Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, a place of magnificence in terms of culture, scenery, and technology – a place that almost no one on the earth hasn’t thought about visiting at some point in their lives. Most people who will visit barely make it out of Tokyo, when in reality, the countryside beckons with open arms and extraordinary beauty to those with a pinch of disposable income and who can speak a little Nippon.
Anyone can write a must-visit Tokyo listicle, but let’s look at some places farther afield.
1: Kanazawa, Northwestern Honshu
Kanazawa, its castle, its streets, its canals and cherry trees will truly make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time; as much as any old city in Europe can. The name Kanazawa, which literally means marsh of gold, is said to have originated from a legend that the peasant ImohoriTogoro washed gold dust in a local marsh.
Look at the city in pictures of every season, and you’ll become depressed you won’t get to see it. In winter the white snow piles up on the sloping black tile roofs, in autumn golden-brown leaves lie moistly among the cobblestones, in summer, great green trees billow in the breeze and in spring cherry blossoms.
City of Crafts and Folk Art UNESCO appointed Kanazawa to the Creative Cities Network in June 2009. UNESCO launched the Network to promote international cooperation and exchange of each city in the world that develops creative and cultural industries.
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2: The Five-Tiered Pagoda on the Slopes of Mount Haguro, Honshu
In the northeastern neck of the country on the decidedly less-traveled Sea of Japan side, Yamagata Prefecture is one of those places that you generally have to go well out of your way to reach. Here, a sense of intimate seclusion adds to the appeal of Mount Haguro.
A holy pilgrimage site for the Japanese Shinto belief system, the forested slopes of Mount Haguro offer a natural quiet which one is pressed to find in modern Japan.
3: Tono, Iwate Province, Honshu
Tono becomes a valuable launchpad for exploring rural Japan and seeing how and where the spirit of the country’s roots resides. Paddy fields, forests, limestone caves, beaches, and gorges color the landscape. There is a haven for wildlife.
Known as “The City of Folklore,” Tono is a cultural center for traditional beliefs, like that of water trolls. Hiraizumi is an ancient city that once rivaled even Kyoto. The seat of the Hiraizumi Fujiwaras and capital of Oshu, Hiraizumi was the cultural center and largest city of a family that controlled a third of Japan before it was defeated and razed. Hiraizumi is now a UNESCO World Heritage destination filled with temples, gardens and natural treasures.
4: Goshogake Onsen Hot Spring, Akita Province
Adjacent to the Iwate prefecture, Akita has some of the must-see natural hot springs of Japan. Here you can relax in spas, both natural and man-made, and sample more of the country’s rustic charm. So without wasting much of your time book your accommodation at low prices via Reservations.com
5: Aokigahara Forest, Near Fuji, Yamanashi Province, Honshu
For those looking for a thrill, the morbidity of exploring Aokigahara is a novelty you won’t find elsewhere in the world. When people think of suicide, the usual thought is a bridge or some high place, but Aokigahara is known as the “suicide forest” and hosts one of the largest numbers of suicidal acts per year, anyway in the world.
The twisted, gnarled forest paths are lined with suicide-prevention hotline telephones. But if you’re quite pleased with your life, the forest has a very unique character and its natural splendor is undeniable.
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