TOKYO Tourists are coming to Japan in record numbers, with most wandering the so-called golden route that takes them through Tokyo and Kyoto. But those spending comparatively long holidays here are also trekking to destinations somewhat off the beaten path.
Stefan Schauwecker of japan-guide.com notes that tourists are especially taken by the country's spirituality, nature and countryside. "Locations related to samurai, five-story pagodas, temples and Japanese gardens fit the image of Japan, and are thus popular," he said.
The Nikkei asked 290 tourists from the U.S. and Australia who stayed about two weeks to list their top five destinations if they were to come again. Some of the answers are a bit surprising.
10 Bathing snow monkeys
Yamanouchimachi, Nagano Prefecture -- Wild Japanese macaques bathing in a hot spring during winter are an amusing sight. The spring and its simmering simians are part of a mountain reserve in northern Nagano Prefecture. Known as snow monkeys abroad, they take to the hot spring in winter months to stay warm. When bathing with eyes closed, the monkeys look much like humans in the same situation.
9 Views of the Seto Inland Sea and Shikoku Island
Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture -- The peak is on the island of Miyajima, which is famous for Itsukushima Shrine, off its coast. The island itself is full of Buddhist temples. From the 535-meter mountain, visitors have an expansive view of the Seto Inland Sea, the city of Hiroshima and the mountains of Shikoku Island. In addition to a ropeway, there are three hiking routes to the summit lined with unusually shaped rocks.
8 A journey into old Japan
Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture -- This ancient temple at the foot of the mountains is one of Kyoto's must-sees. Covered staircases connect shrines within the compound, which is a popular cultural attraction and includes Tahoto pagoda, Hojo-ike Pond and Mikaeri Amida, a statute of Buddha looking over his shoulder. There are also about 3,000 maple trees, which become a riot of color in the autumn. Views of the temple at night are especially impressive.
7 The trail of a thousand torii gates
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture -- Of Japan's 30,000 Inari shrines, this is one of the most popular, with foreign tourists wanting to photograph the vermillion red tunnel of a thousand torii gates. Views of Kyoto stretch out from Yotsutsuji, halfway up the side of Mount Inari. The tunnel can get crowded during the day, so early morning visits are recommended.
6 A spectacular view from the bottom of a gorge
Takachihocho, Miyazaki Prefecture -- The rumblings of Mount Aso, Japan's largest active volcano, have hewn a steep gorge, the walls of which rise up to 100 meters above the Gokasegawa River. Visitors can boat down the river or view the gorge from along a trail. A 17-meter-tall waterfall and soaring columnar joints accent the scenery. The nearby shrine is known for the ancient Japanese myth of Amanoiwato.
5 Dining in the middle of a stream
Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture -- Known as the "back room" of Kyoto, this idyllic suburb has a number of Japanese inns nestled in a narrow gully. The area is popular for kawadoko, or riverbed, dining in summer, with guests eating at tables set up over a stream. Kibune also boasts a famous Shinto shrine, and its colorful autumn leaves are impressive. The rural feel of this small village just outside the center of Kyoto and hiking course between Kifunejinja Shrine and Kuramadera Temple make for a pleasant visit.
4 A feel of Kyoto close to Tokyo
Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture -- Historically significant buildings relocated from places like Kyoto and Kamakura dot a 175,000-sq.-meter garden. The buildings include 10 that are designated as culturally important by the government and were built by shogun military commanders. The garden is famed for its apricot trees, cherry blossoms, autumn leaves and three-story pagoda.
3 A bridge made of vines in a picture-perfect setting
Miyoshi, Tokushima Prefecture -- A suspension bridge in a rarely explored part of Iya in west Tokushima Prefecture is a thrilling destination. Woven from Siberian gooseberry trees, the bridge hangs 14 meters above a river. The surroundings change with the seasons, leaves ablaze in autumn and wisteria in full bloom in spring. The bridge is lit up from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Alex Kerr, an American researcher who restores old Japanese rural homes, has helped acquaint foreign tourists with the area. Thanks to his efforts, people are also visiting other interesting sights nearby, such as Oboke Gorge.
2 A panorama with a view of Mount Fuji
Kyonanmachi, Chiba Prefecture -- The panoramic view from the summit of Mount Nokogiri at 329 meters takes in Mount Fuji, the volcanic island of Izu Oshima and Mount Amagi. Visitors can ascend on foot, by car or via ropeway. A viewpoint juts out precariously from a precipice, giving what the Japanese call "a peek into hell." Previous quarrying for Boshu rock, prized as a building material, has left the mountain with steep crags and vertical cliffs. On the hillside sits Nihonji temple with its 31-meter-tall Buddha statue -- Japan's largest stone Buddha -- and over 1,500 arhats. Many visitors use the ropeway going up then hike down.
1 A pleasant walk among cedars and monuments
Koyacho, Wakayama Prefecture -- Visitors to the sacred grounds established 1,200 years ago by the Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi first navigate a 2-km approach lined with gravestones and monuments set amid more than a thousand Japanese cedars. One visitor said the town was a pleasant respite from Japan's bustling cities, allowing one to contemplate the area's history and religion. A nearby shukubo, or temple lodging, is available for overnight stays. The lodge's operator also offers monastic cultural experiences and night tours in English.