Immerse Yourself in Art and History: Unveiling Tokyo's Museum at the Imperial Palace - Treasures of the Imperial Family at Sannomaru Shozokan

Experience 10 of Japan's Most Underrated Travel Destinations in 2024

This service includes sponsored advertisements.
article thumbnail image

Japan is home to both very famous and lesser-known spots. We introduce 10 destinations that deserve more attention from visitors such as the sacred sites of Ise Jingu and Izumo Taisha or the nature and history-rich islands of Sado, Oki, Niijima, and others!

Latest update :

Japan is renowned worldwide for its iconic cities and incredibly photogenic locations, and visitors flock every year to hugely popular sights in major tourist areas such as Tokyo and Kyoto.

However, some of the country’s most breathtaking and historically important sites tend to be overlooked! Below we list 10 of Japan’s most underrated locations.

10 Underrated Destinations in Japan

1. Amanohashidate and Kyoto’s Coastline
2. Ise Jingu Grand Shrine
3. Izumo Taisha
4. Takachiho Gorge
5. Zamami
6. Nagasaki
7. Niijima
8. The Shiretoko Peninsula
9. Sado Island
10. The Oki Islands

1. Amanohashidate and Kyoto’s Coastline

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA

Kyoto is no doubt one of the most popular destinations in the country for both overseas and domestic tourists - its wealth of heritage sites and rich history and culture attract scores of visitors throughout the year.

However many completely overlook its northern coastal area, and often don’t even realize that the prefecture in fact has a coastline, which happens to be home to some of Japan’s most stunning views.

Kyoto’s Amanohashidate (‘Heaven’s Bridge’) is heralded as one of Japan’s three most beautiful sights. The stunning tree-covered sandbar stretches out into Miyazu Bay, and is said to resemble a bridge between heaven and earth. The view of the sandbar is truly stunning,

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA

Located just 20 minutes by car from Amanohashidate is the quaint, picturesque coastal town of Ine. Often nicknamed “the Venice of Japan”, Ine is known for its traditional funaya boathouses, which appear to float on the water, creating an unforgettable sight. Some of the funaya now function as guesthouses, offering a truly unique stay to guests. Being a traditional fishing village, Ine offers a fantastic window onto traditional lifestyles in Japan.

2. Ise Jingu Grand Shrine

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA

Famous as a spiritual site in Japan yet often overlooked by visitors from overseas, Ise Jingu (the Ise Grand Shrine) in Mie Prefecture is said to be Japan’s most sacred place, and its importance as a Shinto site cannot be overstated.

Located within an ancient forest, the shrine complex is truly massive, covering about a quarter of Ise City and is approximately equal in size to half the area of Paris. The complex is home to 125 individual shrines.

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA

The Naiku (inner shrine), the most important building within the complex, is believed to have been originally constructed in the 4th century, and the shrine complex’s history is believed to stretch back as far as 2000 years. The sun goddess Amaterasu, one of Shinto’s most important deities, is enshrined within the Naiku.

Every year visitors from all over Japan flock to the shrine to experience its spiritual energy.

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA

Located at the coastline not far from Ise Jingu are the sacred Meoto Iwa, or Wedded Rocks. The rocks are said to represent the married deities Izanagi and Izanami, and are connected by a shimenawa; a sacred Shinto straw rope. Between May and July the sun rises between them, creating an absolutely spectacular sight.

For those interested in Shinto and who want to get in touch with the deeply spiritual aspects of Japan’s culture, a visit to Ise Jingu is an absolute must.

3. Izumo Taisha

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA

This is another incredible location that is very famous in Japan, but often overlooked by overseas visitors! Located in Shimane Prefecture, Izumo Taisha is considered to be one of Japan’s most important shrines, as well as potentially being its oldest.

According to myth, Izumo Taisha’s enshrined deity is Okuninushi, the god that created the Japanese archipelago. The shrine is also hugely famous for being the place where all the Shinto deities from across the country gather for an annual meeting.

The shrine’s main hall is the tallest of all shrine buildings in Japan, standing at an impressive 24 meters.

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA

One of Izumo Taisha’s most distinctive features is the truly massive ‘shimenawa’, or sacred Shinto straw rope, hanging at the entrance of its Kagura Hall. Its buildings are constructed in magnificent traditional architectural styles, and the main hall is constructed in the ancient ‘taisha-zukuri’ style, the oldest architectural tradition for Shinto shrines.

