Japan is often known by tourists for its most popular attractions, like Mount Fuji, the cities of Tokyo and Kyoto, and its amazing shrines and temples.
But there’s a lot more to the island nation than that.
We took a look at a Quora thread that asked, “what are some of Japan’s best kept secrets,” and rounded up some places that might not be in all the guidebooks, but are definitely worth a visit.
This small, quiet town in the Nagano Prefecture, which sits to the west of Tokyo, is the ideal place to visit if you want to experience Japan as it was centuries ago. The town used to be a stop on the Kiso Way, a trade route that stretched between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). Its wooden houses are incredibly well preserved, and since it’s located in the Kiso Valley, the scenery is also beautiful.
Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel
- kaku shinya / Flickr
This enormous underground channel is located in Saitama, about 20 miles north of Tokyo. It was built as a way to divert flood water during rain and typhoon season. There are close to four miles of tunnels that sit 50 meters under ground, as well as 59 pillars that are attached to pumps capable of dumping 200 tons of water per second into the Edo River. Tours are free, but are conducted exclusively in Japanese, so if you can, bring a native speaker with you on your visit.
- iStock / jaimax
The rain forest that sits on Yakushima Island – which is located off the southernmost tip of Kyushu Island in southeastern Japan – is a unique ecosystem that’s incredibly diverse. Yakushima boasts 1,900 species and subspecies of flora, 150 bird species, and 16 mammal species. It’s home to an ancient species of the sugi – a Japanese cedar – and it’s also a UNESCO heritage site. One step inside the forest and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a real life fairytale.
- NeilsPhotography / Flickr
Instead of going to one of the more touristy dining options near Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, join one of Japan’s “salarymen” in a standing sushi restaurant. These establishments don’t offer chopsticks or seats, but they do have good quality fish at cheaper prices. Diners can simply walk up to the bar, grab a plate of whatever looks appetizing, and then eat it right then and there.
Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku
Japan is known for its onsen – public baths that are located around the country’s numerous hot springs. Rotenburo are similar to onsen, but instead of just being a bath, these open air hot springs are usually part of a larger traditional Japanese hotel and spa. The Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku in Minakami-machi is both stunning and luxurious, and tucked away in the midst of nature.
There’s a whole etiquette for visiting the onsen (for example, bathers are supposed to be naked and wash themselves before soaking in the baths), so experiencing this is a good way to immerse yourself in Japanese culture.
- iStock/ Sean Pavone
Although rice terraces are more commonly associated with southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Bali, they exist in Japan as well. It’s worth it to take a trip out to the countryside and walk or bike through the paddies.
The terraces make for breathtaking scenery year around. Autumn is when the rice is harvested, so the crops are ripe and golden. In the summer they’re bright green, in the winter they’re usually covered in snow, and in the spring the terraces become flooded with water.
Takao Beer Mount
- Ayuru Sorawo / Flickr
Similar to a beer garden, this all you can eat and drink buffet is located on top of Mount Takao, which is part of the Meiji no Mori Takao Quasi-National Park. This is a great place to sit outside, enjoy a beer, and a great view of Tokyo. Plus, you don’t even have to hike to the top, as there’s a train that transports visitors up the mount.