18 Non-touristy Things To Do In Japan

If you’re looking for non-touristy things to do in Japan, we’ve made a list of fun yet unusual things to do in Japan. Check it out!

Japan is a country that never fails to surprise and captivate visitors with its rich traditions, stunning landscapes, and vibrant cities. 

While popular attractions like Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing and Kyoto’s Kinkaku-ji Temple are undeniably magnificent, there is a wealth of lesser-known treasures waiting to be explored. 

In this article, we invite you to delve into the depths of Japan’s hidden gems, unveiling extraordinary and non-touristy experiences that will leave you with lasting memories.

Non-touristy Things To Do In Japan

Discover Samurai History in Aizu-Wakamatsu

Located in Fukushima Prefecture, Aizu-Wakamatsu offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the captivating world of samurai culture and history. 

Explore the Tsuruga Castle, a magnificent structure perched atop a hill, and venture into the Aizu Bukeyashiki samurai residences. 

Visit the Sazaedo Pagoda, renowned for its intricate wooden architecture, and pay your respects at the gravesite of the Byakkotai, a group of young samurai who tragically took their own lives. 

Aizu-Wakamatsu allows you to step back in time and discover the resilience and honor of Japan’s samurai heritage.

Wander Through the Enchanting Sagano Bamboo Forest

Escape the crowds and find tranquility in the mesmerizing Sagano Bamboo Forest, located in the outskirts of Kyoto. 

Non-touristy Things To Do In Japan

As you enter the forest, you’ll be enveloped by towering bamboo stalks that sway gently with the breeze, creating a surreal atmosphere. Take a leisurely stroll along the winding paths, allowing the serene ambiance to wash over you. 

For an even more enchanting experience, visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the light filters through the bamboo, casting ethereal shadows.

Immerse Yourself in Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony in Kanazawa

While Kyoto is renowned for its tea ceremonies, Kanazawa offers a more intimate and authentic experience.

Visit one of the city’s traditional tea houses, where you can participate in a tea ceremony conducted by a knowledgeable tea master. 

Learn about the art of preparing matcha tea, savor the delicate flavors, and gain insight into the customs and rituals associated with this revered Japanese tradition. The tranquil setting and attention to detail will transport you to a world of elegance and serenity.

Traverse the Mystical Moss Gardens of Saiho-ji Temple

Escape the bustling crowds and embark on a journey of tranquility in the moss-covered gardens of Saiho-ji Temple, also known as Kokedera, in Kyoto. 

Accessible by reservation only, this UNESCO World Heritage site invites you to explore a garden unlike any other. Walk along the moss-covered paths, surrounded by shades of vibrant green, and listen to the gentle sound of trickling water from the stone basins. 

The ambiance is meditative, and the sight of the meticulously maintained moss creates a sense of serenity and harmony with nature.

Unearth Ancient History in Hiraizumi

Located in Iwate Prefecture, Hiraizumi is a UNESCO World Heritage site that remains off the beaten path for many travelers. 

Discover the remnants of the once-thriving Fujiwara clan’s capital, with its elegant gardens, temples, and historical sites. 

Visit the magnificent Chuson-ji Temple, renowned for its golden hall and Buddhist treasures, and explore the serene Motsu-ji Temple, with its tranquil Pure Land Garden. 

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Hiraizumi offers a glimpse into Japan’s rich history, with a peaceful atmosphere that evokes a sense of reverence and contemplation.

Soak in the Serenity of Yakushima Island

Escape to the unspoiled beauty of Yakushima Island, located off the southern coast of Kyushu. This lush island is home to ancient cedar forests, some of which are over 1,000 years old. 

Yakushima Island

Embark on a hiking adventure through the mystical moss-covered trails of Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine or venture to Jomon Sugi, a 7,200-year-old cedar tree considered a natural treasure.

As you explore the island’s rugged coastline and crystal-clear waters, you’ll encounter breathtaking vistas and a sense of serenity that can only be found in nature’s embrace.

Wander the Streets of Kanazawa’s Higashi Chaya District

Step into the nostalgic world of geishas and traditional teahouses as you explore the Higashi Chaya District in Kanazawa. 