Whether you’re in search of history, incredible traditional architecture or spiritualism, there are few places in Japan that can rival Izumo Taisha.

4. Takachiho Gorge

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA

Japan’s southern Kyushu island is rich with natural scenery, and Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki Prefecture is considered to be one of the region’s most spectacular natural sights. The ravine’s immense, imposing volcanic basalt walls were formed by the eruptions of Mount Aso more than 100,000 years ago.

The Gokase River flows through the ravine, creating a stunning emerald green waterway, and the 17 meter high Minainotaki Falls flows into it, offering visitors a truly breathtaking sight.

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA

A popular way to experience the gorge is to embark on a boat ride through the chasm, experiencing the incredible scenery of the basalt walls up close. Incredible views from above can be experienced by walking the trails at the top of the ravine.

The area is also known for its shrines and traditional inns, and a visit to Takachiho is a must for all nature lovers who journey to Kyushu.

5. Zamami

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA

Part of the Kerama Island chain and located in Japan’s southernmost Okinawa region, Zamami is nothing short of a tropical paradise.

Okinawa is famed for its tropical beaches, and many of those searching for sea, sand and sun head to the region’s more famous Main Island and Ishigaki Island, both home to countless beach resorts. However, Zamami offers equally stunning beaches, is arguably more unspoiled, and is also incredibly easy to access!

The island can be reached from Okinawa’s capital Naha within less than 1 hour by high-speed ferry., and flight connections between Naha and Tokyo are frequent and often very reasonably priced.

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA
The area is famed for its sparkling clear waters, which are perfect for snorkeling and diving, and it is home to tropical fish and sea turtles. It’s also famous for whale watching, and visitors can take part in boat tours to see the region's incredible humpback whales.

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA
Zamami is also a great starting point for accessing the other Kerama Islands, many of which offer rugged scenery and an unspoiled atmosphere. Five minutes by boat are two uninhabited islands, Agenashiku and Gahi, which both offer wild, truly unspoiled nature.

6. Nagasaki

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Dejima. Image courtesy of PIXTA
The next location on our list is not so much a single spot as it is an entire prefecture, but it definitely deserves a special mention!!

Though often being left off of visitors’ itineraries, Nagasaki is known for its rich and complex history, as well as being home to an incredible wealth of stunning natural scenery!

Nagasaki is perhaps most well known around the world for being the site of one of the most horrific and tragic events in human history - the atomic bombing of Nagasaki city, which took place shortly after the devastating atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

The prefecture's history is truly unique, which has perhaps contributed to its unique character.

During Japan’s period of seclusion (spanning from 1603 until 1868), it was home to the only port which permitted foreign ships to enter, located at the artificial island Dejima. A reconstruction of this port can still be visited today.

It was also home to Japan’s most notable underground Christian communities, at a time when Christians were openly persecuted. The prefecture is home to several UNESCO registered Christian sites, dating between the 17th and 19th century.

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Tatsunoshima, Iki. Image courtesy of PIXTA
Perhaps one of Nagasaki’s highlights is the sheer number of unique islands along the prefecture’s coast, each with their own distinctive history, culture and scenery.

Popularized worldwide in the recent video game Ghost of Tsushima, the real life island of Tsushima is home to breathtaking scenery and a unique culture formed by influences from all over Asia. Nearby Iki Island is also incredibly beautiful, and is home to a huge number of sacred spots as well as the massive Kurosaki Gun Battery, which resembles something from a post-apocalyptic movie.

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Image courtesy of PIXTA

The eerie, abandoned Gunkanjima or 'Battleship Island' (officially known as Hashima) offers visitors even more post-apocalyptic scenery, and is the most well known of Nagasaki's over 500 uninhabited islands.

Experience 6 of Japan's Most Underrated Travel Destinations!

Image courtesy of PIXTA

The Goto Islands were once home to one of Nagasaki’s largest underground Christian communities, and like Iki and Tsushima the islands are also renowned for their natural beauty and unique cultural traditions.

Another important point to highlight - many don’t realize that Nagasaki boasts some of Japan’s most stunning beaches! Often overlooked in favor of summer getaways to sunny Okinawa, many of Nagasaki’s beaches not only promise crystal clear waters and white sands, but are also incredibly unspoiled. The aforementioned Iki, Tsushima and Goto Islands are all home to incredible turquoise waters and truly stunning white sand coastlines.

