While travel to Japan is still limited, you can plan ahead for a unique visit to under-the-radar destinations Gifu, Kagawa, and Ishikawa Prefectures, filled with culture and luxury experiences. This is the trip for those who have traveled to the major cities of Japan previously, and want to take a deeper dive into the culture away from bustling Tokyo or Kyoto. We’ve rounded up a list of one-of-a-kind visits, wellness getaways, unique luxury stays, and foods from all three prefectures that include cherry blossom viewing, 200 waterfalls, hot springs, temples, tea houses and an art island.
Under-the-radar cherry blossom destinations:
If you want an uncrowded, yet stunningly beautiful spot away from the crowds, of Tokyo and Kyoto, look no further than Gifu. Here you can view the cherry blossoms by a floating Suimon River boat ride, cycling through them in Gifu Park or basking in the landscape at Yoro Park, which is home to 3,000 cherry blossom trees and known as one the best places to experience them. For some adventure and culture, venture on the Hida Satoyama Cycling Experience, which takes you through rice field production and local markets in the crisp spring air. Also, check-out the Takayama Spring Festival will attract people from all over the world to gaze over Gifu’s cherry blossoms.
Watch Ishikawa cherry blossoms bloom and burst with color starting in March. Visitors flock to must-visit destinations such as the Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan’s greatest gardens flaunting cherry blossoms and historic teahouses. For a relaxing experience, take a ride on the train at Noto-Kashima Station, where 100 cherry blossoms create a tunnel that lines the tracks and illuminates at night. Cruise along the Daishoji River with a “Sendo” guide for a history of the river and its surrounding properties as the cherry blossom trees pass by.
Art destinations for the design aficionado
Visit a real-life art island: Walk among life-sized art installations, on Naoshima Island, known as Japan’s art island. From homegrown to world-renowned artists, art has become part of everyday life to locals and visitors of the island. From gigantic pumpkin art pieces to beautifully dyed curtains, walking around the island feels like a museum.
Experience the art magic: Setouchi International Art Triennale is held once every three years over 102 days across three seasons. Featuring over 150 international artists and spread across the 12 Art Islands, visitors can expect new eye-catching installations and artwork along with permanent pieces from world-renowned artists like Yayoi Kusama.
Feel a reversible destiny: The architecture buff will fall in love with Gifu’s Yoro Park’s “Site of Reversible Destiny.” Created by internationally acclaimed architects, Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins, the park is meant to transform the present world into a hopeful future, using the unlimited possibilities of our bodies. Horizontal and vertical lines are scattered throughout the architectural pieces to disturb visitors’ innate sense of balance a perspective, which can result in some showstopping Instagram content.
Underrated must-see adventures
Visit over 200 waterfalls: Experience the majestic nature of Hida Osaka Falls in Gero by exploring its waterfalls year-round, from verdant greenery to brilliant autumn foliage and newly spawned fish jumping above the waters in fall. The area is famous for autumn colors and is designated as one of the Top 33 Spots for Autumn Color Viewing in Hida and Mino. You’ll also have a choice of 14 different hiking trails. Generally, the use of a certified guide is required, however, there are some routes that can be experienced on your own.
Step into a countryside fairytale: Gifu’s Shirakawa-go Village is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The village’s thatched farmhouses create an idyllic scene like reminiscent of a Wes Anderson movie. Whether it’s winter, when it looks like a real-life snow globe, or during Spring, when it is surrounded by cherry blossoms, it’s truly a countryside fairytale. The village is an outstanding example of traditional human settlements that have perfectly adapted to their environment and their social and economic raison d’être.
Dash across “Angel Road” before is disappears: Angel Road is built from sand between Shodoshima Island and its neighboring, Yoshima Island, and only appears when the tide is low. The site is a destination for a romantic moment and is said to bring good luck to couples who walk the oceanic road holding hands.
