Looking to explore what Japan has to offer beyond Tokyo? Here’s our list of 5 great alternatives!
Tokyo is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and for good reason, the city showcases how history and technology can exist in tandem. However, making Tokyo your only stop on your trip to Japan means that you’ll be missing out on what the rest of the country has to offer. That’s why we’ve made this list of alternative Japanese travel destinations for those looking to expand their horizons in the Land of the Rising Sun!
Kyoto is the go-to destination for those looking to immerse themselves in Japanese history and culture. The city is home to countless artifacts and structures of cultural significance, including the renowned Fushimi Inari Taisha (or “Fox Shrine.”) Fushimi Inari Taisha is the most famous shrine in Japan, seeing millions of visitors each year. The shrine is most commonly recognized by the thousands of torii gates that line the walkway, which is said to symbolize the “in-between” of the human and divine.
If shrines aren’t your thing, though, don’t be discouraged; Kyoto has a myriad of interactive experiences that showcase the beauty of Japanese tradition. Tea ceremonies are another popular tourist attraction, where guests can be served in a formal Japanese atmosphere while listening to a guide’s explanation of how the tea ceremony came to be.
If you decide to visit Kyoto in late March or early April, you’ll be there just in time to see the city’s most beautiful natural attraction: the blooming of sakura, or cherry blossoms. Locals and tourists alike plan their picnic spots months in advance in order to enjoy the blooms to the fullest, but merely taking a walk through a pathway lined with sakura is an experience that will take your breath away!
Sapporo is the largest city on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. With a population of 2 million, it’s significantly smaller than Tokyo, making it the perfect destination for guests who wish for a city atmosphere without feeling too overwhelmed. With that being said, the city still has countless attractions to entertain its guests.
Any beer enthusiast will want to visit the Sapporo Beer Museum, where the science behind brewing is explained to patrons. The museum guides visitors through the process of brewing beer while explaining the history and significance of beer in Japan. Guests can also engage in beer tastings for a small surcharge. Nearby is the Sapporo Beer Garden, which is home to several restaurants and attractions.
For those looking to satisfy their sweet tooth during their visit, the Ishiya Chocolate Factory may be more suited to their tastes. The factory takes visitors on a tour of the production floor, where workers create the factory’s signature white chocolate – available only in Hokkaido! After the tour, guests can indulge their sweet cravings at an all-you-can-eat cake buffet.
The city of Fukuoka, located on Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu, has been named one of the most dynamic and livable cities in the world. With the amount of technology and culture that exists in this city, it’s no wonder that Fukuoka entertains 2 million foreign visitors each year!
The city is home to several museums, as well as a couple local festivals. If you pay a visit to Fukuoka in early July, you may come across the Hakata Gion Yamakasa, in which colorful floats are paraded and raced through the streets to commemorate a local shrine. Tourists who visit the city in early May may witness the Hakata Dontaku, where men and women don elaborate costumes and play traditional instruments in a colorful street procession. Both of these festivals have been held for hundreds of years, showcasing Fukuoka’s appreciation for tradition, even in a contemporary landscape.
As one of Japan’s first imperial capitals, Nara is one of Japan’s most underrated historical destinations. The most well-known location for tourists is Nara Park, where guests can visit the famous Todaiji Temple complex, first constructed in the 8th century. The temple was built as the pillar of all provincial Buddhist temples in Japan; however, the decline of Buddhism led to the temple becoming more of a Buddhist landmark than the center of Buddhist power. The Daibutsuden, or “Big Buddha Hall,” is one of the world’s largest wooden structures, even after its reconstruction in the late 17th century.
Today, Nara is more well-known for the tame deer that live in harmony with humans. The deer, seen originally as divine messengers in Shinto, were never hunted or deterred from the area. This has resulted in the Nara deer becoming accustomed to humans, who have fed and interacted with them for generations. The deer can be seen following human guests in search of food, often bowing their heads to ask politely for snacks. Paying a visit to the Nara deer is a one-of-a-kind experience that guests will never forget!
Located near the city of Sendai is a small island known to the locals as Tashirojima, but is widely recognized by international cat lovers as “Cat Island.” The peculiar island has a human population of only 100 – only a fraction of its feline counterpart! As a result, the island has become a niche tourist destination for cat enthusiasts, who can access the island by ferry.
The cats that roam the island, although friendly with humans, aren’t considered house cats either; while the locals provide food and medical care to their feline friends, they view the island as a shared space where humans and cats can live equally and harmoniously. No matter how cute these island occupants may be, the locals emphasize that taking any of the cats off the island is prohibited!
Although Tokyo is an exciting, vibrant city with tons of activities, its allure often results in other travel destinations going unnoticed. The next time you’re planning your travel itinerary, be sure to include some of these places on your list!
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