Experience Off the Beaten Path Japan – Island to Island

Off the beaten path Japan.

Let’s face it, you already know you are most likely going to spend a pretty penny just getting to Japan and traveling within. You might as well see the most beautiful parts of it! Trust me when I say staying in Tokyo for more than a few days can be fun but a bit of sensory overload. Keep reading to learn how to experience off the beaten path Japan!

If two weeks is all the time you have, I highly recommend getting a Japan rail pass! For around $400, this pass allows foreigners to hop on and off any JR train or shinkansen (bullet-train). While in Tokyo, I also recommend getting a Suica (or Pasmo) card. To make the most of your trip, here are 4 destinations you may want to consider visiting to avoid feeling claustrophobic in Tokyo!

1. Hokkaido

Hokkaido Japan

If​ ​you​ ​love​ ​beautiful​ ​flowers,​ ​amazing​ ​seafood,​ ​and​ ​fine​ ​Japanese​ ​scotch, Hokkaido​ ​is​ ​the​ ​place​ ​to​ ​be!​ ​​ ​By​ ​taking​ ​a​ ​short​ ​flight​ ​from​ ​Tokyo’s​ ​Haneda​ ​airport,​ ​you’ll find​ ​yourself​ ​on​ ​Japan’s​ ​northernmost​ ​sting-ray​ ​shaped​ ​island.​ ​​ ​You’ll​ ​most​ ​likely​ ​fly​ ​into Hokkaido’s​ ​Sapporo​ ​airport,​ ​but​ ​from​ ​there​ ​you​ ​definitely​ ​want​ ​to​ ​hop​ ​on​ ​a​ ​local​ ​train​ ​to the​ ​canal​ ​town​ ​of​ ​Otaru.​ ​​ ​Otaru​ ​is​ ​a​ ​seaside​ ​town​ ​facing​ ​the​ ​waters​ ​between​ ​northern Japan​ ​and​ ​Russia.​ ​​ ​What​ ​I​ ​love​ ​about​ ​Otaru​ ​is​ ​the​ ​European​ ​feel​ ​it​ ​has​ ​to​ ​it.​ ​​ ​

From​ ​the train​ ​station​ ​you​ ​can​ ​take​ ​a​ ​bus​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Yoiichi​ ​Nikka​ ​Whiskey​ ​distillery.​ ​​ ​This​ ​particular distillery​ ​was​ ​where​ ​Masataka​ ​Taketsuru​ ​and​ ​his​ ​Scottish​ ​wife​ ​Rita​ ​lived​ ​and​ ​crafted their​ ​prized​ ​spirits.​ ​​ ​Just​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​cash​ ​for​ ​the​ ​items​ ​you​ ​might​ ​want​ ​to purchase​ ​and​ ​don’t​ ​miss​ ​the​ ​free​ ​samples!

2. Honshu


Honshu​ ​is​ ​the​ ​largest,​ ​most​ ​populated​ ​island​ ​in​ ​Japan.​ ​​ ​While​ ​most​ ​live​ ​in​ ​and visit​ ​the​ ​Tokyo​ ​area,​ ​there​ ​is​ ​so​ ​much​ ​more​ ​than​ ​Honshu​ ​has​ ​to​ ​offer.​ ​​ ​To​ ​get​ ​your​ ​fix​ ​of cute​ ​animals​ ​in​ ​their​ ​natural​ ​habitat,​ ​make​ ​your​ ​way​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Jigokudani​ ​Snow​ ​Monkey park​ ​in​ ​the​ ​town​ ​of​ ​Yamanouchi.​ ​​ ​To​ ​get​ ​there,​ ​use​ ​your​ ​rail​ ​pass​ ​and​ ​take​ ​a​ ​bullet​ ​train from​ ​Tokyo​ ​to​ ​Nagano,​ ​then​ ​a​ ​local​ ​train​ ​from​ ​Nagano​ ​to​ ​Yudanaka​ ​station.​ ​​