Unlike the more famous Gion district in Kyoto, this area remains relatively undiscovered by tourists. Take a leisurely stroll along the charming cobblestone streets lined with beautifully preserved wooden machiya houses. 

Peek into the teahouses, some of which are open to the public, and experience the refined atmosphere of a geisha performance or enjoy a cup of matcha tea. This hidden gem offers a glimpse into Japan’s geisha culture and a chance to immerse yourself in a bygone era.

Marvel at the Dynamic Sand Dunes of Tottori

Venture to the Tottori Sand Dunes, a natural wonder that resembles a desert landscape in the midst of Japan. 

These expansive dunes stretch along the coast of the Sea of Japan and offer a unique and unexpected sight. Take off your shoes and feel the fine sand beneath your toes as you explore this ever-changing terrain. 

Try your hand at sandboarding or simply relish the opportunity to witness the stunning contrast between the golden dunes and the turquoise sea. As you stand atop a dune, gazing into the vastness, you’ll feel a sense of adventure and awe.

Discover the Art Island of Naoshima

Escape to the idyllic Naoshima Island, a haven for contemporary art enthusiasts. Located in the Seto Inland Sea, this small island is home to numerous art installations, museums, and architectural marvels. 

Visit the Chichu Art Museum, designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando, which seamlessly integrates with the natural surroundings and houses masterpieces by artists such as Claude Monet and James Turrell. 

Explore the Benesse House Museum and the Art House Project, where contemporary art installations are cleverly incorporated into traditional houses. Naoshima offers a tranquil and immersive artistic experience away from the tourist crowds.

Trek through the Magome and Tsumago Historic Trail

Embark on a journey along the historic trail that connects the post towns of Magome and Tsumago in the Kiso Valley. This scenic trail was once part of the Nakasendo, an ancient highway that linked Kyoto and Edo (present-day Tokyo).

As you walk along the well-preserved cobblestone path, surrounded by lush forests and traditional wooden houses, you’ll feel transported back in time. 

Take in the breathtaking mountain views, visit small shrines and teahouses, and savor the peaceful atmosphere. The Magome and Tsumago Historic Trail offers a glimpse into Japan’s rich history and allows you to experience the beauty of rural landscapes.

Explore the World of Ninja in Iga-Ueno

Unveil the secrets of the legendary ninja warriors in the town of Iga-Ueno, located in Mie Prefecture. 

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Visit the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum, where you can learn about the history and skills of these mysterious warriors. Watch exciting demonstrations of ninja techniques and explore the hidden passageways and trapdoors of the museum’s replica ninja house. 

Delve into the world of espionage, disguises, and martial arts as you unravel the enigma surrounding the ninja tradition.

Explore the Hidden Canals of Yanagawa

Nestled in Fukuoka Prefecture, the picturesque town of Yanagawa offers a serene escape from the bustling cities. Hop on a traditional donkobune boat and navigate the tranquil canals that crisscross the town. 

Admire the idyllic scenery as you pass under charming stone bridges and past traditional houses adorned with beautiful gardens. A boatman will guide you through the canals, sharing stories of the town’s history and legends. 

Take a moment to savor a traditional Japanese lunch on board, featuring local specialties like unagi (grilled eel) and freshwater fish.

Discover the Ancient Art of Fish Printing in Mie

In the coastal town of Toba in Mie Prefecture, immerse yourself in the traditional art of Gyotaku, or fish printing. 

Visit a local workshop or art studio where you can learn this unique technique firsthand. Under the guidance of an experienced artist, select a fish, coat it with ink, and press it onto washi paper, creating a detailed print that captures the intricacies of the creature. 

This ancient art form originated as a way for fishermen to record their catches, and today it offers a hands-on and culturally immersive experience.

Find Tranquility in Rurikoin Temple’s Autumn Splendor

Escape the crowds of Kyoto’s popular temples and seek out the hidden gem of Rurikoin Temple. Located on the outskirts of the city, this temple is particularly enchanting during the autumn season. 

Rurikoin Temple

As you step inside, you’ll be greeted by a breathtaking sight—a sea of vibrant red and orange maple leaves that blanket the temple grounds. 

