From hot springs filled with snow monkeys to a town filled only with life-size dolls, the most unique places to visit in Japan capture the country’s natural beauty, most sacred sights and fun, eccentric spirit.
Ready to travel to Japan? A Fora Advisor will help you get off Japan’s beaten path with expert travel recommendations. Better yet, book your accommodations with an advisor and you’ll gain access to amazing hotel perks and upgrades for the same price you’d pay when booking alone.
The 8 most unique places to visit in Japan
First time in Japan? Read on for eight of the unique places to visit in Japan.
1. Jigokudani Yaen Koen (Snow Monkey Park): scenic trails, hot springs & snow monkeys that know how to relax
Jigokudani Yaen Koen is not only one of the most unique places to visit in Japan, it’s also famous on the world stage.
Since 1964, Jigokudani Yaen Koen has welcomed visitors to its gorgeous trails and hot springs, which are filled with wild — but largely friendly — snow monkeys. It’s the only known place where monkeys of any kind are seen bathing in geothermal pools.
The park is about three to four hours from Tokyo by car (around six hours by train). And don’t forget, if you’re deciding where to stay in Tokyo, a Fora travel advisor can help.
2. Hokkaido: Japan’s second largest island is also an adventurer’s dream
Hokkaido isn’t just one of the most unique places to visit in Japan, the island is also arguably the best place to stay in Japan if you’re looking for outdoorsy adventures.
Sapporo, best known for its world-renowned breweries, is the only major city on the island. Otherwise, Hokkaido is filled with opportunities for hiking, skiing and other snowsports (check out our Niseko skiing guide or Niseko mountain getaway itineraries for examples).
The Noboribetsu hot springs and accompanying spas are also among the best in the country (sadly, no snow monkeys included).
Not interested in traveling out of the US for skiing? Check out the most unique places to stay in Colorado or the most unique places to stay in Utah, two of North America’s greatest places for snow sports.
3. Miyajima (the “Shrine Island”), Itsukushima: a unique place to visit in Japan dedicated to Shintoism
Miyajima, which translates into “Shrine Island,” is the unofficial name of the island of Itsukushima in the Seto Inland Sea. The island is best known for a series of sacred Shinto holy sites, including Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Itsukushima is also one of the most unique places to visit in Japan to connect with nature, especially in spring (check out the best months to visit Japan). The local wildlife is used to tourists, so it’s not uncommon to see deer and other animals near the shrines and village.
Itsukushima can be found just off the coast of southern Hiroshima.
4. Mount Kōya, Wakayama Prefecture: a unique place to go in Japan to find peace away from the major cities
Around two hours south of Osaka by car or train you’ll find the Mount Kōya settlement, the center of Shingon Buddhism. Dozens of Buddhist temples dot the mountain, most of which allow (respectful) visitors. The architecture of the city alone merits a visit, and the mountain is incredibly scenic — and peaceful.
If you’re traveling to Osaka, Mount Kōya is worth the two-hour detour (by car or train). It’s a great place to find your center away from the bustle of Japan’s major cities. A Japan travel advisor can help you plan a day trip from Osaka (and help you decide where to stay in Osaka, as well).
Check out our Osaka travel guide and the coolest things to do in Osaka.
5. Ōkunoshima, (aka Rabbit Island): rabbits, rabbits and more rabbits
Ōkunoshima is a small island off the coast of Hiroshima with a runaway-rabbit-population-turned-tourist-attraction. Here the rabbits are overtly friendly, and most allow visitors to feed and pet them. The gorgeous island also provides a picturesque setting for camping and hiking.
Ōkunoshima was also the site of a chemical weapons factory that was heavily used during World War II. Though long abandoned now, the ruins still stand — and an accompanying museum serves as a reminder of the atrocities of war.
6. Pokemon Center Shibuya (& other anime attractions in Tokyo): where to explore Japan’s unique pop culture
Anime and manga are huge aspects of modern Japanese culture, and both have made equally large inroads into global pop culture.
There is perhaps no greater example of this than Pokémon, which has transcended the realm of entertainment to become a physical museum-slash-rare-collectible shop in one of Tokyo’s most electric wards. Pokémon Center Shibuya is a can’t-miss destination for even casual fans of the series, and one of the most unique places to go in Japan.
Anime fans can also enjoy the Ghibli Museum, which honors one of anime’s greatest and most successful studios. Plus, the Akihabara Ward in Tokyo is filled with gaming centers, collectible shops and other dedications to Japan’s most popular entertainment export.
If you’re traveling to Tokyo, check out our Tokyo cultural itinerary for more details. And remember: a Fora Advisor can hook you up with a room or suite at the coolest hotels in Tokyo.
7. Nagoro Doll Village, Shikoku Island: a strange exhibit dedicated to the former residents of a mostly abandoned town
Of all the most unique places to visit in Japan, Nagoro Doll Village (aka Nagoro Scarecrow Village) may be the strangest. A remote town on Japan’s Shikoku Island, Nagoro has always had a minuscule population. But since the early 2000s, what was once a population of around 300 has dwindled to about three dozen.
Perhaps to bring “life” back to the now mostly abandoned town, artist Tsukimi Ayano — once a resident herself — has crafted over 400 life-size dolls in the likeness of former residents and fictional characters. The dolls inhabit the local school, a utility project, bus stations and more.
By car, Nagoro is about three hours from Shikoku’s capital of Matsuyama and closer to four hours away from Osaka, otherwise known as “Japan’s kitchen” (featured in our Japan foodies’ guide).
8. Aoshima (aka “Cat Island”): Japan’s most unique place to visit for travelers obsessed with cats
Like Ōkunoshima, Aoshima – or Ao Island — near the southern tip of Honshu, is overrun by (mostly) friendly critters — this time, cats. If you’re spending more than a week in Japan, this unique place to visit boasts a cat-to-human ratio somewhere around 36-to-1, according to the last count.
It’s not exactly clear how the feline population got so out of hand on “Cat Heaven Island.” And despite relatively recent efforts to stabilize the population, there are still well over 100 cats on the tiny island.
Get off the beaten track in Japan with the help of a Fora Advisor
Our list of the most unique places to visit in Japan could go on indefinitely, but why not speak with a Fora Advisor who can help you plan a trip to Japan — weird and exciting destinations included — instead?
Advisors can score you great perks at the coolest hotels in Japan — at no extra cost — and they can help you build awesome itineraries and more. Get off the beaten path in Japan with a Fora Advisor and experience the trip of a lifetime.