Go Off The Beaten Path - Japan's Best Kept Secrets


Farah Musa •  Feb 05, 2016

So you have basked in the eclectic spirit of Tokyo. Crossed the streets of Shibuya. Braved the crowds of Harajuku. Rolled in the powdery snow of Hokkaido. What’s more?

In a country where even their tarmac is stuff made of pure fantasy, we hear your pleas for more.

In this article, HHWT pays ode to less trodden places of Japan.

Credit: giphy


P.S. Don't forget to download the HHWT Travel Planner app, available on Google Play for Android and iTunes Store for iOS, to make your trip to Tokyo even easier! You can find attractions as well as halal food and prayer spaces near these attractions, so no worries on not being able to find halal food anymore!

1. Dive at Yaeyama Islands

Where in the World? Okinawa Prefecture

Why? Shoot your version of “Into the Blue” movie with the option of possible prehistoric remnants!

Explore to the edge of Japan! It is part of an archipelago forming the Ryukyu Arc which stretches from Kyushu to Taiwan. Dotted along the coast, it may be dubbed Asian’s Hawaii. Expect to have your dose of corals - habitats for dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays and whale sharks!

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Snorkel with these beauties at Yaeyama Island

Credit: rurinoshima

Try diving at the mysterious Yonaguni Monument too. An underwater rock formation famed for its staircase-like terraces, some dispute its origins to be that of a lost human kingdom while others believe it to be a natural phenomenon. Which side are you on? ? The waters is also a popular diving spot to view hundreds of hammerhead sharks during winter! ?

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Yonaguni Monument

Credit: Vincent Lou

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Credit: Vincent Lou

Excuse me, while I whip the body into (Jessica Alba approved) shape ?

2. Live and Stroll Through Historical Towns


Where in the world? Nakatsugawa, Gifu Prefecture

Why: These ancient routes have been preserved for a historic feel, you may just wish you never exit from!

Magome-juku is the 43rd of 69 stations connecting Kyoto and Edo (today’s Tokyo). It is uniquely located in a precipitous terrain where ancient travellers are forced to leave their horses to continue the climb. Expect to find cobblestoned streets lined with restored old wooden houses, inns and shops. The town is usually used as a stopover for travellers to and from Kyoto – Edo.

Credit: yamnut

Credit: yamnut

If you are up for it, try hiking the 8km ancient mountain routes to the nearest town, Tsumago-juku - the most preserved section of the Nakasendo Highway (ancient highway). The mountain scenery, streams and waterfalls will make you question if you are in the right century!

Credit: yamnut

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Credit: RodWilliams

Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

Where in the world? Borders of Gifu and Toyama Prefectures

Why? The mountain village is listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site

If you happen to be around the area, do check out these quaint historical villages giving you a piece of rural Japanese living. The village is famous for its Gasshō-zukuri (prayer hands) thatched roof which is ideal for cold climate when snow accumulates atop the roof.

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Credit: William Cho

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Villages at Shirakawa-go in a snowstorm lending its “Into the Woods” feel.

Credit: Simon Desmarais

3. Watch the World from a Panoramic View - Japan’s Northern  Alps

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Where in the World? Toyama, Nagano and Gifu Prefecture

Why: Dubbed “The Roof of Japan”, it gives you seasonal panoramic view of the Alps.

And there is just something about viewing things from a height that changes our perspective (probably as our lives flashes before our very eyes).

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Tateyama Kurobe

Credit: dotdots-travelogue

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route connects Toyama and Nagano prefectures passing through the magnificent Tateyama and Hida Mountains (Mount Tate is 1 part of 3 sacred Japan Mountains, along with Mount Fuji). The route requires 5 different modes of transportations such as cable cars, ropeways, trolley buses (the only one running in Japan!).

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Credit: Jeff Wong

#HHWT Tip: Some routes are completely closed during certain periods. So make sure you check out the opening times here https://www.alpen-route.com/en/!

While there are many attraction spots vying for our attention, HHWT’s pick has to be the Snow Wall, “Yuki No Otani”. It opens from 16 April – 22 June 2016 this year to reveal a gawking gigantic snow wall reaching up to 20m high! The wall will recede in height with time so make sure to visit at the most opportune moment!

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Credit: dancingnomad3

Gear up for some of these activities!

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Credit: tsuda

Kurobe Dam: Japan’s tallest dam, it discharges water from late June to mid October. Numerous challenges were faced in its making including 170 lives lost!
Kurobe Dam: Japan’s tallest dam, it discharges water from late June to mid October. Numerous challenges were faced in its making including 170 lives lost!

Credit: Kabacchi

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Murodo, the tallest point of the route, perfect for hikers.

Credit: Rocky T

4. Tottori Sand Dunes

Where in the world? Tottori Prefecture

Why? Always envied Brendan Fraser braving through sand storms in The Mummy? Well, here’s your chance! Plus, you don’t have to travel that far for this experience!

