Japan’s hidden gems

Heading to Japan? These destinations are not on top of every run of the mill Japanese vacation itinerary but their beautiful unspoilt landscapes, rural charm or unique, authentic urban vibe will give you a glimpse into the Japanese way of living.  This is your chance to add them to your list of must-visit destinations in Japan.

1. Sapporo

Connected by an active tram line around the city, the capital of Hokkaido has a unique vibe and culture of its own. Buzzing with newfound artsy talent, the city is witnessing a revival of galleries, native shops and the café culture. Catch the Hokkaido Shinkansen, the Japanese high-speed bullet train and witness Sapporo’s distinct climate any time of the year.

Also, don’t forget to catch a taste of the Men-ichi ramen, Sapporo’s traditional noodle soup and a gulp of the local beer while you’re here.

How to reach: Approximately 4 hrs. from Tokyo by the Hokkaido Shinkansen

Where to stay: Find a cozy, comfortable home away from home in Sapporo. Cook a hearty meal,  relax at the end of a hectic day and save on uber-expensive hotel accomodation.

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2. Okinawa

Deeply affected by the II World War, this little tropical paradise has only recently become accessible to tourists. You can still get an essence of the past through the temples, historic sites and local village catchments that line this beachy town. Okinawa is also the birthplace of Karate, and you must make a trip to the local museum dedicated to this ancient martial art form. If you’re lucky, you could also catch Japan’s most cherished flower, the Sakura in full bloom from the early winter months right through April only in Okinawa.

How to reach: Approximately 2 hrs. from Tokyo to Okinawa by flight

Where to stay: From a seaside wood house to modern apartment rooms, there are several smart accomodation options to make your stay pleasant and enjoyable.

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3. Niseko

A small mountain town near the dormant Mt. Yotei volcano, Niseko is a dream vacation spot for snow lovers. With a background of snow-capped peaks, interposed by the white-water rapids of the Shiribetsu river, you’re certain to be spell-bound. The effect of the silent, soft ‘champagne snow’ falling on stone paths can only experienced. You could also go for a ski through these powder-snow slopes among pine trees to really consume the rustic beauty of the place. The best part is, Niseko has a host of tourist-friendly, hot spring resorts or onsen, to welcome you to experience its winter charm.

How to reach: Overnight journey from Tokyo to Niseko by train

Where to stay: Search for beautiful forest hideaways, luxurious mountain view chalets and gorgeous accomodation options that are a far cry from boring hotel rooms at HomeAway.

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4. Otaru

This romantic town located on a winding canal lined with gas-lit street lights, is known as Japan’s very own Venice. Formerly a fishing processing unit, many of the old brick facade warehouses have been converted into local cafes and restaurants; reflecting the free, easy culture of a tourist town. The local Otaru folk have also picked up an interest in the Venetian art of glass blowing. You can explore some of the glass-blowing exhibitions frequently held in the city or pick up a glass memorabilia for your collection back home.

How to reach: Approximately 1 hr 35 min from Tokyo by flight

Where to stay: Whether you are looking for a budget 1 bedroom apartment or luxurious space with enough room for groups, you are sure to find a comfortable place to stay here.

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5. Shiba

Located in Central Tokyo, you just need to take a walk through Shiba district to get a first-hand feel of local Japanese architecture and history. Set amidst corporate skyscrapers and buzzing city-life, you can take pictures in front of the iconic Tokyo Tower and make your way to Zojoji Temple across the street. From there you just need to hop into the Meishu Centre to get a taste of the local safe and visit the Seaside Observatory for a top view of the entire city. There’s nothing like doing your own exploring when in a new country, and Shiba offers the perfect setting for it.

How to reach: Approximately 16 min. walk to Tokyo Tower from closest subway

Where to stay: Shibuya is a great base for travelling to Shiba and to other parts of Tokyo. Find all the comforts of a modern home by choosing a vacation city rental.

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6. Kobe

With its carefree, cosmopolitan vibe and welcoming nature, Kobe still retains its age-old charm of being a people pleaser. As the gateway for traders in the olden days, this harbor is still home to a number of established, high-quality pubs, cafes and restaurants. The delectable, marbled beef and local sake are local favorites that you’re bound to enjoy no matter which joint you step into. The bustling nightlife and friendly locals make Kobe that much more enjoyable.

How to reach: Kobe is around 29 kilometers from Osaka.  The shinkansen from Osaka takes between 20 to 30 minutes.

Where to stay: Kobe is a day trip from Osaka. Staying in Osaka also gives you access to a variety of comfortable options to suit every budget.

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7. Yokohama

One of the first ports of Japan to open for foreign trade, Yokohama has a vibrant tourist culture and local attractions. Along with strolling down the bay front and exploring the art and cuisine of this region, you mustn’t miss visiting the Sankei-en Garden. This traditional Japanese style garden houses architectural treasures from past eras. Post sunset, Yokohama has an electrifying vibe, and gives the perfect setting to meet expats, make new local friends and enjoy the locally brewed sake.

How to reach: Approximately 20 minute train ride from central Tokyo

Where to stay: You can either stay in Yokohama or base yourself in Tokyo and make a day trip.

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