My Top Ten Off-the-Beaten-Track Destinations in Japan (2)

Continuing on from last week, my top ten off-the-beaten-track destinations in Japan:

trains no longer stop on this platform

Shimokitazawa 下北沢 , Tokyo

Every time I have a spare afternoon in Japan, the first thing I do is the take the train from Shinjuku or Shibuya, and alight in the junction of Shimokitazawa.

Shimokitazawa, or Shimokita (下北), is a university area of Tokyo, and certainly one of my favourite place in Japan. For us young people, Shimokita has all the hip things a student would enjoy.

Trendy cafes. Record stores. Bookshops. Gaming arcades. Cheap clothes. Exotic restaurants. Random boutique stores. Shops that sells funny/cute/strange things that you have no idea when you’ll use.

‘Glass Lamp Ball’? Sounds just like what I need!

When I am there, I usually just spend the day strolling around the different streets and alleyways across the area. You’ll ALWAYS find new surprises.

As aforementioned, take either the Odakyu lines from Shinjuku, or the Keio lines from Shibuya.

Ueno Park 上野公園, Tokyo

In the bustling metropolis of central Tokyo, parks and green spaces are few and far between. Ueno Park is the one rare place that you can be far away from the concrete buildups without being far far away from the city.

Ueno Park is famous for its museums, although I must admit I have never actually been there. On a good summer day, bring some food and cold drinks, and give having a afternoon snack while give boating a go.

Alternatively, come during the cherry blossom or the autumn maples seasons.

Ueno park is right next to – you guessed it- Ueno station.

Fushimi-Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社, Kyoto

nothing special?

Kyoto, the former imperial capital, is home to thousands of temples and Shinto shrines. Except for the most famous landmarks that are always swamped with tourists, it is difficult to decide which ones are worth going – especially when you are not an expert on history, religion or architecture.

So let me introduce to you one of the most interesting Shinto shrines in the country: hidden in the southern outskirts of Kyoto, the Fushimi-Inari Taisha.

All Shinto shrines are marked at the entrance with a vermilion Torii, a gate that symbolically marks the transition from the ‘secular’ to the sacred land. They are symbols of the shrines: in fact you often see them representing shrines on maps.

However, in your usual shrines, you will only have one Torii at the entrance. Whereas in Fushimi-Inari, you have thousands.

Yes, thousands.

into the tunnel…

I went on a summer day, which in the Kyoto area usually results in extreme heat and humidity. However, with these Toriis shielding me from the sun, and with the shrine up in the mountains, it was a surprisingly easy and enjoyable walk. To get all the way to the top may take 2-3 hours, but you can always turn around whenever.

The shrine is just outside the Inari Station on the JR Nara Line.

Instant Noodle Museum インスタントラーメン発明記念館, Ikeda, Osaka

As a guy who lives in a catering environment, I cannot stress what an important invention instant noodles are. They helped me survive through many horrible days and nights of terrible school food.

Instant noodle was invented by Momofuku Ando, actually from Taiwan, and he created his own company (what is now Nissin), in Ikeda after the Second World War.  As instant noodles became a Japanese, then a world staple, this museum was established in hounor of him and his achievements.

In the museum there are exhibitions on the invention and manufacture of instant noodles, and the different types of noodles on display is simply staggering.

However, the most interesting bit of the museum is that you can make your own instant noodle. Expect queues: this place is very popular with Japanese schoolchildren.

Ikeda is a out-of-the-way residential area to the north of Osaka. To get there, take a Hankyu Takaruzuka line train to Ikeda station, and follow the signs. Anyone who looks vaguely like a tourist in the area is likely to be going to the same place as you.

Matsuyama 松山, Ehime

The largest city on the often-forgotten island of Shikoku, Matsuyama is definitely worth a visit.

The Matsuyama Castle is one of the most impressive and original (that is, without modern-day alternations) castle in Japan. With Himeji Castle currently under repair, Matsuyama on the other side of the Seto Inland Sea is a great replacement.

However, even I must admit that castles are quite similar all over the country. For me, the must-do in Matsuyama is to take a good bath in the legendary Dogo Onsen.

The Dogo Onsen is perhaps of most prestigious and famous hot springs within Japan. A bath in the Honkan (main building) is certainly not to be missed.

You might find the place slightly familiar: reportedly, this is the inspiration for Miyazaki in the internationally-acclaimed Spirited Away.

So here are my top ten choices for not-so-mainstream places to visit in Japan. You might have realised that I have included no sites from Kyushu. This is certainly not because Kyushu is not interesting at all: it is simply due to the fact that the last and only time I was there, I was only 13 and didn’t remember much.

Anyway, if you can squeeze some of your traveling days in Japan to visit some of these attractions listed before, I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

To see the first five on the list click here.