Destinations · Japan · Asia · Things to Do
June 03, 2024 Words: Susan Hanson

Uncovering Japan’s Hidden Gems

Emerald rice terraces, black samurai castles, and blue coral gardens make for colorful memories.

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Japan offers travelers the ultimate spot for island hopping, with more than 14,000 volcanic islands sprinkled along the western edge of the Pacific’s famous Ring of Fire. The nation’s breathtaking landscapes are equally diverse, from the deciduous forests and snow-capped peaks on subarctic Hokkaido to the dense mangroves and white-sand beaches that encircle subtropical Okinawa. Seabourn ultra-luxury voyages weave a path through these beguiling islands, calling on lesser-known harbors right at the cusp of spring flower season including Japan’s famous sakura (cherry blossoms). Here are four hidden gems and ways to experience them.

AKITA

This expansive prefecture is in the Tohoku region of Honshu Island. Its namesake capital centers around Senshu Park, home to the ruins of Edo-period Kubota Castle; lotus flowers now fill the ancient moats, while tree-lined trails lead to the reconstructed watchtower and shrine. Beyond the city lies a panorama of lush rice paddies and beech-forested mountains, which make a stunning setting for the area’s famous onsen resorts with their mineral-rich waters.

See: “Akita no gyoji” (“Events of Akita”), a large mural depicting festivals and life in the capital, hangs in the striking Akita Museum of Art.

Taste: Akita locals love their kiritanpo, a dish of pounded cooked rice shaped into cylinders around skewers, then toasted over an open hearth and served with sweet miso.

Explore: The historic town of Kakunodate boasts one of the best-preserved samurai districts in Japan. Wander its wide streets lined with impressive residences, quiet courtyards, and budding cherry blossom trees.

SAKAIMINATO

Snow-capped Mount Daisen provides a stunning backdrop for the buzzy fishing port of Sakaiminato, set along the southwest coast of Honshu Island. Japanese manga artist Shigeru Mizuki grew up here, and more than 130 bronze statues of his beloved characters line the half-mile road that leads to a museum dedicated to his artwork. Other national treasures include Izumo Taisha, an important Shinto shrine complex dating from the 8th century; and the ebony-hued Matsue Castle, one of a handful of original Samurai castles in existence. Birders flock to Yonago Waterfowl Park, a Ramsar-designated wetlands offering sanctuary to some 200 species including white-tailed eagles and tundra swans.

See: Stroll through the tranquil 124-acre Tottori Flower Park, where a futuristic domed greenhouse is filled with hundreds of orchids and other exotic flora.

Taste: As one of Japan’s top fishing ports, Sakaiminato is all about seafood. Depending upon the season, you can sample snow crab, bluefin tuna, mackerel, white squid, and other delicacies at the central fish market.

Visit: Kaike Onsen is one of the few saltwater hot spring resorts in the world. Relax in its healing waters while soaking in sweeping views of Mount Daisen and Miho Bay.

AMAMI OSHIMA

Part of the Nansei archipelago, the Amami Islands lie off southwestern Japan between Kyushu and Taiwan. The largest of these, Amami Oshima ("Amami Big Island"), is a subtropical paradise, blanketed in old-growth forest and ringed by enchanting mangroves and pristine beaches. Just off shore, the rich diversity of marine life ranges from pufferfish and pygmy seahorses to sea turtles and reef sharks. The island’s main city showcases a unique blend of cultures, with a heritage that fuses mainland Japanese traditions and the influences of Okinawa's ancient Ryukyu Kingdom.

See: Tanaka Isson Memorial Museum of Art, situated within Amami Park, pays tribute to the Japanese Nihonga painter who spent his final years capturing the islands’ subtropical beauty on canvas.

Taste: Keihan is a popular dish that tops a bed of rice with slices of chicken, shredded egg crêpe, and shiitake mushrooms, covered in a savory chicken broth.

Explore: Experience serene Mangrove Park, Japan’s second-largest mangrove forest and home to migratory birds and rare endemic species such as the Amami rabbit.

ISHIGAKI

A volcanic island chain located within Japan’s southwest Okinawa prefecture, the Yaeyama archipelago is known for its translucent waters, spectacular reefs, and unique local color. Ishigaki, the group’s main island, is fringed by pure white sands, while palm forests and pineapple plantations carpet its interior. The waters off Shiraho Beach host one of the largest blue coral colonies in the world, while Kabira Bay is the northernmost producer of black pearls. Ishigaki consistently ranks among Japan’s top diving and snorkeling spots, and visitors often encounter the area’s giant manta rays.

See: Yonekoyaki Pottery is renowned for its whimsical shisa, a half-dog, half-lion creature from Okinawan folklore that allegedly protects homes. Snap a selfie with the giant shisa statues in the workshop’s back garden.

Taste: Slurp a bowl of Yaeyama soba soup (the local version uses flour noodles instead of buckwheat), then grab a cone of soft-serve benimo flavored ice cream, made from the island’s popular purple sweet potato.

Explore: Head to nearby Taketomi Island and visit the beautifully preserved Ryukyu village, its coral stone streets lined with traditional, one-story wooden houses. Look for shisa atop the red-tile roofs.

Japan holds a trove of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Ready to experience this endlessly fascinating region? Consider one of Seabourn’s ultra-luxury Japan or Asia voyages to create memories that will last a lifetime.

Ready to set sail?

Consider these upcoming voyages:

14-Day Taiwan & Isles Of Southern Japan

ROUNDTRIP: Yokohama, Japan
 

Apr 13, 2025

from $9,349*

Explore Itinerary

*Per Person, USD. Taxes, Fees and Port Expenses are included. Additional terms apply.

12-Day Circumnavigation Of Japan's Fall Foliage

DEPARTS: Yokohama, Japan
ARRIVES: Kobe, Japan

Oct 12, 2025

from $7,479*

Explore Itinerary

*Per Person, USD. Taxes, Fees and Port Expenses are included. Additional terms apply.

Oyasukyo Gorge Oyasukyo Gorge, Japan
Kiritanpo Kiritanpo
Tottori Hanakairo Flower Park Tottori Hanakairo Flower Park
Onna village, Okinawa Onna village, Okinawa. A Shisa guards the front of an old traditional style house.

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