Japan.

gowithstock/ShutterstockCastle Park in Osaka is a favourite among visitors.

The third-largest city in Japan, Osaka, is a great way to see urban Japanese culture on a smaller scale.

Check out the Osaka Castle and Shitennoji Temple but also leave time for the aquarium, Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, and the National Museum of Ethnology. Don’t leave without indulging in all the food Osaka has to offer, especially the famous takoyaki (octopus dumplings) from Wanaka Honten which are made on custom copper hot plates to ensure maximum crispiness.


Naoshima is the perfect destination for art lovers.

Joi Ito / FlickrA visit to the island isn’t complete without a look at Yayoi Kusama’s famous polka-dot pumpkin.

Located on the Seto Inland sea, the island is known for its modern art museums, sculptures, architecture (much of its buildings were designed by renowned architect Tadao-Ando), and art installations as well as its laid-back beachy atmosphere. Notable spots to visit include the Chichu Art Museum, Benesse House, and Lee Ufan Museum.


Ishigaki Island offers visitors a beach vacation.

Wikimedia CommonsKabira Bay of Ishigaki Island is worth a visit.

Japan may not be the first place you think of when seeking a beach vacation but Ishigaki Island just might change your mind. The main island of the Yaeyama Islands, Ishigaki is accessible (it has its own airport and ferry terminal) yet still has pristine scenery to offer. Enjoy plenty of stunning beaches, both sandy and rocky, and snorkelling at every one of them.


Hakone offers incredible views of Mt. Fuji.

Flickr/Toshihiro OimatsuThe area encompasses Hakone shrine, a Shinto shrine with a red gate.

Hakone has a little bit of everything which makes it a popular spot for tourists to get a break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The city offers a variety of museums including an open-air option as well as the Pola, Okada, and Hakone museums of art.

Hakone also boasts several traditional inns and relaxing onsen (public baths). But the best part about Hakone is its spectacular views of Mt. Fuji. As part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the city offers an iconic view of the mountain.


Yamanouchi, Shibu Onsen, and Yudanaka Onsen are great destinations for those who don’t mind the cold.

Flickr/Douglas SprottTourists flock to Jigokudani Monkey Park to see monkeys in natural hot springs.

Yamanouchi is a municipality in the northern Nagano prefecture which offers a variety of worthy attractions. One of the most popular is the Jigokudani Monkey Park where tourists can observe wild monkeys bathing in the parks natural hot springs-year round.

Read more: Snow monkeys can de-stress by taking hot baths – just like humans

In the winter, Yamanouchi also contains the largest ski resort in Japan, Shiga Kogen, making it a great destination for winter-sport lovers. Also within Yamanouchi are the Shibu Onsen and Yudanaka Onsen, two small and quaint hot-spring towns that offer a welcome respite from busy Japanese cities. Make sure to stay at one of the local Ryokans, traditional Japanese inns.


Matsue features historical buildings and an impressive museum.

Wikimedia CommonsMatsue castle is one of only a handful of medieval castles in Japan.

Located between Shinji-ko and Naukami lakes and the Sea of Japan, Matsue is known as the “water city.” Aside from stunning views of Shinji-Ko, you’ll find a historical Samurai district and Matsue castle, one of Japan’s largest original castles.

The biggest attraction, however, is the Adachi Museum of Art which boasts not only a great collection of Japanese paintings but also a meticulously maintained and almost surreal garden.


The Great Buddha resides in Kamakura.

mint_green/ShutterstockThe Great Buddha is the main attraction for visitors.

Sometimes referred to as the Kyoto of Eastern Japan, Kamakura offered plenty of temples, shrines, and other historical monuments for visitors to enjoy. Some of the big draws are the Great Buddha, a bronze statue of the idol coming in at over 37 feet tall, Hokokuji Temple, known for its bamboo grove, and Hasedera temple which has great views of Kamakura. For outdoor activity lovers, Kamakura also offers plenty of great hiking trails and beaches.


Tourists are drawn to Kakunodate to see the cherry blossoms.

Syuzo Tsushima/FlickrCherry blossoms flourish in Kakunodate.

Kakunodate is a former samurai stronghold in the Akita prefecture.

The town is divided into a samurai district and merchant district which have been left largely untouched since 1620, offering some of the best samurai architecture in all of Japan. Aside from the traditional architecture, tourists are also drawn here for the cherry blossoms. Visit around late April and early May to join the crowd of people taking in the gorgeous cherry blossoms set against the backdrop of traditional Japanese homes.


Shirakawago and Gokayama are regions famous for their building’s architecture.

Worakit Sirijinda/ShutterstockThese cottages in northwestern Japan are all constructed in the ‘gassho-zukuri’ architectural style.

Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, the Shirakawago region and neighbouring Gokayama region lie amongst mountains in the remote Shogawa River Valley. The regions are famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses which have roofs made without nails that can withstand the heavy snowfall that is characteristic of the region.

Visit Ogimachi, the largest village in the region, and spend the night in one of the farmhouses. If you go in the winter you may be able to catch the villages all lit up and covered in snow.

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