6 of Japan's Most Underrated Locations

Miuda Beach, Tsushima (Image courtesy of PIXTA)

Perhaps not quite as impressive as the above mentions but still worth noting - Nagasaki is home to the expansive and somewhat bizarre Huis Ten Bosch theme park, which is basically a recreation of a 17th century town in the Netherlands (complete with windmills and tulips). The theme park is Japan’s largest, and was famously the location of the first Hen Na Hotel - often referred to as the ‘Robot Hotel’ outside of Japan due to it being completely staffed by - you guessed it - robots.

7. Niijima

Experience 8 of Japan's Most Underrated Travel Destinations in 2023!

Image courtesy of PIXTA

Though it may not be filled with world heritage sites, there’s just something about the remote island of Niijima that makes visitors feel as though they’ve temporarily stepped out of reality, and after even a short stay you’ll find yourself not wanting to ever leave this strange little island.

One of the seven volcanic Izu Islands, Niijima is actually a part of Tokyo, yet feels like it inhabits a totally different universe from the bustling capital. Boasting glittering blue seas, white sand beaches, natural hot springs and stunning natural scenery, the island’s charm is undeniable.

Experience 8 of Japan's Most Underrated Travel Destinations in 2023!

Image courtesy of PIXTA

Niijima is known for its Koga stone, a volcanic rock only found there and on one other island, in Italy. You’ll find many charming, bizarre, and captivating stone sculptures dotted around the entire island. These sculptures take on many forms - from cubes to animals to enigmatic stone heads that look like they may have come from Easter Island.

Niijima is also famed for its exquisite glassware, which often incorporates organic shapes and a distinctive green color. Each year the Niijima Glass Art Center holds the Niijima International Glass Art Festival, where renowned glass artists from all over Japan and the world gather, host workshops and present their stunning glass creations.

Experience 8 of Japan's Most Underrated Travel Destinations in 2023!

Image courtesy of PIXTA

One must see spot on the island is the unique open air hot spring facility, Yunohama Roten Onsen. Just like everything else on Niijima, this facility is filled with character. Modeled to look like Greek ruins, it is open 24/7, 7 days a week, is completely free to enter and offers bathers stunning views of both the ocean below and the skies above.

Located just 30 minutes by boat from Niijima is Shikinejima, another tiny island rich is natural beauty and with its own unique atmosphere. A day trip to Shikinejima is a must if you’re staying on Niijima, and it is home to the stunning Tomari Beach.

Experience 8 of Japan's Most Underrated Travel Destinations in 2023!

Image courtesy of PIXTA

Niijima is most easily accessed from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Passenger Ship Terminal, via either overnight ferry (approximately 10 hours 30 minutes) or high speed jet foil (approximately 3 hours). Though the jet foil is considerably faster, the larger overnight ferry is certainly an experience, and many passengers traveling in the warmer months forgo seats during their trip to ‘camp out’ on deck under the stars.

8. The Shiretoko Peninsula

Experience 6 of Japan's Most Underrated Travel Destinations!

Image courtesy of PIXTA

For those nature lovers who truly wish to escape into the wilderness, there is perhaps not place in Japan better than the Shiretoko Peninsula.

Located in Japan’s northernmost Hokkaido region, the remote peninsula is home to the expansive Shiretoko National Park, a vast volcanic landscape made up of unspoiled nature.

The area provides the habitat for an incredible array of wildlife, which includes deer, foxes, brown bears, extremely rare birds and whales.

Experience 6 of Japan's Most Underrated Travel Destinations!

Image courtesy of PIXTA

It is home to two massive, incredibly rare species of bird; the Blakiston’s fish owl (the world’s largest species of owl) and Steller’s sea eagle. To catch sight of either of these Goliath bird species is considered a huge privilege by bird enthusiasts. The Shiretoko Peninsula is also famed for whale watching, and eager visitors embark on boat trips to see the majestic killer whales and sperm whales which live off its coastline.

Experience 6 of Japan's Most Underrated Travel Destinations!

Image courtesy of PIXTA

Shiretoko is also one of the few areas where people can experience drift ice - off the coast of the hot spring town Utoro.

