Insider insight: Going off the beaten track in Japan

Our Senior Asia Travel Specialist, Rikki Poynton, enjoyed an unforgettable trip to Japan where he uncovered some off-the-beaten track destinations and experiences. Find out more about where to go and when on your next trip to Japan.

03 January 2024

Off the beaten track Japan

Japan is a country of contrasts. It’s a place where ancient tradition and exciting modernity meet. It’s also an incredibly popular travel destination, thanks to the myriad of unique experiences, impressive natural sites and world-class accommodation options. Our team strives to stay in the know and really get under the skin of the ultimate way to experience Japan. Recently, Senior Travel Specialist Rikki Poynton explored Japan joined by specialists Corey Weiss and Lucien Lau from our San Diego and Singapore offices.

During the trip, Rikki ventured off the well-trodden path and uncovered some exciting destinations and activities for guests who are searching for a way to experience Japan that goes beyond the expected travel wish list. Take a look at his highlights below.

Shiminami Kaido: Explore by bicycle

Best time to visit: Mid-March to late November

The Shiminami Kaido is Japan’s most accessible cycle route which links the main island of Honshu with Shikoku via the beautiful Setouchi Islands. A series of bike-friendly bridges and dedicated cycle paths connect these islands making it a safe route for adventurous couples or families with older children. The route is mainly flat and e-bikes are available, ensuring it’s suitable for all fitness levels. This is a great option for active guests who are keen to get more off the beaten track.

Bike friendly bridge in the Shiminami Kaido 

Our amazing team will meet you at the start of the route and assist with setting up your bikes, taking your luggage to your destination and will provide all the necessary equipment you need to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable ride. Guests can enjoy this route on their own if they prefer, however, we recommend including a guide who will take you away from the classic route and allow you to explore islands others may skip, simply because they are not “in the know”.

I’d recommend allowing a minimum of 2 days and 1 night to complete the route at a leisurely pace while allowing enough time to explore some of the villages that dot these islands. If you have more time, 3 days and 2 nights would allow you to explore some of the more isolated islands which are home to beautiful villages forgotten by time. Mitarai Port, a village full of history and traditional architecture, on Osaki-Shimozima Island is a great daytrip from the main route.

Shoreline on Setoda Island 

Accommodation options are limited here but I’d recommend the amazing Azumi Setoda on Setoda Island, conveniently located about half-way along the Shiminami Kaido. Formerly a 140-year-old family estate, the property has been lovingly restored by renowned architect Shiro Miura and reimagined as a contemporary ryokan. Guests can enjoy the private in-room cypress bathtubs or make use of the villages’ public bathhouse just across the road. The food is a real highlight of any stay here and combines the traditions of Kaiseki dining with French influences. Setouchi is known as the Mediterranean of Japan so guest can expect only the finest local ingredients and wines.

View of mountains and lake in Setouchi 

Kyoto by the Sea: A unique summer escape

Best time to visit: May to late September

Kyoto by the Sea is a concept designed to introduce visitors to the coastal areas of Kyoto prefecture around Amanohashidate, Kyotango and Ine. A popular summer vacation spot for the domestic market, this region is seldom visited by western tourists. It’s the ideal spot for escaping the summer heat in the big cities and makes for a relaxing end to a vacation in Japan. A beautiful sandbar stretches across Asoumi bay where guests can enjoy a relaxing stroll along wind-sand beaches, a short bike ride through alpine forests or a dip in the clear warm waters of the bay.

Aerial view of Asoumi Bay 

A 3-day/2-night privately curated package allows guests to explore Amanohashidate and visit the beautifully preserved traditional fishing village of Ine. The area is also famous for local handicrafts, such as Sake brewing, katana sword making and mother of pearl embroidery which guests can experience with their private guide.

Choose to stay in a luxury ryokan in town or, for something truly unique, why not stay in a traditional Funaya (boathouse) in Ine? The Boathouses are offered on an exclusive-use only basis making it perfect for families and groups wanting ultimate privacy in a unique setting. It’s also a great option for those with any dietary requirements as meals can be tailored to suit most needs.

Funayas in Ine 

Whether you’re a couple, family, friends or a solo traveler, our experts know how to showcase the best of Japan. Chat to our Asia travel specialists and start planning your unforgettable trip to Japan.

Rikki Poynton

Asia Specialist

Travel has always been a large part of my life, a passion ignited from my first visit to Russia as a child and my subsequent relocation to Moscow in 2010. After spending five years exploring this amazing, vast country and immersing myself fully in the culture and learning the language, I began my professional travel career at Scott Dunn in 2015.

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