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Five Amazing Untouched Japan Travel Destinations

2024-05-30

Japan may be a small country, but it’s made up of 47 distinct prefectures, each with its own sights and attractions. Travelers who want a Japan itinerary that’s a bit more off the beaten path have no shortage of options.

If you're yearning for the solace of remote, untouched nature, Japan has a hidden treasure trove waiting for you. These rugged, barely developed lands are a haven for nature lovers and those seeking a respite from the bustling world. Unlike the popular tourist spots of Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka, these places offer a serene escape, a chance to marvel at the untouched beauty and tranquility of Japan.

If you’re curious to explore more untouched Japan, here are five travel destinations.

 

1. Iya Valley (Tokushima)

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Smack in the middle of the island of Shikoku is the mysterious Iya Valley. Surrounded by huge mountains that create a literal separation from the rest of the world, Iya Valley has some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Here, you’ll find lush greenery, lazy blue-green streams, rocky gorges, and canyons. If you’re quiet, you might catch a glimpse of the wild deer, boar, and monkeys that live in the area.

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A few villages within Iya Valley have very tight and small communities that are rather isolated from the rest of the island because you can only enter the valley via the single mountain road that runs around the area. Iya Valley’s inaccessibility is said to have made it an historic hideaway in the late 12th century for the Heike clan. It’s claimed that they fled here after being defeated by a neighboring clan in a war.

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Iya’s iconic vine bridges, known as kazura-bashi, connect one side of the valley to the other. These bridges are unique even within Japan. Traditionally, the people of Iya Valley created these suspension bridges by weaving vines from the mountain.

 

2. Izu Oshima (Tokyo)

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Izu Oshima is part of the Izu Islands chain, a group of volcanic islands close to the Izu Peninsula. It is the biggest of the Izu Islands and can be found about 100 kilometers south of Tokyo. Still, it’s quite a compact destination; it only takes about one hour to circle the entire island by car.

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Most notably, Izu Oshima is home to the 758-meter-tall Mount Mihara. This active volcano, which last erupted in 1990, is the source of hot springs on the island. If you’re up for an adventure, you can hike up the mountain to see the caldera up close and get a breathtaking bird's-eye view of the surrounding scenery.

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Driving around, you’ll see signs of the volcano everywhere. Along the main road on the southwestern side of the island, you’ll come across a long stretch of cliffs with a visible cross-section of a volcanic layer. Drive to the southeast, and you’ll see black sand beaches from the volcanic ash of previous eruptions.

 

3. Shiretoko (Hokkaido)

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In the northeast corner of Hokkaido, you’ll come across the Shiretoko Peninsula: one of Japan's most pristine national parks. This National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage site that the indigenous Ainu knew as “the end of the earth”. There’s very little man-made infrastructure, making it the perfect destination for trekking and immersing yourself in nature. However, carry a bear bell or go with a guide as this area is known for its wild bears! It's also home to many more species like the white-tailed eagle, orcas, and sea lions.

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If you plan a visit, take a sightseeing boat cruise across the rugged western coast of the peninsula. You’ll see the dramatic coastline flanked with tall cliffs and waterfalls you can’t access with the limited roads. And if you go in the winter, you’ll see the drift ice that floats from nearby Russia. You can even take an “ice walk tour”, where you’ll don a dry suit and walk out onto the ice — with a guide, of course.

 

4. Northern Alps (Nagano)

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The Northern Alps are located on the western edge of Nagano Prefecture. A British mining engineer who spent some time in Japan in the late 19th century named this mountain range, noting its similarity to the Alps in Europe.

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As one of the least accessible mountain destinations, the Northern Alps are home to Japan’s third highest peak — Mount Hotaka, which clocks in at 3,190 meters. This mountain range contains rock scrambles and ridge walks; it is not a trek for the faint of heart. In fact, there are also a number of currently active volcanoes in the range.

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These mountains are popular with hikers seeking a challenging, multi-day trekking course. You’ll find plenty of mountain huts scattered throughout the area for overnight stays, though you’ll want to plan to make sure you know where you’re spending the night.

 

5. Miyakojima (Okinawa)

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Within the sprawling set of islands spanning Okinawa, you’ll find Miyakojima. This dreamy destination, located about 300 km south of Okinawa’s main island, has some of the world's most beautiful beaches and crystal-blue waters. It’s also known for its coral reefs, making it an ideal destination for snorkeling to see colorful tropical fish and even sea turtles.

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It’s also well known for its dive sites, drawing in adventurous scuba divers who come to explore the caves and caverns underwater. If you prefer to stay above the water, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for paddle boarding, kayaking, and guided boat tours, too.

Away from the beaches, you’ll find underground limestone caves that historically served as freshwater sources for the islanders. In fact, each village here was built around the caves to ensure accessible fresh water, and so even today, you’ll still find at least one cave in every village.

 

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