6 Places to Escape the Crowds of Japan

Japan is known for being of the most population dense places in the world. With an average of 349.59 people per square kilometer nationwide and as much as 6,158 people per square kilometer in Tokyo, it can be hard to not feel overwhelmed from time to time. But, instead of heading back to your hotel/hostel/AirBnB, I've got 6 places you can visit to get away from those crowds.

1. Tokyo (東京)

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Square Enix Headquarter in Shinjuku
Seems odd right? To stay in the city with so many people, yet feel as if you're not surrounded? Keep in mind though, Tokyo is HUGE. Most people congregate around the popular areas such as Kabukicho, Shibuya crossing, Takeshita-dori, and the Tsukiji Market, just to name a few. But, there is so much more Tokyo has to offer. One of my favorite things to do was to just walk along the back roads of Tokyo. Take an unexpected turn. Get purposefully lost. You will only run into a few people - most being locals. There are also a ton of neighborhoods within Tokyo which often go unmissed by the masses of Tourists. One in particular that comes to mind is Ebisu, which is home to the Yebisu Brewery. Not only there can you take a tour of the brewery, try some beer, and feel as if you're one a  handful of people there, you can also visit the top of brewery (Which if you see it, is tall. Very tall.) and get a gorgeous view of Tokyo. The surrounding areas are also as peaceful, with not much commotion, even with very little traffic. Another area, right next to Ebisu, is Meguro. It's known for being a residential district, which is why many do not take the time to visit. But the change from hustle-and-bustle to serene and calming is one that happens in a snap. And these places are not out of the way! They lie right on the Yamanote line, in the heart of a behemoth of a city. Ouji, be it slightly out of the way from downtown, is also a quite place to stop. Nothing is ever too crowded, and walking on the street you feel as it it is just a smaller town. Oh, and the food in these places? Just like the rest of Japan: unparalleled. I could go on and on, but the fact of the matter is there are tons of places to escape to within Tokyo. Getting lost in this massive city is a decision you won't regret.
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View of a park in Ouji, next to the trainstation, by our hostel Tokyo Guest House Ouji
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View from atop Mori Tower in Roppongi

2. Kamakura(鎌倉市)

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The interior garden of Hokokuji - next to the bamboo forest
Kamakura is known heavily for being on the most popular domestic tourist spots in Japan. With that being said, avoid the weekends if you want to avoid the crowds. However, on weekdays its about as busy as a bar during the day. I recommend walking as much from temple to temple as it really gives you the sense that you, and whoever you are traveling with, are just along among the beautiful Japanese landscape. Though, if you're going to Kamakura, ensure you are interested in temples and shrines, as Kamakura is scattered with them. Even popular sights in Kamakura, such as the Great Buddha or Hokokuji are next to empty during the weekdays. Why is the city like this though? Why does it have so many temples and shrines? Well, from 1192 to 1333 A.D., the city was home to the Kamakura shogunate. This period of time, known as the Kamakura period, was where feudalism was set up. Kamakura was effectively the political capital of Japan at the time. Walking through the city you get an essence of the the old importance, mixed with the new. In some ways, it seems as if the city came straight out of a Ghibli film. The streets are narrow enough where walking down them does not feel as if you're cutting off traffic. The shops set along them are family owned, each one offering something that often you'll only find there. Oh and if you're going in March? Matcha. Matcha everywhere. One of my favorite experiences in the three trips I've made to Japan, was having matcha inside of a temple in Kamakura. It was located within the Engakuji complex right next to Kita-Kamakura train station. The experience and snack will cost you anywhere from 500-1000 yen ($5-$10 USD). The waitresses treat you as if you are a part of their own family, you enjoy it with a view of the valley below, and all in all you have this overwhelming sense of serenity. Other perk? Kamakura is only an hour away. So if you're traveling on a tight budget, the tansit will only cost you 2000 yen from Tokyo. Definitely a must go.