Wellness escapes and retreats
Soak in one of the three most famous hot springs in all of Japan: Gero Hot Spring, considered one of the three most famous hot springs in all of Japan, is particularly famous for the incredibly smooth quality of the water, which in turn makes the skin of those who soak in it just as smooth. This water attracts people from all over the world due to its alkaline base that leaves your skin feeling refreshed and silky smooth.
Live like a monk: Travelers can learn more about Zazen meditation by visiting temples throughout Japan such as the Takayama Zanko-ji Templein Gifu Prefecture, which provides a beginner’s experience in the four fundamentals of Zen principles: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility – plus, the opportunity to sleep in the Temple itself. In 552, the temple’s Zenkoji Nyorai statue was brought to Japan when Buddhism was introduced. Zenkoji Nyorai is said to be the oldest Buddhist statue in Japan.
Return to nature: Asan Kotonami Resort in Kagawa Prefecture is a mountain retreat rooted in nature, offering forest bathing, seasonal beauty, and stargazing. In addition to luxurious onsen and spa amenities, it is the ultimate destination for mountain hiking along the border of Tokushima and Kagawa Prefectures. The resort even offers free rental gear for guests interested in hiking during their stay.
Luxury one-of-a-kind accommodations
New in 2022: Situated on Japan’s internationally famous art island, Naoshima, Roka will be Japan’s most anticipated 2022 hotel opening. At Roka modern art meets Japanese Spirit and this intimate boutique inn houses only 11 rooms with the majority having in-room open-air baths. The entire hotel also serves as an exhibition for young, contemporary Japanese artists as their artwork will be displayed in guest rooms, the restaurant, and public areas. It will open in April 2022 just in time for the Setouchi Art Triennale and Roka guests will receive front-row seats to new Japan’s most up-and-coming artists and also some design legends.
Stay in an art museum: Benesse House Museum opened in 1992 as a facility integrating a museum with a hotel, based on the concept of “coexistence of nature, art and architecture.” Designed by Tadao Ando, the facility is built on high ground overlooking the Seto Inland Sea and features large windows that open up the interior to the natural surroundings.
Indulge in a remote island getaway: Urashima Village is a remote luxury ryokan perched along the Seto Peninsula that combines beachside living and mountain forestry. Travelers will experience renowned omotenashi (hospitality) and immerse themselves in the Japanese countryside while getting lost when visiting Maruyama, an uninhabited island directly across from Urashima and only accessible twice a day during low tide.
Stay “between heaven and earth”: The mountaintop hotel, Ikumo Lodge, sits on Mt. Engyo with a horizon view of the Japan Sea and Noto Peninsula. Drawing together modern luxury and untouched nature, the stay is meant to reincarnate the mind and body with a stress-free, luxury experience. You can expect an eco-friendly room, traditional Japanese tea ceremony, an open-air bath experience, sutra-chanting and praying sessions at a temple, and health-conscious Michelin-star meals made with vegetarian and seasonal ingredients.
Unique food and sake
Eat $1,000 fruit: Gifu is the birthplace of the Fuyu Persimmon, aka the king of sweet persimmons, and the Tenka Fubu variety took 11 years to create. In 2020, two Tenka Fubu persimmons sold for $8,296.80 at auction. Additionally, the miracle strawberry, BIjinhime, produced in Okuda Farm and known as “dream strawberries,” weighs 100 grams apiece, 3 times larger than normal strawberries. Often sold for $450 apiece.
Crown the best Hida Beef: Gifu’s Takayama region is one of the best destinations to indulge in Hida beef, a part of the prestigious wagyu beef family. At the 8th Wagyu Olympic Games, Takayama was crowned the winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize. This year, the Wagyu Olympics will return after five years and is the ultimate festival for foodies.
Test a Sake family secret: Conveniently located in Kanazawa, an area blessed with pristine and abundant water flowing from Mt. Hakusan, Fukumitsuya Sake Brewery prides itself on their traditional family secret recipe, giving it one of the finest reputations in the sake world. In addition to producing Jumani Sake, it also doubles as a cosmetic company and produces three different beauty FRS (fermented rice solution) collections that utilize the same rice fermentation as sake.