Visitors can see the eerie, almost otherworldly sight of a frozen sea, and essentially ‘walk on water’ if they choose to embark on a guided stroll along the floating sheets of ice.

Hokkaido is home to what is considered to be Japan’s best and freshest sea food, and incredible dishes using salmon, salmon roe, sea urchin and more can be enjoyed in the towns of Utoro and Rausu.

Experience 6 of Japan's Most Underrated Travel Destinations!

Oshinkoshin Falls (image courtesy of PIXTA)

Shiretoko is said to have been referred to as the ‘end of the earth’ by the Ainu people, and the peninsula feels worlds apart from ordinary urban civilization.

9. Sado Island

The Gateway to the Sea of Japan! 8 Spots to Experience Niigata City and Sado Island

Sado Island was a place of exile in ancient times, then it became renowned for its abundant gold reserves during the Edo period (1603-1868) when it evolved into a special domain directly governed by the shogunate.

Today, Sado entices travelers with its splendid natural scenery, rejuvenating hot springs, and delectable seafood delights.

10 Spots To Experience Niigata And Sado Island By The Sea Of Japan

One of the island's highlights is the Sado Kinzan Gold Mine, nestled beneath the iconic Doyu no Warito mountain, renowned for its extensive history and contribution to Japan’s economic development.

The mine is now a museum and you can delve underground to explore the old tunnels used for mining, now adorned with lifelike animatronics showcasing the miners' lives. The mine offers stunning vistas of the split mountain and presents remnants of the former ore transportation system.

sado

Additionally, the industrial Kitazawa Flotation Plant, an architectural marvel from the late 1930s, enhanced ore extraction processes and supported wartime efforts. This site, along with remnants of the expansive mining industry, such as the Sado Magistrate’s Office, provide a poignant insight into the island's rich history.

To witness a fascinating light show, visit the Kitazawa Flotation Plant after sunset, where its brilliance under the night sky promises an enchanting experience. Explore the legacy of Sado Island through its captivating gold mines and industrial relics, offering a captivating journey into the region's unique heritage.

10. The Oki Islands

Experience 8 of Japan's Most Underrated Travel Destinations in 2024

The Oki Islands, situated off the coast of Shimane Prefecture, offer rare and breathtaking landscapes accessible solely by ferry or plane. Comprising 180 uninhabited islands, notably Dogo and Dozen, these creations from around six million years ago showcase rugged shores, crystal waters, and mesmerizing sunsets that enchant visitors with their natural splendor.

This hidden gem in Shimane, nestled in the Sea of Japan, mesmerizes with its tranquil villages and deep-rooted connections to Japanese poetry. As a sanctuary for nature enthusiasts, these islands beckon with a leisurely pace of life, far from bustling city sounds, providing an escape rich in unspoiled beauty.

A 3-Day Outdoor Retreat On Japan's Remote Oki Islands

Visitors can experience the enchanting allure of the Ama-cho district on the Oki Islands, a peaceful refuge where one can relax amidst nature's embrace. Engage in activities such as fishing, cycling, or leisurely strolls, immersing yourself in the unique local charm that defines the essence of Ama-cho.

amambow

While exploring the Kuniga Coast trail from Kuniga Bay Carpark, marvel at iconic landmarks like the Tsutenkyo Arch and the awe-inspiring Matengai Cliff, standing tall as one of Japan's highest sea cliffs. These natural wonders, sculpted by time and the elements, create a captivating vista against the sea's backdrop.

Embarking on an adventure in Oki entails island-hopping, coastal treks, savoring local cuisine, and engaging in cultural immersions. Whether hiking, exploring, or partaking in distinctive experiences, a sojourn to the Oki Islands promises a seamless blend of outdoor escapades and peaceful moments, revealing the untouched charm of this isolated paradise.

Step off the Beaten Path and Experience a Different Side of Japan!

The above is just a quick peek at some of Japan’s hugely underrated travel locations, and visitors will also be enchanted by the breathtaking beauty of the northern area of Tohoku or the incredible history and temples of Shikoku! The country’s countless other small islands also offer visitors the opportunity to escape to a whole new world!

So take the opportunity to step off the beaten track and explore all the unique destinations Japan has to offer!

Written by

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting. Some of our articles contain affiliate links. We kindly ask our readers to exercise careful judgement when making a purchase or booking a service online.