Want to check out see some of the spots off the tourist trail in Japan, but don’t have a heap of time? Then this is the itinerary for you! Japan has countless internationally renowned locations, but if you’d prefer to explore more traditional locations and visit spots not crawling with tourists - it’s easier than you might think.
Day One: FLY INTO OSAKA
Osaka is kind of like Tokyo’s less busy (but still busy) and more fun little sister. It’s got an incredible food culture and prices tend to generally be lower than in Tokyo. Whilst it may not have Tokyo’s World famous shopping areas and tourist hot spots, you’ll come away with a more intimate experience. It’s also the perfect starting point for your adventure to Shikoku .
Day TWO: HEAD TO SHIKOKU
Shikoku is a small(ish) island to the south of Osaka, and offers a massive array of stunning adventure opportunities which are yet to show the effects of Western tourism. Shikoku can be easily reached by a highway bus from downtown Osaka, however to fully explore this epic little island, hiring a car (or better yet a camper van) will give you far more flexibility. Japanese roads may seem a little daunting at first, but the drivers are some of best I’ve ever experienced and once you get accustomed to the sheer narrowness of some roads - you’ll love it!
Once you arrive in Shikoku (after you travel of the longest suspension bridge in the world, you’ll pass through a small town called Wakimachi, which is worth stopping at to check out the incredible historic houses (and maybe grab some Ramen for lunch…) Then continue on towards Oboke Gorge and prepare to be amazed. This incredible gorge winds it’s way through towering mountains and is made up of sheer limestone rocks, which conveniently colour the river a bright blue colour. The road follows this gorge system for miles, and there are plenty of spots to stop and get a close look - maybe even go for a swim if weather permits.
If you’d like to experience a peaceful night in a traditional Japanese home (of course you would) then continue on towards Miyoshi-shi. These incredible homes dot the Iya valley, and have a seriously amazing views. They are traditional thatched roof homes, and this is one experience you really can not miss whilst in Japan.
DAY THREE: OBOKE GORGE
The next day I’d recommend getting up nice and early, and heading towards the Vine Bridge. This structure is made solely from, you guessed it, vines - and was designed to be able to be easily destroyed incase an enemy army invaded. We arrived around mid morning and unfortunately it was pretty crowded, but arrive first thing and you could have this awesome spot all to yourselves.
The best way to really experience Oboke Gorge is a rafting trip - we went with Montebello Rafting which was a business owned and operated by one of Japan's leading water-women. I’ve rafted a couple of times before, but never through a river so scenic. The water was bright blue and clear, and the surrounding trees were glowing orange with Autumn colours. If you want to experience the river at it’s best - nothing beats the contrast between the fiery foliage and the blue water in Autumn!
Obokekyo Mannaka is a traditional Japanese Inn - and its only 5 minutes from the rafting location which makes it the perfect spot to spend the night. Try and get a room that overlooks the river, you won’t be disappointed! Whilst staying at the Inn, a traditional Japanese formal dinner is a must - dressing up in our kimono and experiencing fresh fish from the river right outside was something I'll remember forever.
DAY FOUR: NIYODO RIVER
If you’re not a fan of rafting, or just want to experience the river at a slower pace, a river cruise is probably your best bet. It begins only a short walk from the Inn where you can see a waterfall plunging into the river below. If your Japanese isn’t the best, you might be better to give the cruise a miss - there’s no english translations in these parts! (definitely a good thing)
After the river cruise, it’s time to head to another amazing river - this one being Niyodo River, or the “Blue River”. It’s a bit of a drive to another Prefecture, but is totally worth it as the the drive itself is incredible. There’s plenty of amazing swimming spots to be found as you follow the river upstream, but the highlight of the day for me was Niko Fushi waterfall. It’s probably the single bluest waterfall I’ve ever seen, and seemed almost untouched by tourism. It’s best to try and hit this spot up in the middle of the day, whilst the light in on the water making it seem extra-blue.
If you’ve got any energy left, and want to experience some mountain scenery that is well away from the tourist trail, then head straight up to Shikoku Karst. There’s only one road up this mountain, and once at the top there’s only one hotel, but the view is incredible and surprisingly it’s one of the few places in Japan which enables you to see the milky way in full. We witnessed an epic sunset on the drive up, and the relaxed the night away in a traditional Japanese thermal spa - the best feeing after a long day.
DAY FIVE: KATSURAHANA BEACH
The next morning, you’ve just gotta get up for sunrise. The view is absolutely amazing, and you can literally see it from the window of your room. The valley stretches away into the distance, and on the right morning fills with fog from the cool mountain air.
After a (hopefully) awesome sunrise, try and get an early start and head towards the coast. For some reason, I’d never really associated Japan with beaches, but when you consider the fact that there’s 1234 individual islands - there’s gotta be some good ones. We headed to Katsurahana Beach, which seemed to be the Bondi of Shikoku. The drive followed the coast much of the way, and we took in countless beaches without a single person on them. We even saw some epic surf, so if you’ve got a board with you you’ll have epic waves all to yourself. Katsurahana Beach had dark sand and blue water - a strange combo for someone who is used to Aussie's white sands. Unfortunately swimming isn’t encouraged at this particular beach due to the heavy shore dump, but the beauty of this area means there’s just so much to explore - you could probably find a beach to call yours for the whole day.
After an epic few days it was time to head back towards Osaka. We jumped on a another highway bus in Tokushima and I was seriously impressed with the free wifi and surprisingly spacious seats. Back in Osaka, we headed to the South part of town - which is known more and the “party” side of town. We wandered around the crowded streets eventually deciding Okonomiyaki for dinner - you seriously have to try this whist in Osaka.
Japan is an incredible country with a massive variety of attractions - there’s so much more than just good sushi and snowboarding! Check out Japan National Tourism Organization for more info!