Discover a place for every pace
Hidden in plain sight amongst the 47 prefectures is another side of Japan that’s waiting to be explored. Here are just five of the lesser-known regions in which you can experience a Japan few know, and find a speed of life that speaks to you.
Only a short trip from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo is a prefecture famous for some of the best cherry blossoms, ski fields and fruit and sake in the country.
Explore a collection of lakes and ponds in Bandai-Asahi National Park in Fukushima, each with their own kaleidoscopic hues that change with the seasons, weather, and angle of view.
A privately owned farmland that has been open to the public since 1959, Hanamiyama (‘Flower Viewing Mountain’) Park boasts walking paths lined with a wide variety of blossoms including cherry, plum and forsythia.
Known as the Mt. Fuji of Aizu, this sacred peak is a skiing and boarding wonderland in the winter, and a hiker’s paradise in spring and autumn.
Fukushima’s natural environment, quality ingredients and traditional techniques combine to create the world’s best sake. In 2019, sake from Fukushima Prefecture won the most gold prizes at the Japan Sake Awards for record-breaking 7th year in a row.
Fill your fruit bowl! Pick strawberries in the winter, cherries and peaches in the summer and apples in the autumn.
Step back in time through a traditional Edo townscape known for its handmade soba noodles. The post town is filled with buildings dating back over 300 years with traditional thatched roofs.
A medieval castle town famous for its traditional crafts and passionate loyalty to its samurai. Do not miss the Soma Nomaoi festival, a 1000 year old samurai tradition that happens on the last weekend of July.
One of Japan’s three most famous ramen traditions alongside Sapporo in Hokkaido and Hakata in Kyushu, Kitakata serves more ramen per capita than any other town in Japan. The ramen is characterised by its thick, flat, curly noodles and a soy sauce based broth. Learn how to make your own bowl at home with a ramen-making cooking class!
How to get there
Fukushima is easily accessible from Tokyo via the JR Tohoku Shinkansen in around 90 minutes, as well as highway buses and by car. Fukushima Airport is located in the centre of Fukushima Prefecture, providing easy access to the sea, inland and Aizu. Shuttle buses run from the airport to Iwaki and Koriyama stations.
Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes in the heart of Japan, Gunma is a natural playground revered for its hot springs and outdoor hotspots.
Gunma is home to many hot spring resorts including Kusatsu, Ikaho and Minakami Onsen. Kusatsu Onsen is considered one of Japan’s three most renowned onsen along with Arima and Gero and consistently takes out the top spot in onsen rankings in Japan. Ikaho Onsen appeared in the Manyoshu (the oldest existing collection of poems in Japan) and is famous for its golden-coloured hot spring water. Minakami Onsen area alone has nine hot spring resorts, including Takaragawa and Tanigawa Onsen. Takaragawa Onsen boasts the largest open-air bath in all of Japan.
Come and play in nature’s playground! Enjoy adventure sports all year round with winter sports, bungee jumping, canyoning and canoeing.
Sweet grilled skewered buns glazed with a rich miso paste. You won’t find them anywhere else!
Admire the fresh greenery of early summer and the vivid autumn leaves from this lush valley in the middle of the Watarase River.
Watch the summer night sky light up with spectacular fireworks timed to surround sound music.
How to get there
Gunma Prefecture is accessible via bullet train from Tokyo to Takasaki in around 1 hour. The hot spring resort areas can generally be reached by expressway buses from Tokyo or Shinjuku stations, or a combination of train and bus.
Snow sports and sake reign supreme in this regional gem of Japan.
A mountain paradise famous for its historic hot spring resort, numerous ski fields and exciting events such as the Yuzawa Onsen Snow Festival in winter and Fuji Rock Festival in summer.
Home to the fairytale-like Hoshitoge rice terraces that are set in one of Japan’s most renowned gorges and the Tokamachi Snow Festival in winter.
Ponshukan Sake Museum
Immerse yourself in Niigata’s famous elixir with sake baths, sake tasting and even sake vending machines!
Takada Cherry Blossom Festival
One of the world’s top 5 flower festivals featuring roughly 4,000 cherry trees illuminated by thousands of lanterns in the evenings.
Two hours by ferry from Niigata’s coast is an island retreat best known for its gold mine history, Osada Skyline driving route and dynamic taiko drumming group, Kodo. Each year the island hosts Earth Celebration, a music festival which brings together performing arts talent from Japan and abroad.
How to get there
You can reach various parts of Niigata Prefecture on the JR Joetsu or Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo in around 90 minutes. The ski resorts of Echigo-Yuzawa are just over an hour from Tokyo on the Joetsu Line, plus up to a 30 minute shuttle bus ride depending on the resort. The easiest resort to access from Tokyo is Gala Yuzawa, directly connected by the Joetsu Shinkansen in 90 minutes. You can also reach Niigata by highway bus or car, or fly into Niigata Airport from most domestic airports.
This has to be one of Japan’s most enchanting prefectures, steeped in natural beauty, traditional fine arts and some of the most captivating modern museums in Japan.
Traditional Japanese crafts
Ishikawa is famous for its gold leaf and lacquerware as well as its Kutani porcelain ware and renowned Kaga dyed silk.
Go hot spring hopping through four hot spring villages! Set in lush countryside, each village offers healing onsen waters, traditional inns, nature walks and delicious regional specialties.
One of Japan’s three most famous gardens that once belonged to the Maeda family, Kenrokuen has everything a garden needs to be enjoyed through every season.
Explore fishing villages, terraced rice fields and the freshest seafood at the vibrant Wajima morning market.
Explore Kanazawa’s sprawling marketplace — an ideal spot for curious foodies.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
A contemporary art museum designed by renowned Japanese architects. Famous exhibits include Leandro Erlich’s “Swimming pool” and James Turrell’s “Blue Planet Sky”.
Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art
Check out the exquisite pieces representing Ishikawa’s cultural heritage, as well as some contemporary works of art.
How to get there
Ishikawa’s capital of Kanazawa is accessible by bullet train from Tokyo in 2 hours 30 minutes, and JR limited express trains from Osaka and Kyoto. Two airports serve the prefecture, Komatsu Airport and Noto Satoyama Airport. Highway buses are an alternative transit option from most major cities.
This is where world-class skiing and snowboarding happens. But perfectly-powdered slopes aren’t the only thing Nagano is known for.
Ski slopes and resorts
There are 85+ ski resorts catering to every taste and skill level. And when you’re not hitting the slopes, there are plenty of winter activities such as the Nozawa Fire Festival and the Shimotsuki Matsuri.
Visit the perfectly-preserved villages of Tsumago and Narai that look like they’ve been plucked straight from a samurai film! These post towns are dotted along the Nakasendo, an ancient highway which once connected Tokyo and Kyoto.
The jewel of the Japan Alps, Kamikochi boasts panoramic mountain vistas that you need to see to believe. Part of the Chubu Sangaku National Park, it’s a paradise for hikers and popular during the summer holidays from mid-July through to August and during the autumn foliage season in October.
A moody medieval fortress that’s a national treasure and one of Japan’s finest castles.
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
This unique attraction gives you a chance to see the usually elusive creatures up close in their natural environment as they warm up in the hot springs.
How to get there
The JR Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo is the easiest way to access Nagano Station. Central Nagano, including Matsumoto, is a direct JR limited express train ride from Shinjuku Station, in Tokyo, or Nagoya Station, in Aichi Prefecture. Highway buses run from many other cities around the country.