Take your time to wander through the meticulously maintained gardens, admiring the vivid foliage reflected in tranquil ponds. The atmosphere is one of serenity and contemplation, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the changing seasons.

Experience Traditional Ainu Culture in Hokkaido

In the northernmost region of Japan, Hokkaido, immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the indigenous Ainu people.

Visit the Ainu Village in Shiraoi, where you can learn about their traditional way of life, beliefs, and arts. Participate in workshops where you can try your hand at Ainu crafts such as carving traditional wooden sculptures or weaving intricate patterns. 

Engage with Ainu elders who share their stories and wisdom, giving you a glimpse into a culture that predates modern Japan.

Unwind in the Serene Onsen Town of Kinosaki

Escape the tourist crowds of larger onsen towns and discover the tranquil beauty of Kinosaki Onsen in Hyogo Prefecture.

This picturesque town is known for its seven public bathhouses, each with its unique design and healing waters. 

Serene Onsen

Take a leisurely stroll along the willow-lined streets dressed in a yukata (cotton robe) and traditional wooden geta sandals, hopping from one bathhouse to another.

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As you soak in the therapeutic hot springs, let your worries melt away, and embrace the peaceful ambiance of this hidden onsen gem.

Trek the Remote Oirase Gorge in Aomori

For nature enthusiasts seeking off-the-beaten-path adventures, the Oirase Gorge in Aomori Prefecture offers a breathtaking escape. Embark on a scenic trek along the crystal-clear Oirase River, flanked by lush forests and cascading waterfalls. 

 Oirase Gorge in Aomori

The trail winds its way through moss-covered rocks, wooden footbridges, and serene ponds, offering an immersive experience in the heart of nature. Listen to the soothing sound of rushing water and breathe in the fresh forest air as you discover the tranquil beauty of this hidden gem.

Conclusion

Japan’s hidden treasures are a testament to the country’s rich cultural heritage, natural beauty, and off-the-beaten-path experiences. 

From immersing yourself in the geisha culture of Kanazawa to marveling at the dynamic sand dunes of Tottori, and exploring the art-filled island of Naoshima, these non-touristy activities offer unique and unforgettable encounters. 

Embark on a journey of discovery, and let Japan’s hidden gems leave an indelible mark on your travel experiences. 

Whether you find yourself wandering the streets of Kanazawa’s Higashi Chaya District, basking in the serenity of Yakushima Island’s ancient forests, or trekking the historic trail between Magome and Tsumago, each adventure will provide a deeper understanding of Japan’s diverse cultural tapestry.

In Japan, the true essence of exploration lies in seeking out these lesser-known destinations and experiences. 

By venturing beyond the well-trodden tourist path, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with local communities, immerse yourself in the country’s rich history, and embrace the beauty of its natural landscapes.

So, pack your curiosity and adventurous spirit as you embark on a journey to uncover Japan’s hidden treasures. Discover the stories etched within the walls of samurai residences in Aizu-Wakamatsu, find tranquility amidst the towering bamboo of Sagano’s forest, and sip tea in the intimate teahouses of Kanazawa.

 Marvel at the mystical moss gardens of Saiho-ji Temple and lose yourself in the ancient wonders of Hiraizumi’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.

For those seeking unique experiences, venture to the Tottori Sand Dunes and feel the thrill of a desert-like landscape, or explore the contemporary art installations on Naoshima Island. 

Traverse the historic trails and imagine the footsteps of travelers from centuries past, or immerse yourself in the secretive world of the ninja in Iga-Ueno.

These hidden gems showcase the rich tapestry of Japan’s cultural heritage, its breathtaking natural wonders, and the creativity that thrives within its borders. 

By embracing these off-the-beaten-path adventures, you’ll discover the true spirit of Japan—a country that continually surprises, captivates, and invites you to delve deeper into its hidden treasures.

So, set forth on a journey of discovery, where the ordinary transforms into the extraordinary, and the non-touristy becomes an opportunity for authentic connection and unparalleled exploration. Japan’s hidden gems await your arrival, ready to share their secrets and create memories that will last a lifetime.

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