Skyscrapers, ski fields and temples. Yes, Japan is home to some of the world’s most technologically advanced cities, the best ski fields and beautiful historic districts, but there is so much more on offer. It’s never been easier for Australians to see Japan in all its glory – that means getting away from the tourist hot spots and into regions that are still free from crowds but are full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
Where to start? Hokkaido Prefecture and the Kansai region are two very good places to begin. We’re taking you on a tour of the 10 best places to visit in these two beautiful areas:
1. CupNoodles Museum, Ikeda (Osaka)
The humble cup of noodles; convenient snack in the office or main diet staple for university students around the world, was born in Ikeda, half an hour from downtown Osaka when Momofuku Ando created the first instant ramen. Today, the CupNoodles Museum tells the story of that history and has its own Chicken Ramen CupNoodles Factory where you can craft your own noodles, from kneading and steaming to flash drying.
2. Log rafting, Kitayama River (Wakayama)
No, this is not white water rafting like you know it. The Kii Peninsula Mountains are two hours south east of Osaka and home to a logging history that has born this adventurous sport. Recreate the old days by hopping aboard a rough-hewn log raft for a wild ride down the river.
3. Nishiki Market (Kyoto)
Tofu doughnuts. Trust us, they are worth every single minute you’ll spend strolling through the five block long covered markets in downtown Kyoto. Served piping hot, these plump doughy balls take tofu to a whole new level. Munch on a bagful while checking out some of Japan’s traditional dishes and unusual produce like BBQ eel and fresh wasabi plants.
4. Tanize Suspension Bridge, Totsukawa (Nara)
Rising 54 metres above the Totsukawa River two hours’ drive south of Osaka, the Tanize Suspension Bridge is top notch if you’re after a bird’s eye view of Japan’s lush Nara Prefecture. Stretching almost 300 metres across the river, it’s not for those afraid of heights but certainly worth venturing across if you’re brave.
5. Kinosaki Onsen, Toyooka (Hyogo)
There are more than 20,000 natural onsen in Japan and you’ll find some of the best in the charming riverside town of Kinosaki. Located in Hyogo Prefecture on the Sea of Japan, the first hot springs in Kinosaki were discovered in the 8th century and have long drawn visitors. The town has seven public bath houses, indoor and outdoor, some with wooden baths, even some with waterfalls. Traditionally onsen followed very specific etiquette, some rules are still followed today, but the Kinosaki onsen were one of the first in the country to allow bathers with tattoos into any of the seven public baths.
6. Cherry blossoms, Goryokaku (Hokkaido)
Leave the inflated prices of Tokyo around March-April and head out to Japan’s northern most island of Hokkaido in early May. You’ve got an extra month up your sleeve to see the country’s famous cherry blossoms as the cold keeps the blooms delayed a few weeks. Around 1,600 cherry blossom trees burst into bloom at Goryokaku Park in Hakodate City. Fort Goryokaku is a large, star-shaped military fortification which is surrounded by the park and its unique manmade moat. You’ll have a unique bird’s eye view of the blossoms from the top of adjacent Goryokaku Tower.
7. Fresh seafood (Hokkaido)
If you love seafood, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve been to some of Hokkaido’s seafood markets. The northern island is famous for wildlife, and that extends to fresh seafood served up each day at the markets in Sapporo, Otaru and Hakodate. Catch your own sashimi in Hakodate’s Morning Market, where punters are given a fishing rod and the chance to catch squid straight from the tanks, or stop by one of the nine(!) markets dotted across Otaru. Dedicated travellers know the early bird gets the worm – head to the markets with the locals at 5am.
8. World class Whisky, Yoichi (Hokkaido)
Whisky lovers consider a trip to the Nikka Distillery somewhat of a pilgrimage. The first whisky distillery was set up in Kyoto by Masataka Taketsuru for Suntory, who studied distilling in Scotland before returning to Japan. He set up his own distillery in Yoichi, a town just outside of Otaru on Hokkaido back in 1934 where it remains today. Take a tour of the distillery, learn more about the history in the museum, before heading to the tasting room to warm up with a dram or two.
9. Sapporo Snow Festival, Sapporo (Hokkaido)
Each February Hokkaido’s capital city Sapporo is transformed into a winter wonderland. We’re not just talking about ice rinks and snow cones. Enormous, towering snow sculptures take over Odori Park, some stretching more than 15 metres into the sky. Hundreds of ice sculptures are displayed in the Susukino Site and snow slides take over the Tsudome Site. The sculptures are lit up until late in the evening.
10. Red-crowned cranes, Kushiro (Hokkaido)
Hokkaido has long been known to adventurous travellers as an outdoor playground – its vast wilderness is also famous for unique wildlife. If you’re after an experience that is truly memorable, head to the Kushiro City Red-crowned Crane Nature Park to see the country’s iconic red-crowned cranes. Special breeding programs have helped the local population flourish.
Whether you want to try world class seafood, get an adventure fix or improve your wellness, Japan’s Hokkaido Prefecture and Kansai region are waiting. Check out our Trip Discovery tool here.
Start your trip right and experience the heartfelt Japanese style “omotenashi” hospitality when you fly with Japan Airlines (JAL), a world 5-Star Airline*. Offering daily, direct flights from Sydney or Melbourne to Tokyo, you can then connect to JAL’s extensive domestic network in Japan to Kansai and Hokkaido. Book online at Expedia.com.au and save on hotels in Tokyo. Enjoy world-class comfort and safety on board, plus great in-flight entertainment with JAL’s MAGIC entertainment system featuring a wide range of movies, audio and digital books and even manga.
*World 5-Star Airline awarded by Skytrax