Matcha and snacks served at the temple

3. Okazaki (岡崎市)

Okazaki Castle
Me trying on samurai armor
Located in Aichi Prefecture, about hour away from Nagoya by car, Okazaki is famous for being a castle town. During the Warring States Period (戦国時代) the town was a stronghold for one of the branches of the Matsudaira clan, which later became known as the Tokugawa. As such, the town's castle hosts one of the best samurai museums in all of Japan. Fun fact, the town is also hailed as the birth place of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun to arise out of the period (without being assassinated). So if you're a history buff this town is for you. Being as it's so niche, its hard standard to see small crowds at the museum and castle. When I visited, we went on a Sunday in the middle of the summer. The small crowds really give you a sense of how large the castle grounds are as well as assisting in taking in the grandeur of the armor that is preserved there. Do note, that you CANNOT take picture of the armor on display. But, they do have an area where you can dress in authentic samurai armor, though if you a taller guy like myself you might find yourself looking a bit disproportionate. You might be begining to question why you should take a trip that is seemingly a fair distance away for one castle. Aren't they all the same? To that, I say no. Each castle, while similar in layout, tells a story of its own with the clans who inhabited it. So the story of this one, should be taken into account grasp that medieval Japan feel. This is not even beginning to mention the food surrounding the castle and inside the city itself. Like most of Japan, Okazaki hosts fantastic food. We ended up eating at a local pork cutlet place, but that isn't to say there is more. There is other places to visit, so take a day and explore a rater non-visited place.
Statue commemorating Ieyasu Tokugawa 

4. Gifu City (岐阜市)

Often described as Japan's best kept secret, Gifu city is the capital of the prefecture boding the same name. While it may be a capital, the city boasts some of the most beautiful natural environments around and within it. To get there you can either travel by train from Nagoya, Tokyo, Central Japan International Airport, or Osaka, none taking more than two hours. The Nagara River that runs through the city has some of the cleanest water I've ever seen. But that's not all, the city is very well known as being very historic as well. The cormorant fishing technique was originated here. Also, the city hosts a landmark for one the greatest generals to arise out of the warring states period of Japan: Oda Nobunaga. It provides you the feel of a small town, with the amenities that usually come with a larger one. Easy access to food and transit just to name a few. Some sites to visit within Gifu include the Great Buddha of Gifu (one of only three in all of Japan); Gifu Castle, telling the story of many conquerors; Kawaramachi Town, an area where you can engulf yourself in the old Gifu with many historical buildings dating back to even the Edo period; Gifu Park; and Inaba Jinja Shrine, located at the base of Mount Kinka, it is the most famous and oldest Shinto shrine in all of Gifu.

5. Hikone (彦根市)

Hikone Castle
Like many of these other spots on this list, Hikone lies in central Japan on the shores of Lake Biwa. The castle is one of the most elaborate and well known castles in all of Japan. It was also one of the castles that still stand with original construction completed in 1622. Like I stated earlier, each castle tells its own tale. This one however, also has its own little mascot! The view you get from the top of the castle grounds. If you really take the time to relax and enjoy yourself while touring the grounds, you'll find that it will take you a few hours. But what do you do after? Is there any more? Well, one of the best ways you can get away from the crowds is of course relaxing by the lake shore! Since the city lies right on the coast of the lake, it is very accessible by public transit. On a clear day, you can easily see all the way across the lake as well making for some stunning photography moments. Afterwards, I would highly advise just getting lost within the city and discovering things on your own accord. It definitely makes for a more rewarding vacation. But if you're more of a structured traveler? Head on into Kyoto or Nagoya, as both cities are both roughly an hour away by train.

6. Toyohashi (豊橋市)

Toyohashi Beach on the Pacific

Firework Display on Yoshida Castle Grounds
Now, I personally hold a special place for the city of Toyohashi. Having spent my summer abroad, I can confidently say that the city is one where I would like to spend my life in, if given the opportunity. The city has a small US city feel, though if you talk to many locals they will tell you it is "rural". The transit within the city extremely convenient and precise, as  it is with the rest of the country. But, the food here is to die for. Toyohashi is known for their Curry Udon which utterly fantastic. It is also known for a small chocolate snack called Chocolate Thunder. The city, like many in the Aichi Prefecture, is home to a historic castle, this one being named Yoshida Castle.

Yoshida Castle

It is a smaller one, but the area around the castle does host spectacular events. I was lucky enough to have witnessed Toyohashi's famous traditional firework show that was absolutely spectacular. The city also holds some old-western style buildings, such as a church and theater. With these, you can see the shift of culture that occurred during the Meiji restoration. But what if you want a sense of traditional Japan? While Toyohashi does boast a number of small shrines hidden throughout the neighborhoods, none of those compare in grandeur to the Toyokawa Inari Shrine. Located just slightly north of the city, the complex is extremely beautiful. Showing the true mixture of Buddhist and Shinto. But what if you want to get away to the beach for a little? Well Toyohashi is home of one of the best surfing areas in the prefecture. The beaches are gorgeous, and within good reach. Though, you will most likely need a car or taxi to transport you to the beach. Oh and the crowds here? Few. It really allows you to encompass that small-town feel, in a city with tons to do. I could go on and on about how much I love this city and its people. If you're taking the Shinkansen on the Tokaido line from Tokyo to Kyoto, a stop here would be very well spent.
Toyokawa Inari Shrine

Safe travels,


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