​This​ ​place not​ ​only​ ​is​ ​home​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Japanese​ ​Macaques,​ ​the​ ​most​ ​northern​ ​living​ ​primate​ ​in​ ​the world,​ ​but​ ​a​ ​hot-spring​ ​heaven.​ ​​ ​If​ ​you​ ​are​ ​looking​ ​for​ ​the​ ​onsen​ ​experience,​ ​look​ ​no further!​ ​​ ​There​ ​are​ ​plenty​ ​of​ ​ryokans​ ​(traditional​ ​Japanese​ ​B&B)​ ​to​ ​choose​ ​from,​ ​but​ ​my personal​ ​recommendation​ ​is​ ​the​ ​Shimaya​ ​Ryokan.​ ​​ ​The​ ​owner​ ​is​ ​very​ ​helpful​ ​and speaks​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​english.​ ​​ ​Upon​ ​request,​ ​he​ ​will​ ​drive​ ​you​ ​to​ ​the​ ​monkey​ ​park​ ​in​ ​his personal​ ​van!​ ​​ ​The​ ​best​ ​time​ ​to​ ​go​ ​visit​ ​in​ ​my​ ​opinion,​ ​is​ ​October.​

The transitioning warm​ ​colors​ ​of​ ​the​ ​maple​ ​trees​ ​are​ ​in​ ​full​ ​swing,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​temperature​ ​is​ ​perfect.​ ​​ Don't miss​ ​the​ ​delicious​ ​chicken​ ​ramen​ ​and​ ​local​ ​fresh​ ​apple​ ​juice​ ​at​ ​the​ ​Enza​ ​cafe,​ ​right outside​ ​the​ ​entrance​ ​of​ ​the​ ​monkey​ ​park.​ ​​ ​It’s​ ​worth​ ​it!

3. Kyushu

Off the beaten path Japan

Near​ ​​​and​ ​dear​ ​to​ ​my​ ​heart​ ​is​ ​the​ ​island​ ​of​ ​Kyushu.​ ​​ ​My​ ​best​ ​advice​ ​to​ ​see Kyushu​ ​the​ ​right​ ​way​ ​is​ ​to​ ​get​ ​your​ ​international​ ​driver’s​ ​license​ ​and​ ​rent​ ​a​ ​car.​ ​​ ​Although you​ ​could​ ​still​ ​travel​ ​by​ ​train,​ ​the​ ​best​ ​parts​ ​are​ ​seen​ ​by​ ​car.​ ​​ ​

There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​beautiful​ ​gorge about​ ​an​ ​hour​ ​and​ ​a​ ​half​ ​away​ ​from​ ​my​ ​hometown​ ​Miyazaki​ ​called​ ​the​ ​Takachiho Gorge.​ ​​ ​It​ ​is​ ​said​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​“power​ ​spot”,​ ​meaning​ ​a​ ​positive​ ​energy​ ​derived​ ​from​ ​nature with​ ​the​ ​power​ ​to​ ​heal.​ ​​ ​You​ ​can​ ​rent​ ​canoes​ ​to​ ​pass​ ​the​ ​gorge​ ​yourself,​ ​weather permitting.​ ​​ ​Be​ ​sure​ ​to​ ​check​ ​for​ ​any​ ​recent​ ​earthquakes​ ​that​ ​may​ ​have​ ​shifted​ ​rocks​ ​in the​ ​gorge​ ​in​ ​which​ ​case​ ​they​ ​will​ ​not​ ​allow​ ​you​ ​to​ ​canoe​ ​for​ ​your​ ​own​ ​personal​ ​safety. This​ ​happened​ ​to​ ​me​ ​after​ ​the​ ​Kumamoto​ ​earthquake​ ​in​ ​2016!

