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Hidden Gems in Japan

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by Jasmine Hayden (subscribe)
I am passionate about living life to its fullest. I love travelling, going on adventures and I enjoy the finer things in life.
Published January 14th 2016
Where Haiku's are poems
Ever wondered what it would be like to travel to a place that feels completely out of this world? A land filled with people and culture so incredibly different from the one you know and love? A land where it is not only accepted, but also encouraged, to wander the streets dressed up in anime-themed costumes. A country that has one of the largest population densities and yet, there is not one single person out of line. A place where slurping down your noodles as loudly as possible is considered etiquette? Welcome to Japan - the land of the Rising Sun.

While everyone has heard of the stereotypical tourist attractions in Japan, there is so much more beauty and serenity to this country that can be found on the front pages of the travel guides. Here are my five (slightly) hidden gems that will take you past the touristy photos and bucket lists, and into an immersion of true culture and a deeper understanding of what it means to be truly Japanese.

1. Hakone Open Air Museum
Hakone is a popular holiday destination with the locals and is renown for its natural hot springs "onsens" and volcanoes. It is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National park and situated less than 100km from Tokyo. While Hakone itself is a wonderful overnight trip, one spectacular attraction that must not be missed is its Open Air museum.
Hakone, Japan, Open Air Museum, Museum, Art
Hakone Open Air Museum


This museum features timeless sculptures, Picasso exhibit, paintings and pieces situated amongst the serenity of rolling hills and rivers all which marry up into a beautiful masterpiece that truly capture the essence of the Japanese 'Zen'. There are plenty of attractions for the kids so don't forget to bring them along too! For all those who are not huge art lovers (myself included), if there is ever a museum to go to, it is definitely this one so be sure to not miss it! Check out www.japan-guide.com for more information.

Hakone, Japan, Open Air Museum, Museum, Art
Hakone Open Air Museum



2. Hida Beef in Hida-Takayama
In the mountainous Hida regions of the Gifu Prefecture, there is a little town that is home to some of the highest quality beef you will ever encounter. Hida-Takayama is one of the few traditional Japanese towns that provides travellers and locals alike a glimpse back into the past. While the Old Town is an experience not to be missed, the real winner in Takayama is the Hida beef. Hida beef is not dissimilar to its more infamous cousin Kobe beef, it has that beautiful marbled appearance, it is equally as tender and still melts in your mouth. The kicker is that it is found for only a fraction of the price! The Hida cows are also purebreds and bred particularly for this purpose. High quality Hida beef can be found everywhere from street vendors to top notch restaurants so keep your eyes peeled for some serious beef! For more information, visit www.hida.jp.

3. Tuna Auction at the Tsukiji Fish Markets
While this one is not quite as hidden as the others may be, the Tuna Auction is still incredibly underrated. These markets are only a 20 min train ride from the city centre and a very worthwhile 20 min. The markets themselves are accessible most days and close around lunch however, an absolutely unique experience is to wake up before the crack of dawn at 3am and head down to the tuna auction at 3:15am (yes it is early but you wouldn't want to miss out on this experience!).

Tsukiji Fish Markets, Japan, Tuna auction
Tsukiji Fish Markets, Japan


This is the world's largest tuna auction and only the first 120 people will be allowed to enter! (Check the calendar beforehand for opening dates). It is a sight of organized mayhem, where incredibly large (and fresh) tuna is sold in a chaotic manner. You will see the buyers examine and taste the raw fish before the auctioneer begins the bidding process. It is highly recommended that you stay within walking distance of the markets as the rail lines are not yet opened and taxis can make this free experience quite pricey! 'First Cabin Tsukiji' is a capsule hotel approximately 15 min walking distance from the markets and a great open.

Tsukiji Fish Markets, Japan, Tuna auction
Tsukiji Fish Markets


4. Cherry Blossom chasing in Kakunodate
Approximately a 3.5 hour bullet train ride north-east of Tokyo lies the small town of Kakunodate. If you happen to be in Japan around in the last week of April and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Kakunodate, take the 3.5 hour train and it will be worth every minute! Slowly wander through the sleepy town along the main road towards the 1.5 km cherry blossom route.

Cherry blossom, Kakunodate, Japan
Cherry Blossom in Kakunodate


This famous route is situated by a river that runs through the town and if you are lucky enough to have come on the right weekend, you'll be treated to a local festival with school children performances, numerous street food stalls and a glimpse into the locals' life. Do as the locals do and buy a big, blue tarp, sit on the riverbank with your street food and enjoy a wonderful afternoon. If you happen to miss the full bloom (or come too early), it is also highly recommended you travel to the place with a full bloom and enjoy what makes Japan beautiful!

Cherry blossom, Kakunodate, Japan
Cherry Blossom in Kakunodate


5. Kurobe Alpine Route
This magical route takes you from Toyama, Tateyama to Nagano, Omachi in Japan via various means of transport from buses to cable-cars to pulley trains and everything in between. As you slowly make your way over, under and through the route, you come across some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenes you'll see in Japan. At all the stops along this route, you'll have the opportunity to explore the stop yourself.

Kurobe Alpine Route, Snow Corridor, Japan
Kurobe Alpine Route


Highlights include the not-to-be-missed 20 metre high snow walls, the Kurobe dam and the numerous walking trails and paths you can meander down. This route will set you back at least $130 AUD and it is only open for a certain period of time, but if you are around, the day trip is worth every penny and so much more. Check out www.alpen-route.com for more information.

So there you have it - my top five (slightly) hidden gems of Japan! These five experiences will give you something that cannot be found elsewhere in your travels and it will allow you to see more of the local way of life. You'll avoid the tourist buses and you'll be able to experience and understand the heart of Japan. So go, have fun and enjoy the land of the Rising Sun!
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Why? To get off the beaten track
When: Check websites for opening days
Where: Japan
Cost: Free - $130
Your Comment
Interesting article.Having been to Japan twice,touring around for 5 weeks each time,I found so many places I liked.Once considered too expensive,lack of English spoken there,it is now no longer the case.I was based near Nagoya,which is a nice city and central to the main island of Honshu.With the shinkansen,it will take you to the main cities quickly and the trains run many times each day.Having been there in Spring and Autumn,I slightly favour Spring...the weather is ideal.
by noelp (score: 3|1199) 1242 days ago
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