July 20, 2024

The best places to visit in Japan shouldn’t be limited to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. While the popular triangle is certainly convenient—and memorable—for visitors, there’s so much more to the Land of the Rising Sun than these three major cities. In fact, Japan’s true beauty lies in the rural destinations that make up the majority of the country, along with secondary and tertiary metropolises that offer a less, shall we say, traveled opportunity to view the culture.

Once you’ve ventured away from the popular trio, you’ll find yourself craving for more. Alluring landscapes that transform with the seasons, small towns embalmed in the past, the healing powers of natural wonders, and highly regional cuisine are just the tip of the iceberg. Where to start? Well, really, anywhere. Randomly point to a town on a map and you’ll probably fall in love. But if that’s too intimidating, here are 10 of the best places to visit in Japan that you probably haven’t heard of yet.

The Nakasendo Trail

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Photo: Getty Images

Thanks to the recent FX hit Shōgun, interest in feudal Japan has reached an all-time high. Walk back in time on the Nakasendo Trail, a 17th-century route that samurai once used to travel between Kyoto and present-day Tokyo. Along the route, several well-preserved post towns offer a glimpse back into the Edo Period, and majestic mountain landscapes serve as the backdrop to traditional timber buildings and cobblestone roads. Two of the most popular and picturesque post towns are Magome and Tsumago, but it’s also worth venturing to some of the others like Narai and Kiso-Fukushima. Hiking at least a section of the route is the best way to get a sense of this piece of history. You can visit centuries-old rest stops for tea—or even umeshu (plum wine)—along the way. If you want to take a more leisurely approach, a local train also stops at some of these idyllic villages.

Where to stay:

Opened in 2021, Byaku Narai is the only luxury boutique hotel that’s set directly along the Nakasendo Trail. Spread across four meticulously restored machiya (traditional wood homes) in its namesake town, you’ll find 16 individually designed rooms with sumptuous touches like self-filling tubs or open-air baths, locally made lacquerware, and spacious courtyards with manicured gardens. The on-site Kura restaurant is also not to be missed, with a menu overseen by chef Zaiyu Hasegawa of accolade-decorated Den in Tokyo and dishes that highlight the abundance of the Kiso Valley. If you’re traveling with a larger group and looking for an exclusive-use villa that includes experiences and a private chef, Zenagi, located in a rural area of Nagiso, can accommodate up to 12 guests.

Sapporo

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Photo: Getty Images

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