When we talk about visiting Japan, everybody thinks about Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and the such. Visiting the SkyTree Tower, the Tokyo Tower, the main temples and shrines, the famous Japanese gardens… There’s a lot to visit.
However, living in Japan, you can discover more places. Some of which deserving to be visited even if you’re only passing by.
Here are my 5 favorites spots on the roads less traveled of Japan.
1. 等持院 (Toji-in temple) — Kyoto
When you think Kyoto, you’re certainly thinking of the Golden Pavillon, the Silver Pavillon, the Bamboo forest, and the red Torii (red Japanese doors) path at the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
All those, while beautiful, are a constant see of people. You can say goodbye to the calm you expect of Japan.
Yet, a 10-minute walk away south of the Golden Pavillon will bring you to this small Japanese zen garden where you will find peace and wonder. No matter the season, it is always empty and offers a relaxing change of pace.
You can take a stroll around the garden before sitting and getting some tea while enjoying the calm found there.
To this day, this is my favorite spot in Japan. Even though every time I went there, it was either raining or cloudy!
If you’re planning on going there, be careful not to end up at the Toji Temple (東寺) which is a widely different one! Sure, it’s nice too, but don’t expect calm over there.
If you can’t go there, then at least take a look at how the four seasons express themselves on the temple’s website, here.
2. Yūtoku Inari Shrine (祐徳稲荷神社) — Kashima
Spending a few weeks in Japan? Then head for the west, toward Fukuoka. There is a lot to see over there, such as the Nanzoin Temple with its famous reclining Buddha that weighs 300 tons.
If you want to experience more calm, beautiful scenery, and even do some legwork, you should go to the Yūtoku Inari Shrine close to Saga. (Have a look at Google’s pictures if you want to see what it’s like on a Sunny day.)
Due to its location, a bit inconvenient to reach, it is almost always empty and you can see the monks’ real daily life unfolding while taking a stroll. At the top of this hill, you can even have an exquisite view of the sea.
3. Hokokuji Temple (報国寺) — Kamakura
Don’t have enough time to go on the other side of Japan? No worries, there are still gems around Tokyo, too!
A 15-minute walk will get you to the Hokokuji Temple. This minuscule temple showcases a well-organized garden along with a bamboo grove. No need to go to the far-away Arashiyama bamboo grove in Kyoto anymore!
Don’t even have the time to go there? Well then, enjoy the seasonal pictures on the temple’s website.
If you’re still feeling energetic, go up the Kinubariyama mountain (衣張山) right next to the temple. Nobody goes up so you’ll have a nice and short hike for yourself. At the top, you will be able to enjoy a pleasing view of the bay.
4. Mount Sekiro (石老山) — Sagami
Do you want to hike some more? Then, take a train to the Sagami lake. From there, head to Mount Sekiro. You can enjoy a 4-hour long hike on an easy trail. Back when I did it in 2015, I crossed paths with 2 couples only and was able to enjoy the mountain’s serene atmosphere.
When you reach the top, have more luck than I did and appreciate the view of Mount Fuji overlooking the other mountains.
5. Nezu Museum (根津美術館) — Tokyo
Now, this is not a really hidden gem per se, but it might be for you. The Nezu Museum is a rather small museum situated within Tokyo. If you’re interested in Asian and Japanese pre-modern art, it’s certainly on your “to-go” list. But if not, here’s why you should drop by too.
The building itself was designed by the famous architect Kengo Kuma, famous for using a lot of wood in his buildings. The outside of the museum is thus already a view to enjoy.
However, what I consider as a hidden gem is the museum’s Japanese garden. In Tokyo, there are many Japanese zen gardens but most are always full, thus lowering the quality of the experience.
The Nezu Museum garden? Always almost empty! As a result, you can enter a magical haven of peace while still in the center of Tokyo. Who wouldn’t want to experience that?
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are many other places deserving your time in Japan! But if you have some time to go outside the beaten tracks, don’t hesitate for a second. You won’t regret it.
And, of course, if you know of more hidden gems, let me know!