If​ ​you​ ​are​ ​looking​ ​for​ ​some​ ​unique​ ​photo​ ​opportunities​ ​check​ ​out​ ​Miyazaki’s Heiwadai​ ​peace​ ​monument​ ​and​ ​Haniwa​ ​park.​ ​​ ​Another​ ​fantastic​ ​view​ ​is​ ​the​ ​Udo​ ​Shrine of​ ​fertility.​ ​​ ​Its​ ​right​ ​on​ ​the​ ​coast,​ ​about​ ​30-40​ ​minutes​ ​from​ ​Miyazaki.


For​ ​those​ ​not​ ​able​ ​to​ ​rent​ ​a​ ​car,​ ​don’t​ ​worry!​ ​​ ​Just​ ​simply​ ​riding​ ​a​ ​bicycle​ ​around​ ​town, around​ ​the​ ​Miyazaki​ ​shrine​ ​and​ ​exploring​ ​is​ ​one​ ​of​ ​my​ ​favorite​ ​things​ ​to​ ​do.​ ​​ ​Don’t​ ​be afraid​ ​to​ ​venture​ ​down​ ​Tachibana-dori​ ​at​ ​night,​ ​where​ ​people​ ​let​ ​loose​ ​after​ ​a​ ​hard​ ​day’s work​ ​and​ ​the​ ​awesomely​ ​strange​ ​and​ ​eccentric​ ​come​ ​to​ ​gamble,​ ​eat,​ ​drink,​ ​and​ ​sing​ ​to their​ ​heart’s​ ​content.​ ​​ ​I​ ​am​ ​100%​ ​positive​ ​that​ ​you​ ​should​ ​never​ ​miss​ ​an​ ​opportunity​ ​to hang​ ​w/​ ​locals​ ​in​ ​a​ ​tiny​ ​15​ ​people​ ​max​ ​occupancy​ ​karaoke​ ​bar.​ ​​ ​Some​ ​of​ ​my​ ​fondest memories​ ​begin​ ​there,​ ​or​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​memory​ ​(haha).

If​ ​you​ ​visit​ ​in​ ​the​ ​summer​ ​months,​ ​a​ ​great​ ​way​ ​to​ ​cool​ ​off​ ​from​ ​the​ ​intense humidity​ ​is​ ​to​ ​head​ ​to​ ​Aoshima​ ​beach!​ ​​ ​There​ ​are​ ​a​ ​few​ ​cafe’s​ ​and​ ​a​ ​promenade​ ​with​ ​a few​ ​soft​ ​cream​ ​shops​ ​and​ ​shops​ ​that​ ​sell​ ​the​ ​extremely​ ​expensive​ ​Miyazaki​ ​mango.​ ​​ ​I saw​ ​a​ ​$50​ ​mango​ ​there,​ ​but​ ​my​ ​grandma​ ​loves​ ​me​ ​and​ ​bought​ ​me​ ​a​ ​$15​ ​mango. If​ ​you​ ​are​ ​a​ ​history​ ​and​ ​architecture​ ​lover,​ ​check​ ​out​ ​Aya​ ​craft​ ​castle!​ ​​ ​It​ ​is​ ​only accessible​ ​by​ ​car​ ​but​ ​if​ ​you​ ​want​ ​to​ ​see​ ​some​ ​cool​ ​samurai​ ​artifacts​ ​and​ ​beautifully handcrafted​ ​ceramics​ ​this​ ​is​ ​the​ ​place​ ​to​ ​be!​ ​​ ​When​ ​you​ ​go​ ​inside,​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​to​ ​go​ ​all the​ ​way​ ​to​ ​the​ ​top​ ​and​ ​step​ ​outside​ ​and​ ​you’ll​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​a​ ​samurai​ ​looking​ ​out​ ​for​ ​the​ ​next invasion.​ ​​ ​It​ ​is​ ​a​ ​stunning​ ​view! 

