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A word on Tokyo. It’s a futuristic capital filled with excellent public transportation, a staggering number of Michelin-starred restaurants, goofy mascots for nearly everything, and some surprisingly affordable (and cool) hotel options. (It’s also not as expensive as you’ve been led to believe!) In other words: You’ll be hard-pressed to find an argument against visiting.

But no matter how cool the city, going to a country to visit a single location is a bit like going to a conveyer belt sushi restaurant and only having a single bite—you will walk away hungry. Don’t leave your Japan vacation wishing you fit in one more course. After you’ve gotten your Tokyo fix, here’s a few other of the country’s singular locations for your travel consideration.

RELATED: Book these top Tokyo hotels now for the 2020 games

Kyoto

Temple in Kyoto | PHOTO: Laura Studarus

Temple in Kyoto | PHOTO: Laura Studarus

From the iconic, orange-colored tori gates of Fushimi Inari-taishas, to the Gion district where Geisha are often spotted escorting their clients, there’s a sense that Japan keeps its legacy in Kyoto. The city also doubles as the perfect place for those in need of a good walk. Break a sweat by scaling to the top of the Iwatayama Monkey Park to visit the Kyoto’s population of Japanese macaque monkeys, or take it easy with a stroll through the Nishiki Market in search of culinary odds and ends. (Just remember to buy something if you plan on blocking a stand for a photo.) Either way you will have definitely earned a bowl of Kyoto Gogyo’s signature burnt ramen, and a hunger for more history.

Node Hotel in Kyoto | PHOTO: Joshua Mellin

Where to stay: After a day of celebrating the past, retire to modern confines Node Hotel, a sleek art hotel with minimal décor and maximalist bedding. Soak to a happy stupor in their oversized tubs, or pick yourself up with a drink from their downstairs hipper-than-thou bar. While you sip, be sure to ask about your room’s artwork, each an original from one of Node’s twenty-four commissioned artists.

Hiroshima

Hiroshima | PHOTO: Laura Studarus

Hiroshima | PHOTO: Laura Studarus

A major location during World War II, Hiroshima has since become a monument for the exact opposite. Take a stroll in Peace Park to see The A-bomb Dome, a heart-stopping site of the atomic bomb drop, the curvy arch memorializing the victims (with the touching inscription, “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil”), and cases filled with folded cranes—small paper gifts from people everywhere in hopes of creating a more peaceful world.

Grand Prince Hiroshima | PHOTO: Joshua Mellin jdmellin@gmail.com @joshuamellin

Grand Prince Hiroshima | PHOTO: Joshua Mellin

Where to stay: The Grand Prince Hotel is located on a peninsula, about a 20-minute ride from central station. Grand Prince’s quiet location gives the mammoth complex a retreat-like quality, so lean into it with dinner in their upper bar—which conveniently looks out over the sunset on the bay—and express boats to Itsukushima. (Just be sure to check ahead of time—through much of 2020 Itsukushima’s iconic watery torii gate is under construction.)

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Eastern Hokkaido

Blue pond in Biei, Hokkaido

Blue pond in Biei, Hokkaido

Most tourists don’t venture off of Honshu, Japan’s main island. But Hokkaido, the country’s most northern island, is quietly becoming the place for adventure seekers. Hike along the craggy peaks of Asahi-dake an active volcano that emits tiny puffs of smoke. Bike with world-class athletes along Minamifurano’s stunning Kanayama Lake. And inhale the sulfur (and peep the coolest illegal onsen ever) at Meakan Dake. No matter how remote any of these locations feel (and we’re talking straight up “Lord of the Rings” vibes) you’re never more than 30 minutes away from a town, or a cone from the region’s signature soft-serve ice cream.

Shiretoko Daiichi Hotel

Kitakobushi Shniretoko Hotel & Resort

Where to stay: Kitakobushi Shiretoko Hotel & Resort is a sprawling complex featuring karaoke for the extroverts and onsens for the…not so introverts. Stretch out in their Western-style rooms, or cozy up on tatami mats in the Japanese style accommodations. 