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Credit: かがみ~

Tottori Sand Dunes are one of the largest in Japan at approximately 50m high. Running along the Sea of Japan, the dunes are a result of sediment deposits carried from Sendaigawa River over thousands of years!  The constant tides and coastal winds ensure an ever changing landscape so your pictures will always turn out slightly different from others who have also visited the place.

Besides visiting the Sand Museum which displays creativity of artists worldwide, you can try out other activities too! Venture through the dunes on camels or horse-drawn cart rides, laze atop the dunes overlooking the coast then sandboard (or roll for a Bollywood feel. Safety not ensured.) down for a thrilling experience!

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Credit: かがみ~

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Credit: cotaro70s

Who’d have known Japan has this side to her? So, saddle up!

Camel Rides

Opening Hours: Opens everyday 9:30am – 4:30pm (March to November) 10:00am – 4:00pm (December to February)

Fees: ¥1300 (1 person) / ¥2500 (2 persons)

5. Go on Exile at Sado Island

Where in the World? Niigata Prefecture

Why? “The other side of Japan” has been through a lot to just give it a miss!

As a general rule, you don’t question much when its beauty has been preached in a Haiku or woodblock imprinted by a great master:

stormy sea---

stretching out over Sado,

Heaven's River”

- Matsuo Basho

In the Waves at Kakuda Enroute Sado Island by Utagawa Kuniyoshi
In the Waves at Kakuda Enroute Sado Island by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Credit: Utagawa Kuniyoshi

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Mt Donden

Credit: sadotravel

Senkakawan Bay
Senkakuwan Bay

Credit: sadotravel

We're enamoured by the juxtaposition of the Island’s (dark) history of seclusion and its beauty with rolling green hills and rocky coasts. It was previously a popular choice for political exile due to its remote location. One of the most prominent figures sent for banishment being Emperor Juntoku for his participation in the Jokyu War.

At one point in time, the Island experienced an economic boom due to gold mines found at Aikawa (treasure hunters, one of the mines is open to public!). Kaching!

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Credit: gaijinpot

While all that remains in the past, the partially urbanised Sado Island is attracting visitors mainly due to its traditional charm.  Just check out their taraibune (tub boat)!

Credit: noriko

It is also home ground to the internationally acclaimed Kodo Taiko Group (Japanese drum ensemble) who hosts the annual Earth Celebration on the Island.

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Credit: japansocietyny

Who knows what you might find in that trip to the gold mine or if you bump into a possible emperor’s lineage? #dreamsdocometrue

6. Pets Island Galore

While pet cafes are taking the world by storm one paw at a time, up your game by visiting a whole Island(s) instead!

Okunoshima – Rabbit Island

Where in the world? Hiroshima Perfecture

Why? I don’t understand the question. It is an island full of enthusiastic furry beings waiting to pounce on you! ?

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Credit: getbunnybox

You’ve probably read about the location in our history textbooks. The Island was once a development and storage space for chemical weapons, chosen due to its isolated location. But fret not! It has all been disposed. However, you may still find the haunting ruins of forts and gas plants scattered around the Island.

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Credit: kelliinjapan

It only makes sense to counter this dark past with an overloading cuteness in the form of fluffy furry creatures! The origins of the bunnies are unknown (does it even matter?) with some saying that the rabbits were set free by workers at the end of the war while others believe that it is a result of procreation from a group of bunnies brought to the Island. The number multiplies even more due to lack of predators – entry of cats and dogs on the Island are banned.

Visitors are able to feed the relatively tame rabbits on the Island. You may even camp out on the Island and bask in that cuteness!

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Credit: dailymail

Tashirojima - Cat Island

Where in the world? Miyagi Prefecture

Why? Why not?

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Credit: かがみ~

Go ahead and be the crazy cat lady/gentleman in this feline ruled Island. We promise we won’t judge! ? The Island originally raised silk worms for textiles. Hence, cats were bred to keep the mice at bay from feasting on the silk worms. The population bloomed thereon till today where human population is only 100.

#HHWT Tip: Never come in between a feline fight when you are outnumbered!

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Credit: sa7news

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Credit: sa7news

Doted and fed by residents and visitors alike, the cats are considered good luck charms. Particularly when the residents and cats survived (with little damage) in the wake of 2011 Tohuku earthquake and Tsunami. Watch this video of the cats behaving oddly right before Tsunami hit the Island:

Japan is no stranger to scenic views, weird (or interesting) themed everything. 1 post is definitely insufficient to cover its beauty. But we hope this is a good start for wanderlusters who wish to experience something different!

If you’re planning your trip to Tokyo, don’t forget to download the HHWT Travel Planner available on both Google Play for Android and the iTunes Store for iOS. You can find all of these halal food places in Tokyo and MORE on the app so you can easily add these places to your itinerary ?