Off the Beaten Track
Undoubtedly, the two most popular destinations in Japan are Tokyo and Kyoto. When many people think of traveling in Japan they instinctively imagine the vibrant ambiance of modern Tokyo or the warm embrace of Kyoto and its ancient temples. Nevertheless, while these places remain extremely popular many tourists are choosing to eschew conventional tours and locations to travel farther afield. There are many things that attract people to Japan, and some of the more interesting ones may be found off the beaten track.
One of the most remote places in Japan is actually part of Tokyo: the volcanic islands of Ogasawara National Park, which have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The only way to get to these islands is by a ferry that leaves from Tokyo; however, the Ogasawara ferry is a long twenty five hour journey each way, unlike Kyoto, which can be as little as about two hours and twenty minutes away on the Shinkansen. That is because these islands lie in the middle of the Pacific Ocean over 600 miles south of the city. The archipelago offers visitors a relaxing getaway from the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital and are a popular tourist destination due to their world class diving spots, crystal clear waters, and numerous coral reefs.
Japan is a nation of islands, and some of the smallest and least populated ones are attracting a lot of attention for their populations of cats and rabbits. Some examples include Tashirojima near Sendai, Enoshima off the coast of Kamakura, Okishima located in Lake Biwa, and Aoshima in Ehime Prefecture. These islands, among others, are home to throngs of cats that were often brought in to help control vermin. Having long ago achieved their goal, the cats now chase after adoring tourists who come from all over to play with and feed them. Rabbit lovers can visit Okunoshima near Hiroshima, where the wild rabbits bounce towards visitors of all kinds.
Animals are not the only things that draw visitors to Japan’s remote islands. In the Seto Inland Sea there is a group of islands that have been transformed into art havens. One of the islands, Naoshima, has gained a particularly favorable reputation. The galleries and artwork all over the island have garnered international attention as well as thoroughly transformed the economy of the island over the past few decades. The creative presentation of contemporary, surreal, and experimental art on Naoshima and its sister islands provide a refreshing experience for even the most seasoned art lovers. Art has also flourished in the countryside. There are numerous small art museums across the country and even a town that has been transformed into a work of art by scarecrow dolls that breathe life into its environs and attract curious tourists.
For visitors looking to get a glimpse of the past, Japan offers a wide variety of historical experiences. For example, many cities have preserved Edo and Meiji era historical areas and opened them to the public. Some examples include the Kakunodate Samurai Residences and the storehouses and merchant homes of the Bikan Chiku historical area in Kurashiki. Tourists can also visit preserved post towns like Ouchi-Juku that were located along the roadways that connected Japan before the advent of the motor vehicle.
There are also many options for tourists who want to experience the more rural side of Japan. There are a number of ways to do this, such as staying at a kokuminshukusha, or a People's Lodge. These accommodations are built in locations that are full of natural beauty, like national parks. Another way to gain a unique experience is to try shukubo, or temple lodging. For those who wish to have a more hands on vacation, many places across the country offer farm stays where guests can live and work on a farm. To learn more, the Japanese National Tourism Organization has a site where you can search for kokuminshukusha and shukubo, among other kinds of accommodations, here: http://www.jnto.go.jp/ja-search/eng/unique-accommodations.php