Takamatsu

Takamatsu | PHOTO: Laura Studarus

Takamatsu | PHOTO: Laura Studarus

Stay the night in Takamatsu, home to Ritsurin Garden, one of Japan’s most stunning historical gardens, then take a ferry to Shōdoshima aka “Island of Small Beans.” True to its name, the island is a foodie paradise where more than 200 kilometers of noodles are stretched per day (and almost as many eaten), and visitors can see the lion’s share of Japan’s soy sauce fermenting in large wooden vats. Try some of the iconic topping over ice cream (a sweet and salty treat you’ll never again live without), and then—if you’re not completely stuffed, head over to Olive Park, home to the windmill that inspired the Miyazaki film Kiki’s Delivery Service, and now inspires Studio Ghibli fans to take witch-like jumping photos with thoughtfully provided brooms.

Where to stay: Kiyomi Sanso Hanajukai offers all the amenities one can expect from traveling in Japan (Wi-Fi and an electric bidet? Yes, please!) with gorgeous attention to detail, including tiny terrariums and a traditional onsen. But the real appeal is its location, high on a hill offering stunning city views. There’s also a shuttle service for when you need to get back to the action.

Himeji

Himeji | PHOTO: Laura Studarus

Himeji | PHOTO: Laura Studarus

Himeji is home to the Himeji castle, a piece of architecture from 1333 so well preserved, it’s worth making a special visit. (Fun fact: It was also the filming location for the James Bond film, You Only Live Twice.) Climb the steep hill through several switch-backs and increasingly smaller entry ways, designed to tire out would-be attackers. Slip off your shoes to explore the interior floors, which include a pillar made of now nearly-extinct Japanese Cypress and intimidating guardian roof statues.

Ueyama Ryokan

Ueyama Ryokan

Where to stay: Not that you need an excuse to enjoy Japan’s traditional hotels, but after an afternoon of exploring history, why not continue the trend at Ueyama Ryokan, an inn set directly on one of the country’s many natural hot springs? This is your private enclave, where you can enjoy a relaxing public bath, lavish meal, fall colors or winter weather.

Minakami

Morning mist flow in Minakami

Morning mist flow in Minakami

Located two hours outside of Tokyo, Minakami is a favorite for locals looking for a quick city break. Go canyoning during the summer (walk, scramble, swim, and jump over boulders), or ski during the winter at one of their twenty retreats. Bonus: Any time is a good time to experience the onsen hot spot’s numerous bathing options.

Syoubun ryokan

Syoubun ryokan

Where to stay: Obviously if you’re going to stay in a place known for its onsen culture, you’re going to stay in a hotel with an ensuite onsen, right? Syoubun also has the benefit of an onsite spa—just in case you need a bit more relaxation after a full day of adventure.

Misugi

Homemade candy in Misugi | PHOTO: Laura Studarus

Homemade candy in Misugi | PHOTO: Laura Studarus

Located in the mountains of the Mie Prefecture, about two hours south of Kyoto, the former village was merged with nearby Tsu in 2006. Residents, however, still refer to Misugi by its given name. This is a cultural enclave, a place where relaxation and culture sit side-by-side. Escape into nature for a forest bathing session or cherry blossom appreciation (an act called “hanami” in Japanese), or meet locals at a fourth (!) generation candy shop, or home-run tea shop. (Note: Most businesses don’t have websites but can be contacted via a central tourism page.)

Mie beer hotel room | PHOTO: Joshua Mellin

Beer onsen | PHOTO: Joshua Mellin

Where to stay: After a hard day of relaxation, the Hinotanionsen Misugi Resort has you covered with a beer onsen—yes, a place where you can combine traditional Japanese bathing with locally brewed beer. Still in the mood for a nightcap after your skin has soaked in all those hops? Book one of the hotel’s special tap rooms, and enjoy all the locally brewed suds you care to drink.

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Tagged: Asia, Japan

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Laura Studarus

Laura Studarus

Laura is a writer/vagabond with bylines in Marie Claire, Vice, Bandcamp and Lenny Letter. Sometimes she can go several hours without a cup of tea. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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