4. Yakushima

Off the beaten path Japan

Okay​ ​Studio​ ​Ghibli​ ​fans,​ ​eat​ ​your​ ​hearts​ ​out!​ ​​ ​This​ ​island​ ​just​ ​a​ ​boat​ ​ride​ ​away from​ ​Kyusu​ ​was​ ​the​ ​inspiration​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Hayao​ ​Miyazaki​ ​movie​ ​“Princess​ ​Mononoke”. The​ ​best​ ​way​ ​to​ ​access​ ​this​ ​island​ ​is​ ​by​ ​taking​ ​a​ ​short​ ​flight​ ​from​ ​Kyushu​ ​or​ ​a​ ​jet-foil boat​ ​from​ ​the​ ​city​ ​of​ ​Kagoshima.​ ​​ ​I​ ​highly​ ​recommend​ ​the​ ​jet-foil​ ​so​ ​you​ ​can​ ​get​ ​a​ ​great view​ ​of​ ​the​ ​active​ ​volcano,​ ​Sakurajima.

If​ ​you​ ​love​ ​the​ ​forest,​ ​get​ ​ready.​ ​​ ​Shiratani​ ​Unsuikyo​ ​is​ ​a​ ​moss​ ​covered​ ​forest nestled​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mountains​ ​of​ ​Yakushima.​ ​​ ​Beautiful​ ​rivers​ ​and​ ​streams​ ​make​ ​for​ ​a​ ​great soundtrack​ ​to​ ​your​ ​4​ ​hour​ ​hike​ ​through​ ​the​ ​magical​ ​moss​ ​forest!​ ​​ ​You​ ​may​ ​even​ ​see​ ​a wild​ ​macaque​ ​hanging​ ​around​ ​somewhere.

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One​ ​thing​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​in​ ​mind​ ​that​ ​this​ ​is​ ​not​ ​a​ ​very​ ​populated​ ​island,​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​it​ ​is protected​ ​UNESCO​ ​site.​ ​​ ​Food​ ​is​ ​not​ ​readily​ ​available​ ​24/7!​ ​​ ​A​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​restaurants​ ​shut down​ ​earlier​ ​than​ ​normal.​ ​​ ​Either​ ​arrange​ ​something​ ​with​ ​your​ ​accommodation,​ ​or​ ​make a​ ​reservation​ ​in​ ​advance.​ ​​ ​If​ ​you​ ​can’t​ ​make​ ​a​ ​reservation,​ ​just​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​to​ ​plan​ ​on eating​ ​before​ ​8pm.​ ​​ ​If​ ​you​ ​are​ ​okay​ ​with​ ​cheap​ ​but​ ​delicious​ ​convenience​ ​foods​ ​head​ ​to the​ ​A-coop​ ​for​ ​your​ ​everyday​ ​needs.​ ​​ ​Most​ ​hotels/lodges​ ​will​ ​have​ ​a​ ​kettle​ ​available​ ​to you​ ​in​ ​your​ ​room.​ ​​ ​That​ ​is​ ​a​ ​great​ ​option​ ​to​ ​save​ ​money,​ ​but​ ​if​ ​you​ ​are​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​a​ ​foodie you​ ​don’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​miss​ ​trying​ ​the​ ​island​ ​specialty,​ ​fried​ ​flying​ ​fish!​ ​​ ​It’s​ ​delicious!


These​ ​places​ ​are​ ​worth​ ​visiting!​ ​​ ​Always​ ​remember​ ​you​ ​can​ ​tailor​ ​your​ ​travel​ ​experience to​ ​how​ ​you​ ​like​ ​to​ ​travel.​ ​I​ ​hope​ ​these​ ​destinations​ ​give​ ​you​ ​some​ ​inspiration​ ​on​ ​how to experience off the beaten path Japan!  - Alisa 

Special thanks to Alisa Browning for writing this amazing article for the travel blog. Be sure to check her out on Instagram for more lovely photos! 

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