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With so many historical, cultural and awe-inspiring places to go, it’s no surprise that Japan is on so many travel bucket lists. While travel to Japan wasn’t on the cards for most people due to the COVID-19 pandemic, now that the borders have reopened, you may want to plan a trip to some of the best hidden places in the country.
We decided to get some insider travel tips on the best hidden places to travel in Japan from two residents who might be very familiar to those of you who follow Japan-related content on YouTube. If you’re someone who likes to experience off-the-beaten-path destinations away from hordes of other tourists, then read on.
Introducing Sharla and Emma
Hailing from Canada, Sharla is one of the original creators of Japan-related content. She’s lived in Japan for 15 years and produces videos on her YouTube channel Sharmeleon about travel and life in Japan. She’s an integral part of the team at Tokyo Creative, an influencer-led digital marketing agency in Tokyo.
We asked Sharla and Emma to give us their top 3 best places to travel in Japan and why. Here’s what they said!
The Shimanami Kaido cycle route
Oirase Keiryu Resort, Aomori
Driving through the Shonai Plains in Sakata, Yamagata
“I love all these places because the countryside views are amazing and they aren’t overly well-known so they’re never crowded.”
“It’s a bit hard to get to but has such clear water and beautiful nature. And there’s an old middle school that has been converted to a hotel, which is so fun!”
“They have a massive koinobori (carp streamer) display over the river. That area has the best kayaking I’ve ever done and weirdly the best pizza I’ve ever eaten! So, so beautiful and peaceful, I want to go back there all the time.”
“It’s hard to pick a spot in Shizuoka! There are these tea fields on a hill and you can see Mount Fuji while drinking tea in the clouds and it’s very magical. They’re called Chajihen on Instagram if you wanna check it out!”
To get to the real heart and soul of any place, you need to go beyond the travel guides and well-trodden tourist destinations. But often these places are difficult to access precisely because they’re not often featured.
We asked Sharla and Emma to share some hidden places to travel in Japan that they only found out about after living in Japan.
Showa Natsukashikan in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima
“It’s a really cool Showa-era museum! I love how you’re allowed to touch and interact with everything on display.”
Sato Yosuke Shoten Flagship Store in Inaniwa, Akita – a nice udon restaurant
“I’m lucky that I have lots of Japanese friends in the tourism industry, so they always have great recommendations for places I should visit all around Japan. I love visiting places I’ve never heard about before, much more than any famous touristy spots.”
A small onsen overlooking the sunset in Dogashima, Nishi-Izu. There are no English signs and you need to be familiar with Japanese onsen etiquette to get the most out of the experience
“I recommend this spot because the sunset is just so amazing. Be careful though, if a boat goes past they can get a full view of you if you stand up so watch out! For that place you can get by with not too much Japanese, but knowing how to onsen and being willing to possibly chat with the locals will be necessary.”
Making blueberry jam in Kochi
“In the area that has the koinobori, there is a blueberry farm. You can make jam there but the old man doesn’t speak English, so you would need enough Japanese to communicate and understand his instructions! Although there are other activities in the area that don’t require Japanese, this activity is so good for being able to connect to the local community and learn about life in Kochi.”
Most memorable travel experiences
When it comes to travel experiences in Japan that have been particularly poignant, both Sharla and Emma shared trips where they really got to connect with locals in the areas they visited.
Sharla spent some time in Akita prefecture on a family farm, where she sowed seeds in the fields, picked persimmons to hang dry and made dinner with the family’s homegrown vegetables. The family also taught her some local Akita dialect.
“The family was so kind and welcoming to me, I’ll never forget them.”
For Emma, it was at the blueberry farm in Kochi that she met five older Japanese women who had started a small shop together.
“Meeting them and seeing them thrive made me excited for the future and also helped me realise nothing is holding me back. There are so many possibilities in life. Also, it helped me remember that having a bunch of lady friends is always a good time!”
Do you need Japanese to travel around Japan?
Despite there not being a whole lot of English used, Japan is fairly easy to travel around even if you don’t know any Japanese.
But, knowing some Japanese makes all the difference and will give you a much more immersive experience, especially if you plan to travel to more hidden places in Japan. Sharla, who speaks fluent Japanese, says that knowing the local language has allowed her to interact with locals more, which is often her favourite thing about travelling.
Emma also speaks Japanese and says being able to communicate properly opens up many more doors.
“People will be more open and willing to show you things and share with you information they would not have been able to tell you in another language.”
Where to next?
Even though both Sharla and Emma have lived in Japan for several years, there is still so much more to see. So where to next?
Sharla: “I’d love to visit some of the lesser known islands, I really enjoy exploring areas of Japan that I don’t know anything about and haven’t seen anyone else vlog about.”
“I’m interested in Tsushima since it gained popularity recently with a video game (Ghost of Tsushima) that was released!”
Emma: “I think I am going to a beach in Chiba for a few days! I am missing Australia and my family a little lately, so a trip to the ocean is definitely needed!”
Want to know more about Sharla and Emma’s Japan lives? Follow them on Instagram: