The different side to Japan you’ll discover when travelling
You may think of Japan as a futuristic haven. Sure, Tokyo has an abundance of neon lights and Harajuku girls, but the country has retained its heritage in smaller, lesser known towns, providing an opportunity to step back in time and understand the traditional Japanese cultural values. Here are just a select few places that you may not even know exist.
Disappear deep into the Japanese alps when visiting Takayama, the picturesque and undisturbed town that is blanketed with a crisp white layer of snow during the colder winter months. Riding the unhurried Wide View Hida train through the mountains to the town provides beautiful panoramas of the surrounding landscape as you ascend, adding to the area’s natural allure.
Once you arrive in Takayama, you’ll quickly soak in the traditionally laidback atmosphere, with locals strolling through the streets past the morning markets that sell fresh produce every day. There’s a plethora of temples to visit in the surrounding countryside, with the nearby town of Teramachi providing some of the best examples in a confined spot. Be sure to try some of Takayama’s Hida beef during your stay, as it’s said to be the best in all Japan.
It was once the capital of Japan – the very first, in fact. And although it no longer boasts that title, Nara is no less magnificent today. With a total of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as a wealth of cultural value, you’ll find this city provides a taste of the true Japan. It’s in Nara you’ll be able to find The Great Buddha, arguably the most famous monument in the country, that is housed in the equally impressive Todai-ji Temple.
When strolling through the town’s main streets, you’ll see a sight that to any outsider seems peculiar – herds of deer roaming freely amongst the locals. They’re domesticated and unafraid of being approached, so feel free to interact with them. There’s even a select few stalls throughout the town where you can buy special food to feed them with. It’s a strange sight, but it only serves to add to Nara’s calming aura.
Of course, you’ll absolutely be aware of Hiroshima and the devastating atomic bomb that devastated it during the Second World War. Perhaps, then, you wouldn’t consider visiting the town, but it has blossomed in the wake of the heinous disaster into something beautiful. You’re able to visit the Peace Park, Peace Museum and the Peace Memorial, all beautiful dedications to the losses suffered 70 plus years ago.
Although visiting Hiroshima is sure to be a sobering experience, it’s worth visiting just to admire the beauty that comes from such heartache. The locals today don’t pay it a second thought, even as they pass the Atomic Bomb Dome that towers over the Ota River. It stands as a symbol of incorrigible strength as well as a reminder of how Hiroshima – and Japan as a whole – suffered from the violence. Be prepared for an influx of emotions when you see it for yourself.
If you’re seeking a religious getaway, look no further. Koyasan is the hub of Japanese Buddhism, with no fewer than 117 temples open for you to visit (and perhaps stay in overnight). There’s even a mountaintop monastery to visit atop Mount Koya, where you can participate in morning prayer before sampling some traditional cuisine.
Wandering through Koyasan is an unparalleled experience, with its silent snowfall settling upon a quiet landscape largely free of tourists. Consider wandering through the massive cedar forest, where trees tower above you and seclude you from civilisation with their peaceful tranquillity. Once you’re done exploring, look into temple lodging and truly immerse yourself in the town’s religious practices.
You won’t be expecting to find somewhere like Ishigaki when travelling through Japan. The island is an untouched paradise, boasting luxurious beaches, secluded coves and cascading waterfalls that look as if they’ve been transported straight from the Southeast Asian tropics. Ishigaki’s small town isn’t anything special upon first glance, but you’ll find it’s the people here that make the location what it is. The New York Times says they greet and welcome you with an unprecedented friendliness, often suppling you with food and gifts as well as somewhere to stay.
But Ishigaki’s prominent appeal comes from the island’s nature, becoming your own personal playground as you’re free to traverse the landscape in any way you wish. Climb through the dense forests to discover an abundance of wildlife, or paraglide above the glistening waves to take in the views. You might even take up a new hobby while you’re here – Ishigaki is quickly becoming a surfing hotspot.